HC Deb 16 March 1967 vol 743 cc734-847

4.17 p.m.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

It is now two months since the publication of the Plowden Report on Primary Education. I am sure that the whole House would like to congratulate Lady Plowden and the members of her Council on a Report of high merit and of real long-term significance for the development of the education service. I naturally have very special pleasure in saying that, since it was I as Minister who set up the Committee in August, 1963.

This Report is not just an essay on the primary schools. It presents a coherent strategy for their improvement buttressed by an impressive weight of survey and research material, and recommendations whose costing has been projected right through to 1979. I am not sure whether, after what has happened this afternoon, it would be thought good taste from this side of the House to congratulate a civil servant, but I cannot resist doing so in view of the fact that Mr. Maurice Kogan was secretary to the Committee—in an earlier incarnation he was private secretary both to Lord Vosper and to myself. I should like to associate him with my congratulations to the Council as a whole.

Two main themes run through this long Report. First, it proclaims the need for a higher priority in the total educational budget to be given to primary education. This priority is justified in the Report on social grounds and on grounds of equity, but also on economic grounds. I quote one short passage: Good primary education will help to equip children to live and work in a rapidly changing economy. Our present society requires a highly adaptable labour force, which is not only more skilled, but is better able to learn new skills, to tackle new jobs and to face new problems. These last words seem to me to be extremely important. The best system of technical education in the world, as I am sure you would be the first to agree, Mr. Speaker, must be built on sound foundations in the work of the primary schools.

Secondly, the Plowden Report is also an eloquent defence of the best of English primary education, as one of the most humane areas of our existing social provision. The views of pioneers of progressive education, like Susan Isaacs, are triumphantly vindicated in the Report, and it is good to read that The gloomy forebodings of the decline of knowledge which would follow progressive methods have been discredited. In particular, I am glad that the Report conclusively refutes the lie, so often heard, that the schools are turning out pupils who cannot read. The great point which I learned at the Ministry of Education, and which this Report so clearly demonstrates, is that in the earliest stages of education there should not be too sharp a distinction between work and play. As the Report says: In play, children gradually develop concepts of casual relationships, the power to discriminate, to make judgments, to analyse and to imagine. It is from this starting point that satisfactory development can take place, that a child can learn to acquire skills, and gradually to cope with the stresses of daily life. Indeed, the best of our primary schools are such delightful places that it is easy to become complacent about the state of primary education in Britain as a whole. The Report says: Our review is a review of progress and a spur to man. It is very easy to forget the enormous expansion of the human, physical and financial reseources which have been put into the education service in Britain since 1950. I was struck by the figures quoted by Mr. Weaver, one of the deputy secretaries in the Department, in a lecture at Manchester University last month. In 1950, in England and Wales we had 5¼ million pupils in maintained schools, with 12½ per cent. of the age group staying on until 16. Now there are 7¼ million, with 23 per cent. staying on.

In 1950, there were 250,000 teachers in the schools, colleges and universities.

Now there are 400,000. In 1950, there were 22,000 teachers in training, mostly on a two-year course. Now there are 84,000, on a three-year course. In 1950, there were 150,000 full-time students in higher education. Now there are 410,000.

In 1950, public expenditure on education in the United Kingdom was £430 million. Now it is £1,780 million. In 1950, we were investing £61 million in educational buildings. In 1966, the figure was £187 million.

I first became a Member of the House of Commons, as did the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, in 1950. Measured over a period of 16 years this represents an enormous expansion of human resources. It is one of the really significant developments in Britain during the post-war period.

It is true that amid all this expansion the improvement of primary education has tended to lag behind in the race. Yet here, too, there has been progress. One of my few criticisms of the statistics in the Report concerns what I regard as a rather perplexing statement, in paragraph 1177, that during the first half of the 1960s expenditure per child in primary schools was stagnant. According to my calculations—and I have done some work on this—expenditure per head in primary education went up from £52 in 1959 to £74 in 1964, and it is worth remembering that in the spring of 1964 no fewer than 270,000 new primary places were authorised, including over 100,000 to replace existing accommodation.

However, let me make it clear that we on this side of the House would certainly not dispute the need to concentrate, during the coming years, on the improvement of primary education. That was my object in 1963 in setting up a Council under Lady Plowden's chairmanship to make the first full inquiry into primary education for over 30 years. It is two months since the Council reported, and we on this side of the House have used a Supply day to initiate this debate because we feel that the time has now come for the Secretary of State to tell us something of the Government's attitude towards the main recommendations in the Report. Also, we felt—and I hope that the whole House would agree—that the House of Commons should have the opportunity to debate this matter before the teachers' conferences, which traditionally take place at Easter.

I make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that we are not pressing him this afternoon to say that he accepts all the Plowden recommendations. It would be quite unreal and irresponsible for us to do so, especially bearing in mind that they have a pretty hefty requirement in terms of additional money and physical resources—an extra £79 million a year for running costs by 1979 and a total of £250 million worth of extra capital expenditure. However, the Secretary of State ought to show himself forthcoming, at least, about a number of the recommendations.

I would remind the House that in the recent past every Report of this kind has resulted in one or more important new developments in the Government's education policy. The Crowther Report, which appeared in 1959, was followed by a further large expansion of teacher-training facilities, and the very important White Paper entitled, "Better Opportunities in Technical Education". I very much doubt whether the expenditure on further education would be rising at from 10 per cent. to 12 per cent. a year had not the Crowther Report appeared.

The Newsom Report led directly to the announcement by myself of a date for the raising of the school-leaving age, an issue to which I shall refer later. The Robbins Report led to the acceptance by the Government of the principle that full-time higher education should be made available to those people able and willing to receive it. We now want to know how the Government will respond to Plowden, what new decisions they will take, following the publication of the Plowden Report, which they would not have taken otherwise.

This leads me to some of the main recommendations contained in this long and important Report. First—and I shall devote most of my time to this—there is the genuinely radical proposal, to which the council itself attaches unequivocal top priority, for positive discrimination in favour of "educational priority areas". In principle, we on this side of the House acept this concept of positive discrimination. Indeed, we stated in our 1966 election manifesto that We shall give special help to areas where there is most need, for example, bad housing and oversized school classes. In fact, we did more than is often recognised to carry out this principle when in office. I recall that when, in the spring of 1963, I had to allocate the school-building programme for the following year, I deliberately gave the County of Durham, not one of the largest authorities, a school-building programme of over £2 million when unemployment was heavy in the North-East. But this Report, and the recommendation for education priority areas, is concerned with much wider issues.

We have long been aware of the way in which home and environmental circumstances, whether material, intellectual or moral, can affect a child's development, and much talk, even today, about equality of opportunity can ring rather hollow. The Newsom Report underlined this point firmly, and now the Plowden Report has made a number of practical suggestions as to how the school can act as what I have sometimes called a "countervailing force" in our society, how it can make a greater contribution towards mitigating the effects of a bad material and cultural background.

The Plowden Report does two things. It lists a number of useful criteria by which we can identify areas in which children are likely to have special problems. Secondly, it makes a number of precise financial proposals for giving extra help to the schools concerned. It is when one gets on to the detail of the Plowden proposals—the financial proposals—that we on this side of the House have some reservations. In the first place, while we agree wholeheartedly that the positive discrimination should be applied as a matter of national policy, I am not clear that there would be any great advantage in the idea of the educational priority areas being "formally designated" by the Department of Education and Science.

Surely local education authorities can quite easily show that they have deprived areas in terms of the Plowden criteria, and the positive discrimination can be applied by the Department in framing and approving the relevant building programmes. Secondly, and here I suspect I speak for a large part of the House, we do not like the idea of a flat bonus of £120 to each teacher in a deprived school.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Eccles, in another place, was justified in calling this proposal naïve.

Our preference—because I think that one has to do something special about teachers—would be that teachers in these areas should enter schools on the ordinary salary scale, but that these schools should have a larger number of graded posts. I believe one of the highest priorities in education is not just to attract more teachers to the difficult areas, and the less favoured schools, but to keep them there. As Lord James, in another place, rightly said, stability is a key word in a child's education.

I think that the most soul-searching experience that I had during my time at the Ministry was my experience of a secondary school in the extreme East End of London, which had 30 staff changes in a year. I wonder whether many people realise what education is like for children from deprived homes in areas where there is a regular turnover of teachers, and no point of stability at all in their lives, either at home or at school.

Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the system of special allowances often encourages teachers to move from school to school to seek promotion, and that this in itself is a factor which militates against stability in the schools, which I recognise to be very important for our children?

Sir E. Boyle

I was thinking possibly of more graded posts of a particular kind. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there would be dangers in having too easy a ladder of promotion within educational priority areas. I was making a suggestion, and I hope that other hon. Members will think of other and better ones, for keeping a larger number of teachers in these schools, because the point is not merely to attract them but to keep them there.

Thirdly, we think it is important that extra books and equipment should be provided for schools in priority areas. Sometimes older buildings, provided that they are redecorated, can be suitable for modern teaching methods, but more "software" and more "hardware" are essential to back up the efforts of the teachers. Here, I make a suggestion which, I hope, the right hon. Gentleman will take seriously. Surely the formula for the rate support grant could be altered and made more sophisticated to help the educational priority areas. I suggest, for instance, that areas of high density might get a specially favourable supplementary grant for education as a whole.

It is true that this would not affect one or two individual authorities which are rather unexpectedly low density areas. It would be much more helpful, say, to Gateshead than to Merthyr Tydvil. Nevertheless, if one looks at the list of the authorities in the Rate Support Grant White Paper, of areas of high density which get special allowances, one sees that they include a large number of authorities which will have schools in priority areas.

I have two or three other points to make on these educational priority areas before I turn to the next recommendation. First, I believe that if anything the Plowden Report underrates parental influence on achievement. Some of the most valuable paragraphs in the Report concern the need to strengthen the links between school and home, and we on this side have no truck with the school of thought which, on egalitarian grounds, wants to minimise parental influence on a child's school career. All the emphasis should be on levelling up and on strengthening the links between school and home.

The part which can be played by Her Majesty's inspectors needs more thought. It may be that their primary loyalty should be to a particular group of schools, rather than to a particular local education authority.

Lastly, much of the problem of educational priority areas is surely bound up with the need for a larger school building programme. Local education authorities are understandably reluctant to use minor works allocation on schools which they hope to rebuild soon, and what the Report shows so clearly is the need for positive discrimination, within the whole field of Government expenditure.

We believe on this side that the Government must accord priority to those aspects of Government expenditure which aid growth and efficiency, and also to those objects where there is a clear social need which cannot be met by any other agency. I think that we must hold firm to the principle once enunciated by Lord Keynes, that the proper purpose of government is not to do those things which people can do for themselves, and try to do them better, but to concentrate on those essential tasks which, if they are not carried out by Government, will not be carried out at all.

As earnings rise, more families can contribute to the cost of school meals, and pay higher council house rents, but a deprived child in a priority area cannot himself overcome these handicaps which may affect his educability later. Therefore, let us endorse the Plowden principle of positive discrimination and recognise how widely it ought to apply throughout the range of public activity.

The second Plowden recommendation concerns the recruitment of teachers' aides. The colleges of education have made tremendous efforts in recent years, and I say, in passing, that I do not believe many colleges can now be physically expanded much more. I think that we need to think of outposts of teacher colleges, rather than expanding the existing buildings still further. The great problem of teacher supply is that out of every 100 women teachers leaving the colleges, more than half will no longer be teaching in three years, and two-thirds will have gone within six years. Primary schools suffer by far the most.

What can we do about this? We must press on with efforts to bring back married teachers. Having pressed the right hon. Gentleman over this matter for a long period, may I tell him that we welcome the news of the Bill to be brought in next Session to introduce optional superannuation for part-timers. We will give the right hon. Gentleman every facility for speedy progress with it to the Statute Book.

Over and above that, I believe that the proposal for teacher aides as set out in Plowden is right in principle, and that this House should endorse it. Let us be quite clear—to use a distinction which once made certain Members feel much happier—these would be "ancillary helpers", both in the classroom and outside, rather than "auxiliary teachers". My only doubt is about how many girls will opt for two-year courses as teachers' aides, bearing in mind that the number of girls getting five O levels is going up all the time. I believe that we are in an area where many jobs will be chasing a not very deep pool of womanpower, if I may put it that way.

I suspect that the one-year training course for mature aides may prove more fruitful. There are many married women without the qualifications for teacher training who would like to work at least part-time with children as soon as their family circumstances permit, and I hope that either the right hon. Gentleman, or his hon. Friend, when she replies, will say something about this, because I believe that it is the married women, the mature entrants, as it were, who may provide most of the womanpower that we need for these teachers' aides. It is surely significant how so many of the day colleges of education are coping most successfully with mature students. We have one of the most successful of these colleges at Birmingham.

The third recommendation is that the Government should announce a building programme of minor works designed to get rid of the worst defects in primary schools within seven years, at an annual cost of £7 million to £10 million. The Plowden Report also recommends greater flexibility between major and minor projects. I hope that the Secretary of State will have something encouraging to tell us this afternoon about the Government's response to this recommendation. We on this side believe that, as a start, local authorities should have their freedom restored in respect of mini-minor works. We always strongly opposed the removal of this freedom in 1965. We feel the same two years later. If one allows for the mini-minor decision, and for the increase in building costs, there has been virtually no increase in the real value of minor works allocations since we left office.

If the Government wanted to take some modest action on this Report right away, surely they could at least have authorised a rather bigger minor works allocation for 1967–68 than for 1966–67. After all, the 1967–68 figure was not announced till 19th January, which was nearly three months after the Plowden Report was in the hands of the Secretary of State.

It is also important to remember that, because there is no specific allocation for secondary reorganisation, many local education authorities are using a part of their minor works allocation to make basic improvements in amenities where reorganisation is being carried out quickly. I am thinking, for example, of cases where single sex secondary schools are being converted to mixed schools.

In the same month that the Newsom Report appeared, I announced an increase in the major school building programme from £60 million to £80 million. In view of what the Labour Party has said in the past about old primary schools and their sanitation, and the like, I believe that the Secretary of State ought to announce here and now some increase in the minor works programme for the following year.

The fourth main recommendation—I am using the order of priorities in the Report itself—is the proposal for a large extension of nursery education as soon as staff and buildings make this possible. The Report recommends that this should be made available for five half-day sessions a week to all children over 3, with 15 per cent. attending both morning and afternoon. I am sure that the Council was right to take pre-school age education seriously, especially for children in the educational priority areas. I have been very struck by what experienced teachers of all political views have said to me about the desirability of nursery education for children from the less favoured homes. This subject is bound up, also, with the growing number of mothers who go out to work.

Let me make my party's attitude clear on three points. First, we strongly support the minority Report, which advocates a parental contribution by all those who can afford to contribute towards the cost of nursery schooling. It is interesting to note that the signatories to the minority Report represent a pretty wide political band—Professor Ayer, Dr. Michael Young, Professor Donnison, no less than Mr. Tim Raison and Brigadier Thwaytes.

I am told, I think correctly, that Dr. Michael Young drafted this minority Report himself, including the sentence: Particular proposals for educational improvement should surely be considered to see if on their merits it would be right or not to ask parents to contribute. This is one of the very few moments in history when the orbit of Dr. Michael Young has come just within sight of the orbit of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

This particular minority Report is extremely well drafted, and I hope that the Secretary of State will say that he sees great merit in it.

Secondly, some capital expenditure will certainly be needed, but we have at this point one of the less realistic proposals of the Council. We on this side do not think that the capital cost of the Plowden Council's proposals for nursery education—£110 million—is realistic. For all the belief we have that an expansion here is needed, we would not put the expenditure of £110 million on nursery education as high on the list of priorities as many other, increases in capital expenditure which we would contemplate.

Thirdly, it is only in the priority areas that we think that we should look wholly, or even mainly, for State provision of nursery education. In the better-off areas we should encourage voluntary effort, guided by an adequate system of inspection. We think that the provision of nursery education—that is, education before the age of statutory schooling—ought to be a partnership between public and private bodies, on the lines that Mrs. Elspeth Howe suggested in her excellent pamphlet, published by the Conservative Political Centre. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) laughs, but this pamphlet was once commended by the Under-Secretary of State (Mr. Denis Howell) in answer to a Question by me.

I have dealt with the four principal recommendations made by the Council. I come on now to the last recommendation concerning the structure of primary education. These nursery proposals are linked to the main Plowden recommendations on structure. The Council recommends that each child should start compulsory schooling in what is to be called a "first" school in the September term following his fifth birthday; then he has three years in the first school, four years in a "middle" school, followed by transfer to a secondary school at a median age of 12½.

I want to make four comments on the proposals on structure. First, on the start of compulsory schooling, I think that the Report develops a very convincing case against the present arrangements, with their termly admission to infant school, coupled with annual promotion to junior school. This has meant that children born between May and August have had two terms less in the infant school than those born between September and December.

I know that Lady Plowden herself felt strongly on this issue. Her Majesty's inspectors always made it plain to me that they thought that this was a real flaw in our present arrangements. I have often had constituency questions about it. This was one of the many issues in my mind when I originally set up the Council.

I also agree—I hope that there will be no unnecessary emotion generated over this—with the view that a parent should have the option of part-time attendance for his child for two terms before full-time entry. This is entirely reasonable and sensible.

Is the Secretary of State prepared to accept interim recommendation 407(vii) that, for the time being, there should be two admission dates a year and staggered admissions over half a term? I think that if, instead of having termly admission to an infant school we could get even to two admissions within a year, this would be a notable improvement. I again assure the Secretary of State that we on this side would support the necessary legislation.

So much for the start of compulsory schooling. Secondly, we consider that the paragraphs of the Report starting at 93 and headed, "The Need for a National Policy" are, by implication, very highly critical of the Government's decision to urge local authorities to undertake large and costly schemes of secondary reorganisation before the Plowden Council's recommendations on the age of transfer were known. The Report points out that nearly one-quarter of the children at the top of the junior schools covered by the Council's survey had changed schools because their families had moved to a different district. We can very easily underrate the amount of mobility there is today among children in Britain.

The effect of the Government's policy on secondary reorganisation will be a patchwork of different ages of transfer. I agree with the Council that The inconveniences it will cause will not be tolerated for long. My belief is that the Government's decision to push ahead in advance of the Council's recommendations will bring about much more of a patchwork than we might otherwise have had.

Thirdly, if the age of transfer is to be raised to 12 or 13 in any sizeable number of areas, then the raising of the school-leaving age to 16 at an early date is absolutely imperative, otherwise many children would have only two or three years of secondary education. There has been a certain amount of controversy on this subject recently. I still believe that my announcement in January, 1964, of a date for raising the school-leaving age was right both on social and economic grounds. It was a decision taken collectively by the Government of the day, and still supported by my right hon. and hon. Friends on this bench today. It is certainly not a curious plot concocted by the right hon. Gentleman and myself and inflicted on the rest of the educational world.

It is now up to the Government to see that the necessary resources can be made available. It is much too gloomy to decide now that we cannot carry out this reform in 1971, 27 years after the passage of the 1944 Act. We legislated for it in 1944. The noble Lord, Lord Eccles, in 1960, promised an announcement at the end of the Parliament. In January, 1964,1 announced a date for this reform two years later than the Newsom Committee recommended. Ironically, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer criticised me for choosing the later date.

Three years after that, in 1967, to say that we must now go back to an indefinite postponement and that we cannot do it in 1971, 27 years after the 1944 Act, seems to me unduly pessimistic. I must say that one of the troubles in Britain today is that there is rather too much talk about our not being able to do this or that or to afford something else.

I come now to my last point, on the subject of structure. I apologise for having taken rather longer than I had intended. Although the Council welcomes the end of selection at 11, there are several observations in the Report which cast doubt on the wisdom of what Lord James has called the "unconditional abolition" of selective schools everywhere.

I notice, for instance, that it is said in paragraph 31: … giving everybody the maximum educational opportunity may mean creating individual educational environments for different children ". I thought the chapter on gifted children just a shade weak. In our thinking about education, we ought always to pay attention to the special needs of the most able children, both at the primary and the secondary stage. It is interesting also to notice that the chapter on streaming is nothing like so definite in its conclusions as, I suspect, some members of the Council would privately have liked—and as some of those who gave evidence would have liked. Clearly, we cannot reach absolute conclusions on this subject, and I simply say that I think that the time has come when we need to think rather more, not only about the collective purposes of education, but about the individual and the type of education most suitable to his or her personal needs.

In any case, it is our view that the main Plowden recommendations, which I have been considering, ought to be given a clear priority over resources for comprehensive reorganisation in those areas where there is already sufficient secondary provision available.

I have dealt with the main recommendations in the Report, and I come now to a brief word on three other recommendations. I shall say little about religious education, partly because the Government spokesman in another place, while he said little else, dealt fairly thoroughly with this aspect of the Report, and partly because I do not think that either the majority Report or the minority Report was at its most convincing on this subject.

There is fairly clear published evidence that the great majority of parents do not at present want a change in the law. I agree that parents should be specifically informed of children's rights of excusal, and I am even more convinced that agreed sylabuses today in primary schools, no less than in secondary schools, stand in need of pretty drastic revision. I think that this is fairly common ground today, between the Churches and a great many teachers in the schools.

Now I pass to the slightly more difficult subject of corporal punishment, on which, I confess, I find it very hard to reach absolutely firm conclusions. I start with a strong instinctive prejudice against beating. I think that it was Nietzche, whom I would not often quote with approval, who said: Mistrust anyone in whom the impulse to punish is powerful". That is a very wise remark. One has also to consider the effect of beating on children who come to school from a background of years of thoroughly unhappy home life. Surely, what is needed for these children is not the authoritarian teacher wielding the cane, but the mature teacher, able, in Ernest Jones's admirable phrase, "to give out love in greater measure than his need to receive it", and to stand the strain of a thoroughly insecure environment.

Those seem to me to be important considerations. Yet, for the maintained schools, I think, on balance, that I am still in favour of leaving the issue of corporal punishment to the good sense of school managers. Furthermore, my hon. Friends would wish me to repudiate the recommendation that The Secretary of State should be empowered to deny registration to any independent school in which the infliction of physical pain is a recognised form of punishment", and that, no independent school in which this practice obtains should be recognised as efficient". To say that no independent school, however efficient in other ways, shall be granted recognition unless corporal punishment is forsworn seems to me unfair both to the teachers concerned and to a number of perfectly responsible parents.

In another recommendation, the Council calls for a full inquiry into the system of teacher training. There is some rather damaging criticism of the secondary school background of many students in training. The Plowden Council says that Too many have concentrated in the sixth form on English, history and geography, too few are qualified to take college main courses in mathematics, science or music.… The secondary schools with their specialist tradition in teaching are not sufficiently aware of the need of the primary schools … for teachers whose value lies in a marked degree in their versatility. I suspect that there is a good deal in those remarks. One feature which bothers me today is how isolated much of the rest of our education system tends to be from the primary school. I put it that way on purpose. I can think of one university in particular, for the achievements of which I have a strong admiration, in which it is not at all common to find a member of the faculty who knows where the local primary schools are—let alone one who pays regular visits to them. The academic sixth forms in our schools, for all their fine achievements in many ways, have tended to be too cut off from primary education and the needs of the primary schools.

I am not sure—I imagine that I shall have the Secretary of State's sympathy here—exactly what form this inquiry should take. Just as I have always recognised his difficulty regarding the composition of the National Advisory Council on the Training and Supply of Teachers, I think that it will be very important to have the right sort of committee to inquire into teacher training. Yet I am convinced that there should be an inquiry, as Plowden suggests, just as I would like to see, very shortly, an inquiry into special schools—another part of our system about which we should know a good deal more than we do when we discuss these matters in the House.

I do not wish to end in any way on a controversial note. I conclude by saying that this Report is all, and, indeed, more than, I had hoped for when I set up the Council under Lady Plowden's chairmanship. What I like best of all in it is its focusing on the needs of the children themselves and not on the goals which we may wish to impose on them. As the Report so rightly says: Children need to be themselves, to live with other children and with grown-ups, to learn from their environment, to enjoy the present, to get ready for the future, to create and to love, to learn to face adversity, to behave responsibly—in a word, to be human beings ". Those are good words. Ever since the mid-1950s, education has rightly been receiving a growing share of a rising national product, and this valuable Report makes it more than ever plain that this process must continue.

I ask the Secretary of State, therefore, to tell the House what action he and the Government propose to take to im- plement at least some of the major recommendations contained in the Plowden Report.

5.0 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

I should like to begin by echoing the tribute which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) paid to the Plowden Council. I have already had an opportunity of thanking Lady Plowden and her collagues, both in person and in writing, for their tremendous labours. Their Report—in its thoroughness, breadth of vision and combination of practical wisdom with social idealism—is not surpassed in quality by any of its predecessors in the long line of reports on British education. I look forward to receiving the report of the Central Advisory Council for Wales, which has been making a similar inquiry under the chairmanship of Professor Gittins. The thanks which Lady Plowden and her colleagues would best like to receive, I am certain, is not words but action. This we shall try to supply.

But it does no service to the Report to suggest that I should announce large numbers of detailed decisions on it this afternoon. The Report was published just two months ago. It is immensely long—well over 1,000 pages—closely argued and with a great deal of detailed documentation. It contains 197 recommendations, some controversial, many fundamental, and many looking ahead to the late 1970s. Some would involve legislation. Others would cost large sums of money. It is notable how carefully the Council have costed their proposals. But this does not alter the reality of the cost. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, if the Report were to be implemented in full, the eventual additional running cost by the end of the 1970s would be nearly £80 million a year at present-day prices; and the capital cost would be about £250 million spread over a period of 12 years. That does not include the possible cost of changes in the age of transfer. These are not negligible sums.

Moreover, many of the recommendations are addressed to teachers and local authorities rather than to central government. Even where they concern central government, it would be quite wrong to take decisions without hearing the views of our partners in the education service, on whom would fall the main burden of carrying out new policies. We must remember that the Central Advisory Council is not a representative body, even though it contains members from the teaching and local authority worlds. It was for this reason that I decided, as the House knows, to invite the teachers' and local authority organisations to give their views on the recommendations. The replies are, not surprisingly, only just beginning to come in, and some of them are only preliminary observations. The N.U.T.'s comments have just reached me and I believe that they are being made public this week. Under these circumstances it would be frivolous of me now to announce detailed decisions on the majority of the recommendations.

The party opposite is in no position to criticise us for delay because we can recall what happened after previous Reports of the Central Advisory Council. The Crowther Report was not even debated in the House until seven months after publication. Even then Sir David Eccles, as he then was, the then Minister, announced exceedingly little in the way of decision. Indeed the central Crowther recommendation, to set a date for raising the school leaving age, was not accepted until another 4½ years had elapsed and another C.A.C. Report from Sir John Newsom had been received. Similarly, the Newsom Report was not even debated until five months after it had been published. I hope that we shall be less dilatory than that. But in the light of this it would be both disingenuous and irresponsible to ask for detailed decisions only two months after the publication of Plowden, which is incidentally, by far the longest of the three reports. What I shall do this afternoon is to offer certain general reflections which I hope will make it absolutely clear how seriously the Government take the Report, and how determined we are to follow it up with action.

I should like to make one other preliminary point and take up something the right hon. Gentleman said. There is a certain tendency to set Plowden against comprehensive re-organisation, as though our decision on the latter prevented us from carrying out the Plowden Report. But I do not think that there is support for this view in the Plowden Report itself, which roundly declares in paragraph 418 that: Selection at 11 is coming to an end, a trend we welcome in view of the difficulty of making right decisions and the effect of selection on the curriculum in primary schools. I suppose that the fear that Plowden may suffer springs from a belief that comprehensive re-organisation involves additional school-building which might otherwise go to the primary schools. But I have made it clear time and time again, and indeed have been much criticised by some of my hon. Friends for doing so, that there is no additional allocation of money for going comprehensive, although of course authorities can and will use for the purpose the large amounts of Secondary school-building which they receive for basic needs and so on. So the abolition of selection is in no way a threat to the primary sector in terms of resources, and in every other way it is a positive boon. Indeed, I would say that the Plowden Report and the comprehensive re-organisation to a large extent share the same objective, which is to give every child an equal chance.

The picture of English primary education which emerges from the Report is, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, encouraging, on balance. The Report sums it up by saying: English primary education at its best … is very good indeed. Only rarely is it very bad. The average is good. There has been a clear improvement in standards over the years. It appears in many forms—the better relationships between pupils and teachers, the superb art and craft work often to be seen, the evidence of exciting creative writing quoted in the Report, and above all, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, the steady improvement in reading standards. These improvements reflect enormous credit on the teachers, who have done wonders despite the successive waves of increased pupil numbers which have broken over the schools.

In the light of these facts, I do not think that there is justification for extreme statements of the kind which are quite often made, and which give the impression that nothing is happening in primary education and that all the money is going elsewhere. Nevertheless, there is an undoubted sense of neglect, and the Council was not satisfied with what it found. It summed the matter up in Paragraph 1149: Many of the points discussed in this chapter, however, reveal inequitable or even downright shoddy treatment. Primary education seems always to get the worst treatment—the largest classes, the oldest buildings, poor career prospects and the most restricted professional autonomy. We must try to decide the reason for this feeling of neglect. Fundamentally it is a lack of money, teachers and buildings. During the first half of the 1960s, expenditure per primary child in real terms scarcely rose—to be exact, it rose by only 3 per cent. over four years. And in 1963 there were fewer full-time teachers in the primary schools than there were in 1960.

However, the Report points out that we can now envisage "a substantial improvement on the recent past". I would like to give the House a brief progress report on the improvement so far in the two crucial sectors of buildings and teachers. First, buildings. I need not point out to the House—all hon. Members know it from their constituency experience—what a deplorably large legacy we still have of slum or substandard schools. But we are making progress. The school-building programme, major and minor, has increased, at present-day prices, from £93 million in 1960–61 to £131 million this coming year. It will rise still further, to £150 million in 1969–70.

Within this growing total, there has been a marked shift towards the primary schools. From 1960 to 1965 only 23 per cent. of the major school building programme was devoted to primary schools. Their share then rose to 38 per cent. in 1965–66, to 43 per cent. in 1966–67, and was levelling off in the first half of 1967–68 at 44 per cent. But in the second half of 1967–68, which was the first programme for which this Government was responsible, the share rose to no less than 53 per cent. I am glad to say that about one-third of these primary projects are for replacing sub-standard buildings.

What matters to us in this context is precisely this element of improvement; it is this which gives the measure of our priorities. Taking the series of three building programmes up to 1969–70, I estimate that they will provide at least 250,000 new primary school places over and above those needed for extra num- bers of children. But on the secondary side I estimate that the equivalent figure will be about 60,000 new places. In other words, over this three-year programme for which the present Government have been responsible, we shall replace more than four times as many substandard primary places as secondary places and 250,000 primary school children will be in new schools who would otherwise be in old schools. So a definite shift in priorities has already occurred.

Teacher supply is also beginning to move in the right direction although, because of the rising numbers of children, we still have a hard slog ahead. Here the position is as follows. From 1960 to 1964, the number of qualified teachers in primary schools actually fell. But since then it has been rising quite rapidly. In 1964, it was 141,000. In 1965, it was 144,000. Last year, it was 148,000. This year, it is 153,000. Next year, I judge that it will be about 160,000 and the upward trend will continue strongly thereafter.

Of course, these rising numbers of teachers have had in the last two or three years to cope with rapidly rising numbers of children. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth was lucky in this respect at least—and I do not begrudge his luck—in that, over the decade ending in 1964, the number of pupils in primary schools actually fell by over 200,000. In consequence, despite as I think a rather unimpressive performance in teacher supply, some dent was made in the problem of class size.

We are in a completely different and much more difficult situation because of the rising birthrate in the late 1950s. Between 1963 and 1965, the primary school roll increased by over 150,000. It rose by another 95,000 last year and will continue to rise by perhaps as many as 150,000 a year for some years to come.

Yet even in the face of this large increase in numbers, I believe that we shall continue to improve the staffing ratio and, for all that forecasts are hazardous, I stick to my belief that, by 1971, we shall be very near to eliminating completely primary classes of over 40.

I turn now to some of the specific Plowden recommendations. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I will select only a few out of the 197 and those of the most immediate interest. First, I will refer, as the right hon. Gentleman himself did first, to educational priority areas. I shall not summarise what the Report says about social and educational handicaps suffered by the children in these areas or the case for positive discrimination in their favour. I will only say that I find this, as the right hon. Gentleman did, a most radical recommendation, utterly convincing and a very striking illustration of what Professor Titmuss and others have recently been saying—that we cannot rely on economic growth alone to even out gross social inequalities.

In the Department, we have already given a lot of thought to the problem of social handicap. Eighteen months ago, as I informed the House at the time, I set up a small standing group of Her Majesty's inspectors and officials to keep the whole subject under review and consider possible lines of action. We have published three in our series Reports on Education on the subject of education under social handicap.

A year ago, we held a very notable conference in Roehampton, described in last July's issue of Trends in Education, so we have done a good deal of preparatory work. The Plowden Council now says, and I wholly agree, that we must make a further positive effort. I cannot pronounce on all its detailed recommendations today as some involve major decisions about future public expenditure and I want to have the views of the associations, whose co-operation in this will be crucial. But I can give some preliminary thoughts.

First, the designation of educational priority areas. Although I am in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman and I wholly share the objective of defining the deprived or under-privileged schools, I see great difficulty in the particular administrative solution proposed for achieving it. I would doubt, even with the range of criteria which Plowden proposes, whether we could, working centrally from the Department, designate these areas in a way which would be truly objective, and moreover many people would object in principle to the Government intervening by fiat in the responsibilities of local government in this way.

But I am not too disturbed about this because, even if central designation is not practicable, every local authority knows which are its own E.P.A. schools and we can therefore achieve the results within the present administrative framework, so it is important to see what we can do within that framework.

I propose to allocate about half of the 1968–69 major school building programme to primary projects and I shall give priority within this allocation, when basic needs for new places have been met, to the replacement of primary schools in E.P.A. areas. The programme for 1968–69 will include at least £3½ million worth of such projects. Looking ahead, I shall try to keep each year a special reserve in the school building programme for allocation specifically to E.P.A. areas.

Secondly, I come to minor works which are obviously especially useful in relation to E.P.A. schools. Incidentally, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was rather disingenuous in what he said, in referring to an article in the Birmingham Post, about "Mini-minor" works. He must know that we brought these under control because the amount spent on them in three successive years so far exceeded what he estimated that the account was hopelessly in the red, and they would have had to have been brought under control by any Government. In any case, what matters is the total spending on minor works, however described and however allocated. In the last full year of the Conservative Government, 1963–64, this total was £21 million, although only £16 million was authorised. It then rose progressively to £25 million in the current year and will I hope rise to nearly £28 million in 1968–69. So I hope that that will satisfy one point that the right hon. Gentleman made.

I have great sympathy with the idea of a special allocation of minor works for E.P.A. areas. If the debate had come rather later in the Session, I might have had something to announce on the subject. As it is, I can only say that we take this recommendation very seriously and I hope to make an announcement in due course.

The same applies to a possible relaxation for the E.P.A. areas of the present restriction on new nursery schools or classes. The difficulty here is partly the question of teacher supply and training, but partly of course money—and here again I can only say at the moment that I intend to give priority to E.P.A. areas when we are in a position to make some further relaxation on the establishment of new nursery classes.

The Report asks whether the quota arrangement might be used in any way to help the priority areas. The N.U.T. has suggested, in the comments on Plowden which it has just sent to me, that we should have a separate quota for primary schools. I should like to consider this along with any other promising ideas and in consultation with the associations. I therefore propose, if the other parties are agreeable, to call a special quota conference to see whether we can change the system in such a way as to help the E.P.A. areas.

Plowden also raised—and the right hon. Gentleman mentioned this—the question of salary differentials to help these priority areas. Of course some authorities already do a great deal to attract teachers to their difficult areas—London, Birmingham and the West Riding of Yorkshire are three examples. They give travel allowances, help with housing, create additional posts of special responsibility, and in at least one case they have tried to build up a mobile force of teachers.

But the question of an explicit national salary differential of course raises far more complications and would be a matter of great concern to both teachers' and local authority organisations. It is naturally a matter for the Burnham Committee, but I think that I can give an assurance that the general question of possible differentials for E.P.A. areas will be considered by Burnham this year. On the subject of Burnham, since it has been much mentioned in the House recently, I should add that I shall be meeting representatives of the associations on the Burnham Primary and Secondary Committee next Wednesday and I hope to be able to assure them that negotiations will shortly be possible.

I turn now to the second major recommendation, which concerns co-operation between school and parent.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the E.P.A. areas, I remind him that some rural schools in remote positions are in bad condition. He has mentioned travel allowances. Will education authorities be allowed to pay travel allowances to teachers to go from a town to schools in the surrounding rural area or has a rural area no prospect of being designated an E.P.A. area?

Mr. Crosland

In general, travel allowances are within the discretion of the authorities already and it is for them to decide. It is up to the authority in any area to decide what to do, and it will remain so.

I now have to say something on the second recommendation about co-operation between school and parents. Here, again, I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman said. This was perhaps the most imaginative and perceptive part of the whole Plowden Report. We have known for a very long time the effect which home background and parental attitudes have on school performance, and the Report gives us a great deal of additional evidence. In the primary school especially the place of the parent needs to be made clear. Parents need to know what the school is trying to do for their children and the school needs to know how far it can rely on the encouragement of the parents, or how far it must make allowance for the lack of it. Generally, parents have a right to know what is going on in their children's schools.

The Report describes a "minimum programme." I know that some teachers will feel that it goes rather far. As the Report itself says, it is hard enough to cope with 40 children without taking on 80 parents as well. I certainly do not underestimate the load on teachers' time and energies which a more open school policy will involve. But for all these difficulties—and there may be some financial difficulties as well—I am certain that it is right to pursue this policy. Some of the detailed proposals such as the appointment of two deputy head teachers for schools which are used for out-of-school activities, will obviously need a great deal of thought, but we must move ahead in the direction of linking the school and the community more closely.

So I fully accept the recommendation that my Department should follow up this matter, by circular or some other means. To some extent, we have already done so.

Two of our Building Bulletins have drawn attention to some ways in which secondary school premises can play a part in the life of the community, particularly if community needs are taken into account at the design stage. The new Evelyn Lowe Primary School in Southwark, which I had the pleasure of opening recently, shows brilliantly how far suitable planning and imaginative staffing can help to make a school a welcoming place for parents to visit. The next issue of Trends in Education will describe how a comprehensive school in Bristol is making itself the centre of its community, providing for a common use of library facilities, for example, developing a whole range of evening activities on the school premises involving staff, pupils and parents in association with the youth service and further education. Up and down the country things are moving in the right direction, but we must encourage them still further.

Next, there is the cluster of recommendations about "ages and stages", as they have come to be called. The Council recommends a new national pattern of schooling based on nursery education from the age of 3 for those children whose parents want it, a single date of entry to primary school, half-day attendance at the parents' request up to the age of 6, transfer to junior or middle school at 8 and transfer to secondary school at 12.

These are essentially long-term recommendations. The Council does not envisage the new pattern operating nationally until the late 1970s. They would require decisions and legislation of a fundamental character. As the Council itself implies, they would cost an unknown sum of money and they would be extemely controversial both in the education world and, I would have thought, in the House. We shall therefore have to give them a great deal of study.

Personally, I have great sympathy with some parts of the suggested new pattern. In particular, I share the general desire to move ahead with nursery provision, though we can do this only when we are sure that we shall not draw too many qualified teachers away from the primary schools; and that day is not yet.

I have more reservations about the proposal, even though it is not for early action, that we should move towards a new national age of transfer at 12. Here I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Opinion about the correct age of transfer is, as the Council admits, very evenly balanced. There is no overwhelming case for one age rather than another. We now have some authorities experimenting with 9 to 13 middle schools as well as 8 to 12 middle schools and this will give us a chance to test the viability of both types on the ground. Moreover, many authorities have geared their plans for comprehensive reorganisation, or for raising the school-leaving age, either to 11 or to 13 and it would be intolerable now to throw them into confusion by enforcing a transfer age of 12.

Generally, it seems doubtful whether a single national age of transfer is so important once we abolish selection. What made the age of transfer so crucial was that it coincided with selection, but, with selection gone and given a reasonably uniform curriculum for the 10 to 13 age group as a whole, whatever the type of school—and the Schools Council is about to examine this—it is less certain that we need national uniformity on age of transfer. At any rate, no decision is called for in the immediate future and I hope that we shall have the widest possible expression of view.

Sir E. Boyle

On the subject of ages and stages, the right hon. Gentleman has not said anything about the interim recommendation—not the long-term recommendation—for two entry dates a year into infants' school as compared with termly entry in the past. Can he make a statement on that?

Mr. Crosland

My hon. Friend the Minister of State will deal with a number of interim recommendations all concerning that part of the age group when she winds up the debate.

The fourth group of recommendations concerns ancillary help and teachers' aides. We have to remember that the amount of ancillary help of various kinds has increased remarkably in recent years. It now amounts to about 16,000 full-time and 70,000 part-time helpers, and the matter has moved forward since the Plowden Report was published. On 20th January, the local authorities and the teachers' associations published an agreed memorandum, which I greatly welcome, advocating the extended use of non-teaching staff. The sentence read: We believe it is of the greatest importance, therefore, that Local Education Authorities should examine their arrangements for the employment of ancillary helpers in order that the qualified teaching staff shall be able to conserve their energies and time for those duties which they alone can undertake. Generally, this memorandum gives us all a reasonable formula to work on for the present, and I would not like to go beyond it without further discussions with both employers and teachers.

Next, the Council makes a number of recommendations designed to improve the status of primary school teachers both in the education system and in the community at large. I sometimes doubt whether their status in Britain is in fact as low as they often say it is. Unlike many other countries, we have in Britain a uniform basic salary for all teachers. We have a common form and length of training for all teachers and, of course, teachers in Britain, without the constraints of a centralised curriculum, have much greater freedom to teach what they want. However, perhaps status is to some extent what the people concerned think it to be and in any case I agree with much of the Plowden argument on this matter.

The Report suggests a number of measures. It proposes, for example, more generous provision of ancillary help—and I have already made it clear that I accept this. It proposes certain changes in respect of school management and the relationship between teachers and local authorities. I shall hope to say something about this on a future occasion. It proposes that the maximum size of primary classes should be the same as that in the first two or three years of secondary school.

The Labour Party has long accepted this and I reaffirm it again today, though the Report has the honesty to admit that both that class size is becoming a less satisfactory measure of the staffing position as we develop new methods of team teaching and the like, and also that no formal change in maximum class-size would have any practical consequence, since class-size depends not on regulations, but on the supply of teachers. Furthermore, some authorities are preparing to establish, as I have already said, middle schools which straddle the age range 8 to 12, or 9 to 13, and it would be unwise to amend the regulations in any inflexible way until we have more experience of these middle schools.

There are only two other specific points in the Report which I want to mention. The first is religious education. I would judge from our debates last autumn on the Education Act, 1967, that the Plowden recommendations probably represent the consensus, though not the unanimous view, of the House. That is, we do not want now to disrupt the 1944 settlement, reached with such patience and difficulty, or to re-open the whole question which bedevilled English education, and distracted so many energies, over so many decades.

But we should, on the other hand, make much clearer to parents their children's right to be excused from religious instruction and the act of worship. We should encourage more flexibility and freedom in interpretating the law on the act of worship, and we should do much more to familiarise teachers with modern thinking on religious education.

On corporal punishment, I am wholly on the side of the Report. I do not believe in it and never have. My only doubt is whether the Report does not make altogether too much of an issue of it. What stands out is the steady change in the climate of opinion, and the steady diminution in the amount of such punishment which goes on. It was interesting that only 3 per cent. of teachers questioned by the Council said that it should be used as a regular means of punishment. The N.U.T. really sums the matter up in its comments on Plowden when it says that …nearly all our members would deplore the necessity of using any form of corporal punishment, particularly in the primary schools. I am sure this problem is on the way out, and that both schools and authorities will note what Plowden has to say. I would certainly commend it, and I would think that hon. members generally would think it quite wrong that articles like the tawse should appear on local authorities' requisition lists.

Three things stand out from this Report. First, we have much to be proud of in our primary schools, and we must not write down their achievement by unnecessary self-criticism and denigration.

Secondly, however—and I quote from the Report— …there is a strong feeling that primary education, more than any other sector of education, is failing to secure its share of educational and of national expenditure. Since it takes a matter of years to switch priorities, this is essentially a judgment on the long period during which the Party opposite was in power.

Thirdly, therefore, we have a long uphill task to do all that we want for the primary schools. I have shown how we are starting the task in terms of school buildings and teacher supply. It will not be an easy task, since it coincides with a period of quite exceptional increase in the numbers of primary school-children. These numbers were perhaps 3 million in 1938; they were about 4.1 million in 1961; today they are 4.4 million. By the early 1970s, they will be approaching 5 million.

This shows the tremendous size of the task in front of us. But despite the difficulties, this Government accept the philosophy of the Plowden Report, and are determined to improve still further the standards of British primary education.

5.33 p.m.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

I hope that it will be thought a fair comment on the interesting speech to which we have just listened from the Secretary of State for Education if I say that he was speaking in a minor key. He was perfectly frank with the House in saying that there were a number of recommendations in his mind, and indeed he took what I might describe as the unprecedented course of giving us a very broad hint about two of them, clearly indicating that he was inhibited, for other reasons, from announcing them today.

Those who are interested in this Report, and who hoped that this debate would produce major announcements will be disappointed. I must gently correct the right hon. Gentleman on one point. It is not a very important matter, but he was seeking to chide previous governments about action taken on previous Reports by drawing upon the dates when those Reports were debated. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) made clear, the Minister has no responsibility and can take no credit for this debate. The fact that we are debating this Report reasonably quickly is entirely due to the Opposition. It does not lie in the mouth of the Secretary of State to take any credit whatever for the speed by which this matter has come to he discussed on the Floor of the House.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

Since my hon. Friend has properly seen fit to put the Secretary of State in his place on that point, would he also point out that the figures he gave in his closing sentences absolutely cut from under his feet the grounds of his objection to the priorities which my right hon. Friends have given in terms of places, when the figures for children in primary education were quite different?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right and will, I hope, catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and be able to develop this matter in a much more vicious way than I would normally do. If one has once been associated, however humbly, and in my case it was extremely humbly, with what was in my day the Ministry and is now the Department of Education, one has a certain veneration for the Minister in charge, even if he sits on the other side of the House.

Therefore my criticisms, and I have a number, will be phrased in an appropriately obsequious manner. If I had to answer the wholly unreasonable question, asking which of the varied sectors of education was of the greatest importance, I would plump for giving the highest priority to the infant and primary sectors, because it is my observation, and I have learned this from people very much better qualified than I, that a well prepared child has an infinitely better opportunity in later life. He has very much greater opportunities for benefiting from secondary education and beyond than the child whose ill-fortune it has been to have a very bad educational start.

Many fine degree courses or awards can be traced back, like a pedigree, to the comparative quiet of a primary or infant school which is outside the searchlight of publicity so often directed to the more exciting educational activities. Maybe primary school children do not sit down in the forecourt of their school in an organised fashion, but the activities in these schools is more important than those in the higher ranges of education.

I have reservations about this Report, and I cannot give it the same warm welcome as did the two Front Bench speakers. I am conscious that in saying this I appear discourteous, which is the very last thing that I would want to be. I do not wish to be discourteous to very distinguished people and to a very distinguished chairman, all of whom have laboured with immense skill. If anyone casts any sort of doubt upon the value of what they have produced, it appears to be discourteous. But in contrast to some of the great Reports that we have had in the past, what does Plowden tell us that we did not know before? It is immensely valuable to have all the information in one place, and we shall draw constantly upon the statistics. It is helpful for us to be guided in certain ways, but to be quite honest, in contrast with, for example, Robbins or Newsom, this is not treading great and new ground.

With an appropriate note of apology, I must set on the record my doubts as to whether this has been a useful exercise, taking up as it has the valuable time of exceedingly able people. I have a constructive suggestion to make. It always seems most unfortunate that in order to produce such a Report, and I do not refer only to Plowden, we gather together these distinguished people and, having produced the Report, they are dispersed. All of this expertise has been brought together; men and women of great distinction have lived with this problem, and then we disperse them to the four winds and, as far as I know, they never come together again. I wonder whether, when we ask such distinguished people to work like this, there is not something to be said for keeping them in being on a regular basis.

I have to inject another note of criticism about the Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth made the valid criticism that the Plowden Report is critical of the present priorities given to the rigid im- position of comprehensive re-organisation at the secondary stage. The Secretary of State missed the point. He is perfectly fair in replying that he is, against a backcloth of considerable criticism, allocating no extra cash whatever. But the point of the criticism, certainly as I make it, is that this rigid comprehensive reorganisation has done two things: first, it has distracted from the primary sector a large part of the searchlight of public opinion; and, secondly, it has drawn quite unreasonably on the energies of the administrators.

I sometimes wonder whether we realise the disproportionate amount of time of the administrators which is being taken up by the over-hasty imposition of rigid comprehensive reorganisation. I wish to illustrate the point from my experience as chairman of governors of an affected school in South London. I beg the Secretary of State to believe that I start with no rigid theological objections to comprehensive education. I find no basic conservative principle in selection at 11. I find no difficulty in exploring new concepts and ideas.

However, as chairman of governors, I have had to devote hours of my time. which matters little, and administrators and the staff of the school have devoted hours of their time, which matters quite a lot, to discussing a proposed re-organisation scheme which was eventually shot down in flames and abandoned on strictly educational grounds. It does not even appear on the Secretary of State's desk, and rightly so. Hours of the time of administrators, district officers, inspectors, deputy education officers and other busy men have been taken up in this way. Men with fine minds have had to try to produce for the Secretary of State schemes which, on educational grounds, are dogs' breakfasts. That is the criticism. That is what clearly emerges from the Plowden Report.

The emphasis on secondary reorganisation comprehensively has tended to swing public understanding away from the requirements of secondary education and has taken up a wholly disproportionate amount of the time of people who should be thinking about the problems contained in the Plowden Report. That is why this is such a valuable corrective to the Secretary of State, and I hope that he will take the lesson to heart. I see an hon. Member opposite shaking his head. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will resist pressure from below the Gangway, although it is of a different order.

Mr. E. Rowlands (Cardiff, North)

The reason why there is a searchlight on secondary education is that it is basically wrong. This is the view of hon. Members on this side of the House. There is no disagreement basically on the system of primary education, although we want to see it improved.

Mr. van Straubenzee

If there is nothing wrong with the system of primary education, some people have been wasting a great deal of their time in compiling the Plowden Report. Perhaps I may move on to some of the recommendations which it makes about improving it and putting it right.

My right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State mentioned educational priority areas. We must not underestimate the effort which is necessary in terms of numbers of teachers if these E.P.A.'s are to be a reality, whether they are designated or not. One of the most interesting and useful things which has emerged from the debate is the repudiation by both Front Benches of the designation, at least by the Government, of formal E.P.A.s. If primary school classes are to be brought down to 40 children or less, we require, according to the figures, 400 extra teachers by next year and 1,000 in 1972.

I wish to raise three points on that matter. First, I wish to put forward a revolutionary idea, although I suspect that I shall be repudiated by all my hon. Friends. There seems to be a certain measure of doubt about whether the £120 increment per teacher is a wise solution in an E.P.A. The alternative suggestion put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth is the strengthening of the special allowances. The concept of the £120 is quite good, but it should not be tied to a per capita payment.

My modest observation is that the success of a school, particularly in a bad area as defined by the Plowden Report, will often depend to an overwhelming degree on the headmaster or headmistress or senior members of the staff. I should be prepared to see a fund at the rate of this sum available to the local authority for such an area. In other words, I should be prepared to see a Beeching-type headmaster. [Interruption.] I use the phrase "Beeching-type headmaster" because it brings home to everybody what I mean. People of that sort tend, by virtue of their competence, to get drawn to the cushier areas which are nice areas in which to bring up their families. That is the plain fact.

I do not believe that without some fairly major drastic step we shall bring back to the areas where they are needed the first class men and women that there are available as heads and senior members of staff. I have no doubt where my priority lies. Keen as I am to see buildings improve, it is the flesh and blood of the teacher which I believe should come first.

Mr. John Wells

My hon. Friend may not realise it, but the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, was educated at Maidstone Grammar School and at the moment the right hon. Gentleman the Minister is busily murdering Maidstone Grammar School. Therefore, the Beeching-type headmaster will never be available.

Mr. van Straubenzee

That is just one more sad commentary on the age in which we live, though I have the feeling that sheer brains will manage to overcome even the excesses of the present Government—at least until we can restore the balance in a few years' time.

I do not believe that anything would do more good for a comparatively small sum than the restoration of the Mini-minor programme. The objection raised by the Secretary of State cannot just be shrugged off. But there is a strong sense of responsibility among local education authorities, on the whole. It is not outside the bounds of possibility for the right hon. Gentleman and the local education authorities to go forward together in this. There are few ways in which more efficacious work can be done for a small sum of money than in this programme. I hope that he will not close his mind wholly to it and merely base himself on the kind of difficulty which he raised.

Part of the county which I represent is now the fastest of all English counties in growth. It is very easy for us to assume that because a high proportion of the schools are necessarily new, by definition, such areas do not have desperate problems of their own. The fact is that the mere problem of growth alone puts immense strains on the local authorities, and there is something to be said for that being recognised at the other end of the spectrum. There is a problem in coping with sheer growth.

The matter of teachers' aides is mentioned extensively in the Report. What came as a surprise to me, though doubtless other hon. Members were aware of it, was the high percentage of unqualified teachers which we have at present in our schools. It was estimated to be 6 per cent. in 1962, and the Committee is confident that it is now substantially higher. The second matter which I found fascinating was the high percentage of those answering the questionnaire who were in favour of teachers' aides. Forty-nine per cent. of heads and 37 per cent. of assistant teachers answering the questionnaire thought that there was a place for non-qualified assistant teachers in the class room.

I am delighted to think that both Front Benches have taken a lead in this matter, but the House must also understand the genuinely felt fears of the teaching profession. Put in blunt language, they fear that it is the thin end of the wedge for the dilution of their professional standing. My answer to them has always been that they will be most unwise and will lose much public sympathy if they stand out firmly against the kind of proposals set out in the Plowden Report. But they must go on to build for themselves the essential defence against dilution, which is their own self-governing, self-disciplining professional body.

Unless and until petty interests can be submerged and that can be achieved for the whole teaching profession, there is the risk of any Government playing them off one against the other, and there is, I suppose, a theoretical risk of dilution. On the principle, however, I am sure that this House has to say that it expresses public opinion in asking for the way forward.

A little-noticed section of the Report which is of interest to so many hon. Members is that which deals with handicapped children. In view of the criticisms which I shall voice in a moment, it is import- ant to make it clear that Plowden is not concerned with special schools for handicapped children, and I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend advocate an inquiry into these schools. I hope that the Minister of State will smile favourably upon the idea when she comes to reply to the debate.

With that important reservation, I do not think that I have read more concentrated banality on this subject than I did in Plowden, which contains one banal recommendation after another. The Report says, for example: No handicapped child should be sent to a special school who can be satisfactorily educated in an ordinary school. We have all known that, and, anyway, "satisfactorily educated" begs a number of questions.

The only recommendation which is worthy of note is the very good one that there should be a special counselling service. Those of us who have had to try and advise the bewildered parents of a mentally handicapped child—and here I stray into the realms of the special school—will realise that this recommendation touches a very real chord. There is a need for the co-ordination of the many services available to such parents, many of whom have a deep sense of shame, have had to overcome a sense of shock, and, in the case for instance of autistic children are dealing with deficiencies which they do not understand. Yet our services are quite remarkable and sometimes are not used. However, since I have had some hard things to say about this section of the Report, let me say how wise that recommendation is.

From the back benches on this side of the House, we recognise gratefully the part played by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth in affording us this opportunity, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to have this debate. I apologise again for the reservations which I have as to whether this is one of the great reports of the nation, but nothing can detract from one's admiration for the assiduous and skilful way in which so many able people have sought to bring together in two massive volumes the problems of educating perhaps the most important age sector of our children.

5.59 p.m.

Mr. Denis Coe (Middleton and Prestwich)

In the preface to its main recommendations, the Plowden Council draws on the wise remarks of one of the ancient Roman philosopher kings, who said: To my grandfather I am debtor in that he taught me that on education we must spend with an open hand. The Report then goes on to demonstrate that, particularly in the case of the primary schools, this is not the case.

I remind the House that the attitude of those who have worked in the primary sector of education in some respects symbolises the stoical attitude of the same philosopher king when he said: Life is war, sojourning in a far country. Only one thing can see us through safely, philosophy, keeping the spirit within us unspoiled and undishonoured … taking what comes contentedly, all part of the process to which we owe our own being. One feels sometimes that primary school teachers have had to labour under that sort of stoical approach, but of course they have done much more than this. Much more than this, they have also had a zest for life; the Report clearly shows the great achievements of the primary schools, for which credit must go particularly to the teachers.

It would also be right to pay credit to my right hon. Friend for his insistence, and that of this party, that the 11-plus examination should be abolished. Apart from the beneficial effects of such abolition on the reorganisation of secondary education, just as important is the way in which, with teachers and children released from the shackles of the examination the curriculum and work of the primary schools will be able to expand effectively and minister to all the talents of the children.

For these reasons, the Report demonstrates that the primary stage is vital in a child's life. It questions basic assumptions which we have accepted for years without thinking particularly our assumption that for some reason because primary school children are smaller, we can pack more into a classroom—40, as compared with 30 in secondary schools.

Perhaps we now recognise the greater resources which are needed. The Report recognises that foundations of learning in primary schools and the attitudes towards learning which children will have for the rest of their lives and the wider social training within which children will be educated. Comparing the modern junior schools with those of our early days, we must appreciate the revolution which has taken place in learning.

I wanted to take part in the debate, first, as an ex-primary school teacher, second, as a parent with three children in primary schools and a fourth who cannot wait to get there, and, third, as an administrator taking part in these discussions. And I should like to consider the Report in the light of this vital partnership among parents, teachers and administrators.

First, the teachers. The Report is right to stress their importance. We must find a more satisfactory way of judging the work of a skilled teacher. At the moment, they are put in a small box with 30 or 40 children, and administrators do not know enough about their ability. Second, there is a real problem in ensuring that their status is not lower than that of their secondary school colleagues. With the present points system and the system of special responsibility allowances, they have a justifiable complaint, and I hope that this matter will be considered closely.

To return to a point which I made in my maiden speech in the House, I should like to see many more skilled teachers, not necessarily highly qualified academically, in the colleges of education. This will be a weakness, until sufficient primary teachers of the right calibre can transmit their skill and ability to their students. The colleges are conscious of this problem and I know that further improvements will be carried forward. I hope that the Government will also be sympathetic towards the suggestion in the Report of a two-year course with a further year after a period of practical teaching.

I also welcome the suggestion for longer teaching practice. I cannot believe, after my experience as a student in a training college, that anyone can do more, in three weeks, than show that he is good at gimmicks. A longer period is necessary to develop the teachers' worth. The Report also says that there should be more male teachers in primary schools.

A delicate but important point in relation to training is that a teacher's progress from the grammar school—or, as I hope it will be in future, his comprehensive school—to the college of education and then back into a school is a sheltered life for one who will have to expound to children life's values and experiences. I hope that the educational authorities will consider this problem closely.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's remarks about teachers' aides, for professional help for the teacher in the light of the recent agreed statement he has mentioned today. There is a place for teachers' aides, and I think that the Report is right to define what they can do in the classroom.

There are understandable difficulties over teachers' attitudes to parents. All of us who have worked in schools know that the parents we usually saw were the ones we least needed to see, as their children were least trouble, and that the others came only to complain that we had done something we should not have done to their little Johnny. I appreciate teachers' difficulties. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) was right to suggest that they may sometimes feel that, if they have to cope with 40 children, they do not want to have to cope with 80 parents as well. But this is important in building up co-operation between teachers and parents.

The section of the Report on parents was one of the most exciting, encouraging and satisfying. I hope that there will be a great extension of co-operation between parents and teachers; this is the right way forward. The old attitude that the parent brings the child up and the teacher educates him is no good. The Report and our own experience produce examples of the co-operation which is possible.

I am glad that the Report mentioned areas where this can be done—the welcome to school, meetings with teachers, open days, information to parents, reports, and even visits to homes. These are all very important ways for parents and teachers to co-operate for the good of the children. Perhaps as important as anything, in the light of the economic situation, is that these things will cost nothing. All that is required is a different approach.

I am glad that the Report stresses the representation of parents on boards of managers. I have argued for many years that the members of the board should care about the children in their school, and never mind whether they are on the local council or important in some other sphere. The important thing is that they should be prepared to ensure that they are doing a useful job. The crucial point is that in both these cases we must achieve, by education outside this Chamber, a change in parental attitudes and a combined operation on the part of parents and teachers.

While parents and teachers can together achieve great things, and while their cooperation can make a tremendous difference to the attitudes of their children, they need encouragement from those who provide the resources and take the major decisions on matters of fundamental policy. Thus my third group comprises the administrators, and I will consider some of the aspects of the Report affecting them.

Most of my teaching service in primary schools and, later, in secondary schools was in what I would term educational priority areas. Knowing some of the difficulties of these areas—the problem of staffing, the problems caused by skilled teachers who had been in the areas for many years moving to other areas, difficulties arising through teachers coming straight out of training colleges, suddenly being drafted to these areas and having to face difficult conditions. I appreciate the importance of the points made on this subject in the Report.

While I envisage difficulties arising over the Plowden recommendation of £120 to all teachers, one of the problems of most of the educational priority areas is that of housing. Many of the teachers we wish to attract to these areas must travel long distances, and this is an important matter to bear in mind. If we can get an influx of skilled teachers into the educational priority areas we shall, as my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) pointed out in an intervention, get the stability that is necessary in these areas.

The remarks about the age of transfer are of significance. The Secretary of State was right to say that there is not the same urgency which there would have been were there secondary selection of the old style. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that the age of 12-plus is, broadly speaking, a good age at which to change, but I recognise that there can be a great deal of experimentation here.

I hope that there will be an increase in the amount of money spent on minor works. It is ironical in one sense to think that tonight in my constituency there is a meeting of parents who are troubled about conditions in the primary school. I will be meeting them tomorrow. This is a problem which must have our continuous attention.

I have been concerned at the inflexible way in which administrators consider the problems that arise in new housing areas. The suggestion is often made that parents who move to new housing estates have only 1.5 children per family. In fact, families are much larger than that. The result is that where there are new housing estates one finds overcrowded schools and new schools being built which are inadequate to accommodate the local school population. I hope that this matter will receive the urgent attention of my right hon. Friend.

I would also stress the importance of the Plowden recommendation that there should be a full report upon the training of teachers. Indeed, in my maiden speech I emphasised the importance of teachers. knowing their proper rôle. Teachers are uncertain about this at present and a full inquiry into the whole question of how teachers are trained would be of great help in deciding this rôle.

One must ask whether we can meet the cost. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend tell the House of his proposed spending on primary education this year and in the future. We must find the money because we cannot afford not to spend money on the aspects mentioned by Plowden. If we follow through the better educational understanding that is beginning to exist between parents and teachers—and, further, among parents, teachers and administrators—we will be better equipped to appreciate the extent of the costs involved. It is up to people like us—M.P.s, chairmen of education committees and others in public life—to make the public face up to the necessity of finding the money to do this work.

We must bear in mind that the children are the objective of all the co-operation about which I have been speaking. Plowden rightly begins with the child, and I recommend Chapters 2 and 3 of the Report as compulsory reading for all who care about children. The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) asked, in effect, "What is the point of this Report"? The point is that it brings together the whole philosophy of education for young children, it stresses the development of the child, the importance of his environment and the great pool of ability which, up to now, has not been tapped.

Plowden also stresses the fact that the school is a social unit. I was glad to note that in another place Lord Eccles pointed out that, in terms of the school being a social unit, he did not believe in the Government trying to achieve a saving in the provision of school meals. I agree, because I see school meals as part of the atmosphere in which a child grows up. I am equally glad to note the stress which Plowden places on coeducation and the fact that only 3 per cent, of primary schools are not mixed. I hope that this trend will flow over into the secondary schools. The comments about not having streaming and not making premature judgments about the achievements of children are equally important.

The Plowden Report can be added to the list of other distinguished investigations into our education system. I rejoice that it puts the emphasis on learning rather than on teaching. I urge that it is not allowed to collect dust in the pigeon holes of the Secretary of State's Department, in the baskets in the offices of directors of education or on the shelves of public libraries and headmasters' rooms. It is a social document of first importance which demands action and indicates the lines on which we must proceed. It is by the active co-operation of teachers, parents and administrators that this Report will be made a reality and will ensure that our young people are able to develop their talents to the best of their ability.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

The hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe), as an ex-primary school teacher and as a parent of young children, brought a refreshing and sincere approach to our debate on this vital Report. The whole House will welcome the statement of the Secretary of State about his proposal to implement the recommendations of the Report and will rejoice in the fact that substantial sums of money will be spent this year, next year and the year after on primary school extensions.

Perhaps the greatest benefit that has come from the Plowden Report is that, for almost the first time, the spotlight is on what many of us consider to be a key part of our education system. For too long we have been bogged down with dogmatic arguments about the reorganisation of secondary education and we have concerned ourselves, and rightly so, with a massive expansion of higher education. But the linchpin on which those systems depend, the primary sector, has been very much the Cinderella of our education service. I would, however, pay a very warm tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) for setting up the Central Advisory Council for Education; and to Lady Plowden and her colleagues for this very interesting and valuable Report and the recommendations it contains.

Many hon. Members wish to speak so I shall be brief and, inevitably, I cannot comment on many important and sometimes controversial points that the Report makes.

A fundamental factor in both primary and other education, which the Report properly highlights, is the attitude of the child's parents. If my mathematics are correct, the average primary school pupil in any given year, including holidays, spends six hours at home, or outside school, for every hour in school. Therefore, it follows that a child coming from a happy family background where reading is an established pattern of life, and where he is given every encouragement in his education, both academic and extramural, will be at an enormous advantage compared with the child whose home life is disturbed, where reading anything other than the tabloid Press is regarded as very odd, and where the parents' main aim is to leave the education to the teacher and then get the child earning as soon as possible. If this factor is important, as I believe it to be, neither Plowden, Newsom, the Government nor any other central authority will solve educational problems until parents cease to abdicate from their educational responsibilities.

The three factors that are essential to the healthy development of a young child are his family, his school and his church. These are the three pillars on which he can grow and mature into a responsible citizen. Some would argue that religion is "old hat" and can be dispensed with. There is certainly no doubt that the families of all too many children are a millstone rather than a pillar, and this leaves the school—and, in particular, the primary school—carrying an undue share of the load.

Plowden rightly brings these strands together and I am glad that the majority of the Council recommended the continuance of religious instruction in schools. I am sure that they are right in looking much further into the way in which religion is presented to young children. Telling nursery stories from the Bible is fine, but let us not underestimate the capacity of young children to take in much more about religion and ethics than we perhaps give them credit for.

If the children do not learn right from wrong at home, ought we not to see that at some time in the most formative years this vital quality is inculcated, and surely there is no better place than in our primary schools. After all, the thought of teaching a foreign language to primary school children would have been regarded as impossibly difficult not so many years ago, but the teaching of French by new methods to eight-year-olds is now a growing feature in primary schools all over the country.

The solution of the problem of parental attitudes is still far from being achieved. There are many parts of the country where this is so, but rather more where it is not. The teachers themselves can help by making a determined effort to get the parents interested in the school activities and in the progress of their children. It seems to me to be unrealistic, however, to expect this to be very successful when the teachers are trying to cope with classes of 40 to 50, and Plowden's recommendations of a reduction in the educational priority areas of the size of classes to 30, coupled with the recruitment of teacher aides would give the fully-qualified teachers a much better chance of establishing a rapport with parents.

I am less happy about the Report's recommendation that eventually there should be a national single date of intake to the infant school in the September following the child's fifth birthday. This to me smacks of administrative convenience, and I think that it could lead to many anomalies. Presumably, a child whose birthday fell in October would have to wait nearly a whole additional year before going to school, and this would be unfair to both the child and its parents. Surely, what we want is flexibility according to local circumstances. There are some village schools with an abnormally low pupil-teacher ratio, and I see no reason why in these cases entry should not be permitted when the child is 4½. The only step that would make the proposed national uniform entry date fair would be a nation-wide provision of nursery schools, and I just cannot see this happening within the next few years.

I turn now to the question of money. If this Report is to mean anything at all, this Government and succeeding Governments will have to devote much greater resources to primary education in the future than they have done in the past. The concomitant of this is much greater economic growth than we are now getting, or a reduction in other forms of Government spending, or higher rates of taxation. The third choice does not appeal to me. But there is already much that can be done within the existing framework and with existing resources that could help in the physical problem of improving the primary schools.

This can be illustrated quite simply. The population of my own county of Hampshire is expanding, and expects 6,000 additional pupils each year. This means that considerable sums of money have to be provided for temporary classrooms, plus the money that is needed to expand and improve existing schools. All this comes out of minor capital allocation approved by the Ministry. At the same time, the education authority is providing new schools very economically, using prefabrication and industrialised methods of construction together with serial tendering. This forthcoming financial year the minor works allocation has been cut by £25,000.

Is it unreasonable to ask that money saved on major projects might be spent on essential minor ones? Paragraph 1090 of the Report urges: There should be greater flexibility in expenditure as between major and minor building projects, and we hope that authorities will he allowed to spend the money saved in the completion of major projects on minor projects. This is a proposal that could be implemented virtually straight away, and it would, I am sure, have the support of hon. Members in all parts of the House and, indeed, of all educational authorities.

My right hon. Friend today gave the House the most interesting statistics as to the school leaving age and the increased numbers now participating. With the present strained state of the economy, when we cannot permit necessary school extensions, should we not review the whole question of raising the school leaving age? Can it be wise to expend further finance on those who are wishing to start work at 15 rather than stay at school for a further year? Here would be a great saving, which I firmly believe would be in the country's interests and the interests of the many pupils who feel this extra year a waste of time.

I urge on the Minister, as he implements these excellent recommendations of the Report, to bear fully in mind the needs of those counties that are developing at such a rate, such as the county of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), other counties in the south, and my own county of Hampshire.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

It is not my intention to follow closely upon the speeches made by hon. Members opposite. I was, however rather disturbed to note the reference to "Beeching-type headmasters" by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). That phrase "a Beeching-type" has a very sordid connotation for some hon. Members. I hope that in this debate we shall not seek to gain publicity for our views simply by borrowing phrases of that kind.

One of the difficulties of hon. Members opposite—I sympathise with them in this—is that so many of them were educated at independent fee-paying schools. Anyone who has studied the biographies of hon. and right hon. Members will be deeply impressed by the preponderance of hon. Members opposite whose educational background was that of the independent fee-paying school. I sympathise with them because this means that they have to approach the public sector of education more as observers than as practitioners and consumers. My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe), and others on this side of the House, have been able to speak of the public sector of education from personal experience.

Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)

Where does the Secretary of State fit into this pattern?

Mr. Morris

I have referred to the preponderance of hon. Members opposite whose educational background was that of the independent fee-paying school. We do, of course, have people in the Labour movement who were educated at independent fee-paying schools, but they certainly do not predominate and what distinguishes the Parliamentary Labour Party from the party opposite is the more balanced educational experience of its members.

I certainly would not hold it against any hon. Member that he was educated at an independent fee-paying school. My point is that I sympathise with him and hope that he will understand the reality of an educational priority area as we on this side of the House are able to do from personal experience. My primary school, although it was not called a primary school then, was Every Street School, Ancoats, one of the poorest districts in the City of Manchester. In the early thirties it was an educational priority area par excellence. I am certain that Stephen Wiseman, who prepared the Manchester survey in volume 2 of the Plowden Report, which refers to "black" areas and "white" areas, would agree that Every Street School, Ancoats, was not only black in the early 1930s but much blacker than black. My school was one of the poorest schools in the City of Manchester.

I am very glad that the Plowden Committee placed such emphasis on the need for positive discrimination in favour of primary schools in designated educational priority areas. Would that the Report had come out much earlier. It is a monumental Report in comparison with which the Hadow Report is of little significance. If we are to improve the general quality of education in this country we must, as the Plowden Report recognises, begin by identifying the areas which are in special need and whose children are specially deprived.

There is much talk about the brain drain. In my experience there has been no greater brain drain than the least publicised one: the wanton wastage of the talents and abilities of poorer working-class children whose education is hampered and undermined by the unsatisfactory environment in which they have to live. I could approach this debate with some bitterness and speak of contemporaries of mine who were educated with me in Ancoats in the 1930s, of boys with high intelligence who lacked opportunity. I was fortunate in that I went afterwards to the University of Oxford by scholarship. But what impressed me in Oxford was that there were many people there who could not be compared in any way with those who were my contemporaries and whose opportunities were lost by living in such a place as Ancoats and being educated in a place such as Every Street School in the 1930s.

These people missed opportunities which their intelligence gave them the right to expect. And I put it to all hon. and right hon. Members who, when they speak of the brain drain are referring to the people who take their education in this country and retail it abroad, that this problem is as nothing compared with the brain drain in the educational priority areas of the country. Wealthy parents can still buy their children the chance to develop their talents. I am certain that my right hon. Friend agrees that in the 1960s the purchase of extra opportunities, the purchase of educational privilege, can no longer be tolerated. Moreover, I hope that all hon. Members will give the lead by sending their children to schools in the public sector and begin to recognise that the private enterprise sector of education no longer has any right to exist.

It has been argued that improvements in maintained primary schools will lead to the withdrawal of support given to independent schools. One often hears it argued that the way to remove the private sector is to improve the public sector. But there is no longer any reason to postulate this as a possibility. We know as a fact that this happens. In paragraph 1061 of the Report we are told: In 1861 the Newcastle Commission—of dread memory for teachers—estimated that there were 860,000 pupils (of the whole school age range including secondary) in 'private venture' schools. In 1931 it was estimated that there were approximately 10,000 private schools containing 400.000 pupils. In January, 1965, there were 256,000 children under the age of 12…in 2.762 primary and secondary independent schools in England. This emphasises that, in proportion, as the public sector has improved the private sector has been going out of existence. May the job of ending the private sector soon be complete.

I turn to the references in the debate in another place and in public discussion of this Report to expenditure on reorganising secondary education. It was argued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir. E. Boyle), who led for the Opposition, that he could not support large and costly schemes of secondary organisation, as this may mean that expenditure on Plowden would be put back. But in my view we should recognise the importance of looking at the problems of education as a totality. The Plowden Council has not looked at primary education in isolation. It has supported those of us who for years have rejected the 11-plus examination as something that was totally unacceptable. One of the main arguments against the 11-plus examination, and against the tripartite system of secondary education, was its backwash effect on primary schools.

I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman, who has now left the Chamber, was reading New Society. Perhaps that journal will lead him to agree with me that we cannot consider secondary schools in isolation from primary schools, nor primary schools in isolation from nursery education. It was the backwash effects of the 11-plus education on primary schools which led to unwarranted streaming—even streaming within streaming—and the cramming of children for an examination which distorted the curriculum of the schools. This is a very important matter.

I hope that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will not start setting off the expenditure that there will have to be to end the 11-plus examination, and the tripartite system of secondary education, against the expenditure which there will have to be on Plowden. The two matters are closely inter-related.

I should now like to refer to the matter of cost. Lord Plowden, in a debate in another place the day before yesterday, said that the question was whether we can afford the recommendations of the Report. I would say that, on the contrary, the question is whether we can afford not to apply the recommendations, quickly and in their entirety.

We are told that the recommendations of the Committee would cost about £110 million. I should have thought, when looking at the whole of public expenditure, that this was a relatively small amount, and, when looking at the needs of children in the educational priority areas, that they have a social priority which exceeds most others. I hope that hon. Members on this side of the House will do all they can in this debate to support my right hon. Friend, and strengthen his position with his colleagues, by emphasising the high social priority of the educational priority areas.

The fact is that today, in the poorer areas of our great cities, there are schools which are unfit for children to be educated in. There are still far too many schools that were built in the nineteenth century under the provisions of the Education Act of 1870. They are an insult to the ideal of social equality. I reject as cheap and ridiculous any suggestion from the Opposition benches that the problem dealt with by Plowden is of recent origin. The conditions of many of our primary schools today are a standing criticism of the failure of education administrators and Ministers of Education long before either my right hon. Friend or I was born.

Perhaps I could now refer to the question of nursery school education. The House will be aware that the Education Act of 1944 promised nursery education for all children whose parents desired it. In 1967 only one child in 100 went to a nursery school. The lucky one in 100 at a nursery school is, in my view, a very fortunate child indeed. The pre-school years are vital for child development. They provide that basis for physical, emotional and intellectual development. Because of the lack of nursery education, children are already on unequal terms with others in their schools, at the age of five. And I must emphasise my view that the provision of nursery classes is needed on a very wide scale.

I see from the Report that it was argued by Professor A. J. Ayer and Dr. Michael Young, as well as by other people, that there should be a qualified means test for admission to a nursery school. They argue this as a minority view. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reject their view, not merely on the ground that fee-paying is no longer tolerable, but for the sake of the children. As I know from my own experience, the practice of a means test can lead to great tension in child relationships.

I received free school meals and even free clothing in the 1930s because my father, a grievously war-disabled man, died in 1934 when I was seven. Children at school soon get to know each other's family circumstances and it often causes tension. The children who are paying their way in school even sometimes take pride in comparing themselves with children from poorer families who cannot do so.

While I respect both Dr. Young and Professor Ayer, and the other six people who signed the minority viewpoint, I hope very much that we shall not revert to fee-paying within the public system of education. I hope, too, that we shall not seek to pay for these recommendations by interfering in any way with the money which is spent on school meals and school milk.

There are those who suggest that we should meet some of this expenditure—which I have said is urgent, and which I am sure the whole House regards as urgent—by increasing the burden on poorer families. I was very pleased indeed to hear a statement made by Sir Ronald Gould, following publication of the Plowden Report. When it was suggested to him that one means of paying for the Council's recommendations would be to reduce expenditure on school meals and school milk, as I remember his reply, he said: But this would hit the children from the very poorest families and I reject it on that ground. I hope that the House will also reject it. We must look for economies in other directions. I am certain that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members on this side of the House will feel that too much money is spent on the munitions of war and too little on the munitions of peace. Opinion in the House reflects the great anxiety outside about the need to reduce expenditure on arms and to increase expenditure on matters of real social importance. I should have thought that none of us need look far in order to find where resources could be found for expenditure on a matter as important as the primary education of our children.

I conclude by referring to what I regard as the most dedicated profession in our community: the teaching profession. Members of it work extremely hard and selflessly without the status which they deserve. Salary and conditions of employment are important parts of status and extremely important factors in recruitment. We know that an extra 40,000 teachers are needed before 1971, and that 160,000 teacher training places are needed by 1970. We know that many of the teachers in our schools today, the front line of schools in the educational priority areas, are dedicated people who are teaching oversized classes, in old buildings and with a complete lack of modern facilities.

I hope that we shall not approach primary, secondary, or even nursery education without having regard to the need to improve the status of our teachers, and that we shall not conclude this debate without further tributes being paid to the remarkable service which they give to our society.

6.51 p.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) is making a name for himself as an attacker of the fee-paying and independent sector of education. I do not know whether he is setting himself up as yet one more rebel against his Front Bench, because I think the Minister has confirmed that it is no part of Government policy to abolish the right of parents to choose the education which they deem most suitable for their children, even if they wish to pay for it. I think that the hon. Gentleman was much more convincing when he talked of his own experience.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman—and I shall come back to this—on the question of fee-paying in nursery schools, but what I think is absolutely essential is that schools should devise a means by which it is not known which children are receiving school meals, or nursery education, or whatever it may be, with a remission of fees.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Can the hon. Gentleman suggest a method by which that can be done? Instead of asking other people to devise a method, can he suggest one? There was supposed to be such a method in the 'thirties, but everyone knew that I received public assistance and free school meals.

Mr. Hill

This is the difficulty. It is a matter of wise administration. I happen to operate part of a charity by which people get a remission of fees, but most of the people who get the remission are not particularly sensitive about it. I hope that good administration will enable us to get over the difficulty.

I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he was likely to be flexible about the age of transfer, because in the County of Norfolk, in advance of Plowden, the provisional view was taken that 12 was a good age for transfer, and that the middle school should be from eight to 12. The other interesting proposal, again in advance of Plowden, was that the first period should be from four to eight. This could mean a revival of the village school, and it would result in a considerable saving of movement and money. It would have the advantage of enabling children to start school gradually, and a nursery group could be attached to the school.

I propose to confine most of my remarks to nursery education, and I would like to quote a sentence from the Norfolk Education Committee's Bulletin for September 1966. It said: Starting school should be seen by the parent and child as a transitional growth rather than a sharply differentiated stage. I think that this is best done through the medium of a nursery education, whether it is maintained or voluntary.

The case against the extension of nursery education, except to release further trained teachers within the strict terms of the Ministry circular, seems convincing enough until one comes into contact with the children and hears the evidence of those who are working and researching into the problems of the under-fives.

During the last year I have been trying to see something of what is happening, and I was helped by the extremely able document "Under 5" published by the Conservative Political Centre, which blazed much of the Plowden trail. I have also become associated with the National Campaign for the Advancement of Nursery Education, the President of which is the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhapmton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short). The range of the membership and its sympathies show how widespread is concern over this problem.

Through the kindness of various authorities and organisations I have seen something of what is being done, and I would like to mention three examples. First, a new purpose-built nursery school has been constructed by the Inner London Education Authority. It is a replacement, otherwise it could not have been built. It is strictly within the terms of the 1944 Education Act and represents a costly ideal, very fine, but impossible to build in great numbers in the foreseeable future.

Secondly, I would mention a play group operating in part-time hired premises, a games pavilion, and financed by the parents themselves under the auspices of the National Association of Pre-School Play Groups.

Thirdly, there is a play group, raised and maintained by the Save the Children Fund, which operates in requisitioned premises for the children of homeless families in London. Here one sees something of the great good which can be done for children who, by the very nature of their parents' misfortune, have an added sense of tension and insecurity.

I have seen a number of other examples, and one comes to these main conclusions. First, the undoubted significance of the years under five for a child's subsequent educational and other development. Secondly, the growing extent both of need in the areas of disadvantage, what Plowden now calls the E.P.A.s, and the growth of desire by parents for children to take part in nursery education.

The extent of need is probably much greater than is commonly supposed, because during the last few years there has been a sharp increase in child-minding for gain outside the nursery and play group movement. Whether it is registered or not, some are very unsatisfactory, but it exists because parents either are compelled or want to find someone to take temporary care of their children by day.

The difficulties and deprivations of many children under five go well beyond education. I have seen the Report of a Working Party of the Child Welfare Societies which I hope will soon be published. It will merit detailed examination and subsequent action by the various Government Departments concerned.

The period up to 5 can be decisive in the mental and emotional development and the temperamental adjustment of a child to people and places outside its home. If, as is now believed, much intelligence is acquired and not immutably fixed by heredity, it becomes doubly important to identify and remove impediments which may prevent a child from realising his true potential. Modern research, whether in work in this country, as by the National Child Development Study, or abroad, as in Operation "Head Start" in the United States of America, emphasises that the nursery is the place to begin.

Therefore, if it is accepted that the under-5 period may well be crucial to a child's later development, it follows that a course of action must he decided upon, despite the admitted load on educational resources and despite the admitted shortage of skilled personnel. Once it is recognised that too many children from educationally unsympathetic homes start with handicaps which will frustrate their normal progress, equality of opportunity can be achieved only by inequality of teaching.

If the need for skilled manpower in education greatly exceeds the supply, it is better to admit an emergency and concentrate on how best to use fully and highly qualified staff. This can be done only by using the skilled to guide and supervise the relatively unskilled in nursery education, because there, after all it is not so much a matter of teaching as of sympathetic tutelage.

Thus I welcome the Report for its salient recommendation about educational priority areas. It is a classic Conservative principle to concentrate help where it is most needed. I believe that the educational priority areas, or it may well be schools, because I take the Minister's point about the difficulty of definition, will need nursery education quite as much as better primary education, since it is precisely in these areas or schools that the educational disadvantages which successful nursery experience can remove will be most prevalent.

It is neither desirable nor practical to limit nursery provision to the educational priority areas. I believe that we should follow on with the Plowden recommendation in paragraph 343 for a progressive expansion of nursery education through groups of 20 children in the immediate charge of nursery assistants under the…supervision of a qualified teacher in the ratio of one qualified teacher to 60 places. That is, if you like, the Plowden standard.

Apart from cost, on Plowden's own figures for recruitment of nursery assistants—they are figures which critics might think incline towards optimism rather than gloom—such provision would not be achieved throughout the maintained sector until after 1980. Therefore, whatever decisions the Secretary of State may take about the Plowden long-term proposals, there is bound to be a long interim period. It is in that period that privately organised nursery education should be helped to expand.

In the ordinary course of education budgeting, the cost of further nursery expansion would be a cogent, and perhaps decisive, argument for inaction, but both the present need and the demand for nursery education is out of the ordinary. Some areas need it more urgently than others, some children much more than others. Anywhere it must be voluntary for the parents' decision. But the total need remains formidable.

Therefore, I am sure that the right way, indeed the only way, to bring costs within manageable limits is to accept the arguments in favour of a parental contribution, subject to remissions and subject also to the important safeguard of positive research to ensure that no child who ought to receive such education is deprived of it through his parents being unwilling to ask for a remission.

The evidence on the whole is that fee-paying is acceptable. This is not merely true of the more affluent areas. In the poorer areas the Save the Children Fund makes charges of 6d. to 1s. 9d. a session, mostly in what would be E.P.As, and it still has a waiting list. It is quite common for parents to pay up to 5s. or more a half-day session in groups belonging to the National Association of Pre-School Playgroups. Only in that way are they viable.

One advantage of the fee-paying principle for the maintained sector is that it dovetails in with existing voluntary nursery activities during this long interim period. Whatever the decisions on the phasing of Plowden's main recommendations, the voluntary movement is bound to go on increasing rapidly. It should be encouraged and helped in such a way that, in partnership with the Department and local education authorities, it becomes the forerunner and the basis for nation-wide maintained provision.

Therefore, I attach great importance to Recommendation (xi) in paragraph 343. It is true that the Department has provided £3,000 for three years for a national organiser for the National Association of Pre-School Playgroups. Some local education authorities, notably that of Inner London, have arranged training courses, made buildings available, and provided grants to bodies providing playgroups, particularly the Save the Children Fund. Much more on a wider scale needs to be done if this expansion is to follow desirable educational lines and avoid the pitfalls of less satisfactory child minding.

I recognise that the voluntary movement is necessarily less openly professional than Plowden would eventually provide. But at a time of limited resources this can be a positive advantage, provided that suitable guidance, training and inspection are available. In nursery education the best is often the enemy of the good. Much of the work would be part-time. Therefore, training arrangements must be flexible. To insist on specific academic qualifications would defeat the purpose. Instead, we want to recruit well-intentioned people who are temperamentally suitable to work with children under supervision. Obviously the National Nursery Education Board is the basis for courses for Nursery Assistants. But I hope that there will be many shorter courses so that the willing mothers of children in the playgroups can be more effective helpers.

This can have valuable side-effects in getting parents interested and involved in the system of education. Often, the leaders of a playgroup go on to be the stalwarts of parent-teacher associations, to be school managers or, indeed, to take up a career in local public service. It is an excellent means, especially in a new community, of enabling families to get to know one another and to dispel the feeling of isolation and strangeness which sometimes afflicts the young mother who finds herself alone in a new small house or flat in which there is little space for a child to play.

Buildings are important, and they are very expensive, as we have noted. It is essential to use school buildings wherever they are available, but much can be done by improvisation, by the part-time use of buildings which are wanted at other periods of the day. It is a question of the authorities and the owners making them available.

Children need space, space not only to play but, for some of them, to learn to play. I have seen children who have never known what play is or means. I hope that all Government Departments, and local authorities, in approving plans, whether for educational or for residential purposes, will ensure that some sites are reserved for the use of children in future, giving this need the same degree of thought and priority as is given to the motor car.

If we are to have a developing system which is mainly voluntary, it will be satisfactory only if there is good supervision and inspection. Supervision and inspection are difficult to cost in personnel or in money, partly because definite standards and methods have not yet been discussed or established. The important thing is to have the skilled advice of fully qualified teachers readily available when necessary. Therefore, any system must be flexible enough to be varied to meet local needs and resources. In this connection, I have been impressed by the ability of the area supervisors employed by the Save the Children Fund. I have met ladies, themselves highly qualified teachers, who successfully look after up to 15 groups of children without great difficulty and with good results.

In this policy one must balance costs against gains. It is comparatively easy to calculate the costs. It is extremely difficult to measure the gains. But the fact that they are hard to measure does not mean that the gains are not significantly greater.

On the cost side, there is the cost of premises and equipment, of fees remitted, of the training of nursery assistants and helpers, of supervision and inspection. These are substantial sums, as can be seen from the Report. But the gains are likely to be greater. First, much latent potential should be realised. There will be better value from subsequent educational effort, of which at present so much just misfires, as a study of the Newsom Report shows. There will be less subsequent remedial work because there will befewerbackward children. It is clear from the high proportion of backward children who take up the primary teacher's time, as can be seen in the tables in the appendix to the Report, how much could be saved in this way, although, again, one cannot put a cost to it. Likewise, there will be better and earlier recognition of physical handicaps, speech difficulties, partial hearing and the like.

The social gains will be very great. I have mentioned the desirability of involving parents in the education process and the effect it can have in building up a community and strengthening neighbourhood life. The younger generation as a whole would benefit, and so would society.

Inevitably in this connection, one thinks of delinquency, not specifically of delinquent children as such because, after all, only 1 per cent. of young people are delinquents but rather of the tendency towards delinquency. Modern research shows that delinquency goes by areas rather than by families, and I think that research will show also that in those areas which have enjoyed a satisfactory provision of nursery education, whether in modern local authority nursery schools or by voluntary movements such as Save the Children Fund, there will be a drop in delinquency.

The proposals which I should like to see accepted would result in unequal provision. I accept that. Some areas would go ahead rapidly, others more slowly. This is inevitable with a largely voluntary movement. But nothing could be more unequal than the present situation in which about 10 per cent. of the age- group, or, as the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) put it, 1 per cent. of children, are in nursery schools or classes. That, surely, is a rigid inequality, almost an inequality of status. The nursery expansion which I want put in hand promises an inequality, but an inequality of movement and of progress, which is much to be preferred.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that many hon. Members wish to speak. Reasonably brief speeches help.

7.18 p.m.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)

Earlier in the debate, one hon. Gentleman opposite said that he felt that Plow-den had said very little new. There is something in that, but one of the indictments of previous Governments is that in 1967, 23 years after the passage of the Education Act, 1944, Plowden has had to make the recommendations which it has made. This ought to give us cause for serious thought.

Before coming to the two parts of the Report about which I wish to speak, I must comment on the rather reticent way in which both the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the question of corporal punishment. I am glad that both said that they were opposed to it, as many hon. Members are. It is rightly felt that the change should come from the climate in the school and not necessarily be imposed, but there is something in the thought that it is now time we brought our primary schools into line with our prisons and did away with corporal punishment. We ought to make this plain.

I support the recommendations in the Report—I hope that we shall have a rather stronger statement on the subject from my hon. Friend when she winds up the debate—about the involvement of parents in school life, partly because those recommendations, like the one on corporal punishment, would not cost a great deal of money and so cannot be dismissed on that account, and partly because, if the Report has underlined anything, it has underlined that it is not necessarily the school which determines the success of the child but that it is the home and the environment which, if not actually determining it, certainly condition it.

I wholeheartedly support the section dealing with special provision for priority areas. I am mindful of what Mr. Speaker said about short speeches. I should like to spend most of my time on the section dealing with nursery schools and immigrant children. In the debate on increased fees for overseas students, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science said: Of course I have a responsibility to overseas students. But I have other responsibilities as well—to slum and handicapped children in Britain and, if we are talking of people from overseas, to immigrant children in Sparkbrook and Southall. I hope in this context that no hon. Member will argue that £2 million or £5 million is chicken feed or a trivial sum. It would build a host of new nursery or infant schools in Plowden areas.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1967; Vol. 741, c. 2001.] The hearts of most of us who are interested in the under-fives leapt with joy when we heard that. I was rather disappointed this afternoon not to get a further commitment from my right hon. Friend about the whole question of the under-fives.

One of the biggest problems facing us is that more and more children are starting school later than they used to do. In many areas they are starting after their fifth birthday and many receive no preschool education and have no pre-school social activities with other children until much later in life than did children 10 or 15 years ago.

I am firmly in favour of a flexible school starting age, but it must be tied up with greater provision for the under-fives. The interesting thing about the section dealing with nursery education is that that is about the only range of education where there has been no added provision since the 1944 Education Act. Whatever the Act said about nursery education, and it said it very well, the promise of further provision has remained pie-in-the-sky for the under-fives.

The distribution of the provision is appalling; it bears no relation to the need of the particular areas. It is startling that 7 per cent. of all children received nursery education in the 1930s and in 1966 still only 7 per cent. received it. The quality of the service provided has risen, but not the amount.

It is interesting that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite should come out so strongly in favour of nursery education because it was their circular that stopped the expansion of nursery education and the pamphlet referred to, which, incidentally, came after the blazing of the trail by the National Association of Pre-School Play Groups many years ago, makes reference to this. The curtailment and stopping of any provision for nursery education came from the opposite benches. Any flexibility or modification that has taken place recently has come from the present Government. But it has been totally inadequate, because to try to amend a circular by saying, "We shall provide nursery schools in areas where we can release teachers", is to do it in the interests of the teachers and not of the children. Although we are grateful for the £3,000 given to the National Association of Pre-School Play Groups, with which I am proud to be associated, it does little to meet the need and the problem we face.

The problem of the mal-distribution of nursery education can be seen clearly in my constituency of Eton and Slough. It is odd that in the part of Slough that is in the constituency we have a greater provision of nursery education than in many other parts of the country. One child in five of our under-fives goes to a nursery school run by the County. But in Eton there are no nursery schools. We subsidise Eton college as a charity for people who do not live within the area and yet we are unable, because of the historical way in which nursery schools were provided after the day nurseries closed after the war, to make any provision for children in Eton. It is too far for them to go to Slough and so they are deprived, unless we get, as we are getting, the springing up of play groups in various parts of the constituency. Indeed, these are springing up in various parts of the country.

The crux of the matter, to which I wish to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, is that the play group movement is not the solution to the provision of nursery education. It is a sympton. The Save The Children Fund provision is also a sympton of the fact that there is a crying need for provision for the under-fives, and that we have failed to provide it.

One of the most worrying things about the play group movement is that the registered child-minder or play group is registered under the health authority and not the education authority. Children in State nursery schools are inspected by the Department of Education and Science, which can lay down certain provisions about equipment, teaching and so on. But in the play group movement the registered child-minder who may have 20 or 30 children in her care can be, and very often is, an unqualified person with no training, employing unqualified staff. There is never any inspection from the Department of Education and Science because it is not under its umbrella. That is a deplorable state of affairs.

In some areas, although I do not want to overstate this, more of the under-fives come under the health authority than there are under the education authority and are threefore not inspected by the education authority. I have said before, and I repeat it now, that there must be a marrying of the two departments in dealing with the under-fives. As the National Association for Pre-School Play Groups has said again and again, we must establish standards in play groups; we must have educational inspection and insistence on and agreement about qualifications of those running them.

I firmly believe that we should have an expansion of nursery education almost immediately. I hope that we shall, but I do not think that we are likely to. It is one of the greatest priorities to me. Because I do not think that we are likely to get it, and because it is needed for the five-year-olds and under-fives in the next year, not the next 10 to 15 years, I ask my hon. Friend to look again at some suggestions about the Department taking play groups, other organisations and individuals involved in that work under the umbrella of education, and demanding inspection and certain qualification in return for financial assistance.

I do not think that it is essential—because I do not think that we shall get it—that we must always have fully-qualified teachers in establishments for the under-fives. There must be insistence on some sort of qualifications if the play group movement is to develop. The people running them should be qualified and some kind of course should be available to people assisting. The more the play groups involve parents the more they are in line with Plowden and its recommendations on schools and the under-fives.

I am completely against Plowden on the idea of fee-paying for nursery schools. We want to move away from fee-paying, not towards it. Although the Save the Children Fund has done a great deal of work in deprived areas, play groups are beginning to spring up in areas where parents can afford to pay for them, and we are not getting them in areas that desperately need them. Those responsible for the scale of charges for a play group or private nursery school must always make up their minds whether to sacrifice the equipment and keep the charges down, thus getting the children who need the service, or to put the charges up to provide the equipment but exclude the children that really need it. This is always the dilemma which exists for those who are and have been involved in trying to provide the services that Governments have so far not provided for our younger citizens.

I want to tie this up with that section of the Report which deals with immigrant children. This is important to me in my constituency, which has a large immigrant population and where, throughout the school year, we get between 12 and 20 non-English-speaking children entering our schools, many of them 8, 9, 10 or 11 years of age. Presumably, this is something that will go on for some time and it presents considerable difficulties for the teachers.

One thing, however, is obvious. In Eton and Slough, some individuals have had the foresight to try to provide preschool activities and are involving some of the immigrant children who are already of school age, because this is one way of dealing with any difficulty of language that is so hard to deal with when the children are already of school age and in school.

I was very pleased, as most of us were who are interested in the question of immigrant children, to see that the Plowden Council did not fall into the trap of making colour a distinction. It made language and culture the distinction and this is enormously important. One of the things I would like my hon. Friend the Minister of State to comment on is that one of the difficulties of immigrant children and of our teachers is that we have not trained our teachers to teach in a multiracial society, which is what Slough is.

This is not just a case of teaching immigrant children but many types of children. Our educational system, particularly at primary level, has developed from the authoritarian towards the permissive. But some of the cultures from which immigrant children come are rather authoritarian and this presents enormous difficulties in the classroom. These children enter into a situation of permissiveness to which they are not used and this is one of the biggest problems that teachers face in dealing with them. It is not only a question of language but of a breakdown in appreciation of the sort of context we have in our schools.

We could usefully look a little more closely at the provision of free play activities for the older immigrant children so that we could bridge some of the gaps which arise because they have not been in our educational system from the age of 5. It is a difficult situation for many teachers dealing with immigrant children who are non-English speaking, have been brought up in a different culture and have undergone part of their education in it. The teachers feel that this is one of the difficulties which could be overcome through the training of teachers. Our teachers are trained to teach in a certain atmosphere, yet in certain areas they are dealing with children who have not been able to benefit from our advanced ideas, particularly the freedom that we have in our primary schools.

I am mindful that Mr. Speaker asked us not to speak for very long, and I shall shortly sit down. But there is one other thing I want to say about the Plowden Report. I think that Plowden has done an enormous service because it has touched on practically every aspect of primary education and pre-school education that anyone who has been a teacher or on the administrative side of education has been interested in and found to be a difficulty.

Possibly the under-fives, the immigrant children and the deprived areas are the greatest priority because, in certain areas, we shall be building up a host of trouble for the future if we do not begin to tackle these problems now. Plowden was right to point out that we have concentrated much of our attention and finance on other avenues of education, with the result that this aspect of education is, as it were, the Cinderella of the education service.

Women will continue to go out to work. High flats will continue to be built without adequate play provision—and I take the point put by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth that we provide for the car but not for the child in these flats. Unless we expand our provision in this sector of education, we shall see more and more children being left to the unregistered, the unqualified, to the au pair girl to be looked after, and they will be denied the opportunities that we promised their parents for them in 1944.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)

The hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) was pessimistic about the prospects of getting any large-scale expansion of nursery education in the near future. I would agree that this is so unless we are prepared to accept the principle of fee paying or parental contribution. I do not think that there is the slightest chance of a large-scale expansion of nursery education if we rely on its being provided free by the public sector.

In my constituency, a first-class nursery school is operating. It has not proved to be socially divisive. The fees are moderate for mothers who go out to work. They can be well afforded by a very wide band of the social spectrum. All that is really required is for the local education authority or the local authority to have the power to give a grant and help those families who cannot afford to pay fees so that their children can also attend. In such a way, we could have the large-scale expansion of nursery education that we all say is required but which we have little chance of getting if we refuse to accept the principle of fee paying or parental contribution.

I welcome the Plowden Report not only as one interested in education but also as a parent. To a parent, Chapter 2 in particular is interesting reading and will stand one in good stead. I want to mention a subject that has not previously been referred to in the debate and I do so without disagreeing with the remarks my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) made.

The Plowden Report gives the lie to the idea that reading standards as a whole have declined. Indeed, they have accelerated considerably in recent years. Yet a minority of children still slip behind early in their educational careers in reading and are thereby handicapped for the rest of their school days. In New Society last year, there was an article which said that there was a part of London where 38 per cent. of the 8 and 9 year olds had an appallingly low standard of reading ability.

According to the report "Standards and Progress in Reading" in December last year, over half of those unable to read at the age of 8 remain semi-literate for the rest of their educational careers. It seems that a large proportion of children in primary education suffer in this way and this presents a real problem. It is shown up the more starkly by the general improvement in reading standards to which attention is drawn in the Plowden Report. In certain parts of big cities, I would say that as high a proportion as 1 in 5 or 1 in 6 of the children suffer in this way.

There is also the difficulty that a smaller minority—perhaps 1 in 50—of the children suffer acute difficulty in learning to read. but Plowden suggests that the reasons for this are probably psychological and that much more research is needed into that aspect.

Among the larger group, however, we can gain a thumbnail sketch of the type of child involved. He probably comes from the type of home background—again described in the Report—which applies to perhaps two-thirds of the unskilled workers, where there are five books or less in the house and no background of reading. Possibly he comes from a broken home or an unsatisfactory home background. This child starts in school behind its contemporaries, slips further behind, ends up semi-literate, leaves school and finds it difficult to get employment, develops a grudge against society, and delinquency and crime and other things all too often follow. What we have to do is to consider this problem to see how it can be tackled, and the first thing we need is early identification of the child and then special attention to its problems.

In so far as many of the children come from the educational priority areas, identification should be helped, and one is glad to see that the Government have, at least in general, committed themselves to this recommendation. However, I regret that the Inner London Education Authority refused to have a special survey designed to identify more closely the areas where these children are found and to provide some special attention for them, because one of the things which the Plowden Report clearly said was that these children needed special attention.

The most successful infant teachers, as the Report said, choose methods and books to fit the age, interest and ability of individual pupils. Instead of relying on one reading scheme, many teachers use a range of schemes of different characteristics, selecting carefully for each child. It is only possible if the children are identified early and the classes are small enough for it to be possible for special attention to be given to the children, and it will be possible in the immediate future only if the teachers get the sort of support from teaching aides and teaching aids which they require in the classroom. I am sure that we need teachers' aides, but other hon. Members have argued the case and I do not intend to repeat it, because of the shortage of time.

A teacher's aid programme of learning could be ideally tapered to backward children who can then work at their own pace and, given the right encouragement, catch up with their contemporaries when they fall behind, and although teaching aids become more important the further one goes in the education system, I am sure that there is scope for them in primary schools and I hope that the Government will consider ways of making money available for them.

We also need smaller classes and more teachers, and, at the risk of injecting a party political note into the debate, I must say that it is a great pity that the Government have not been able to announce that the negotiations on Burnham will be restarted. Every week which goes by we hear of some section of the community which has suffered injustice because of the Government's prices and incomes policy, but the teachers have a special sense of grievance in that their negotiations were not even allowed to start, and they feel that they have been singled out by the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) suggested a novel solution for attracting teachers to educational priority areas. We have the suggestion at first hand in the Report of a flat addition of £120 for the normal salary. My right hon. Friend suggested an increase in the number of graded posts and then from the back benches we had the Wokingham per capita scheme. Not only do we want to attract teachers to teach in these areas, but we want to give them some incentive to stay for some time. I wonder whether it is wholly out of court to consider giving an incentive to a teacher to stay in an area for, say, five years, giving him at the end of that time a lump sum. Why not make that lump sum tax free? After all, this is positive discrimination.

If we could save up the small increase and give the teacher the prospect, if he is prepared to teach in such an area for five years, of a tax-free gratuity at the end of that time, a substantial sum of, say, £700 or £800, that would only be in line with the suggestion of the Plowden Council for a salary increase. This might be more effective than the other ideas, and it would also be attractive to the more mature teacher.

If, as they obviously are, teachers are the basis for much of the progress which we need in primary education, buildings are also important, as the Secretary of State said. There are 595 schools in the Inner London Area which were built before 1900, many of them lacking what most of us would regard as basic amenities for primary schools. In this context I must congratulate the Minister of State on her decision about the proposal to build a primary school on the St. George's burial ground in my constituency, the half-baked idea put forward by the Inner London Education Authority to build a new primary school on the Hyde Park Estate in my constituency, not an area which by any flight of the imagination could be described as an educational priority area. The I.L.E.A. was proposing to buy a site for some £350,000, and on it to build a school for 280 children at a cost of probably £200,000 in an area already over-provided with primary school places, another primary school for 280 children at a cost of more than £500,000.

The only argument which I found to carry any weight was the dislike by the majority party of the Inner London Education Authority for sectarian education, and it is true that most primary schools in the area are Roman Catholic or Church of England schools. I have not heard any other case argued for the provision of this extra primary school.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak)

Is the hon. Gentleman denying humanist parents the right to choose a school for their children? Is he arguing that humanist parents in this area are satisfied?

Mr. Scott

But the parents of children going to sectarian schools can withdraw the children from the religious part of the curriculum. Secondly, if we are talking about anything today we are talking about priorities, and I would have thought that the highest priority in my constituency, the City of Westminster and other Inner London Education Authority areas was not the building of a school at that cost on that site. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her decision.

If the I.L.E.A. has this sense of priorities in education, I regret that both Front Benches seem to disagree with the idea in the Plowden Report that there should be national designation of educational priority areas. If we are to get urgent action on this subject and early implementation, national designation will be important.

The hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough mentioned immigrant children. I was disappointed that this part of the Plowden Report was not fuller. The Council did not seem to come down firmly on one side or the other of the question of dispersal, and although I accept that the implementation of the principle of educational priority areas will give special treatment to most of those places where immigrants are concentrated most heavily, some dispersal may be necessary, particularly in those areas where language difficulties are at their height.

I was grateful for the reference to the fact, which is too often overlooked, that although they speak English, West Indian children in fact speak a dialect of English and suffer almost as great a difficulty in understanding the English which we speak in this country as do many immigrants from the Asian Commonwealth.

The Plowden Report has set out the priorities in the primary sector of education admirably and correctly. I conclude with the hope that the Department and the local education authorities, upon whom most of the burden of implementation will fall, will show equal dedication and enthusiasm in implementing it.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. John Forrester (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Like everyone else inside and outside this House interested in education, I welcome and support this Report. For many years now I have been a member of the National Union of Teachers, and for 17 years before I came into the House I was a teacher in a junior school. If I should express the thoughts, hopes and fears of the primary school teachers in the next few minutes, I make no apology for this. This Report has the great value of focusing the attention of practically the whole country on this rather long-suffering and neglected section of education.

The good parts of the primary school educational system have been spotlighted, and the deficiencies exposed for the administrators and politicians to correct. Many excellent recommendations have been made but, as with every other report, there are so many of them that we must give them the most careful consideration before we adopt them. I hope that we will judge the practicality of the proposals and not just accept them on the grounds of emotion. Since the war, the primary school section has been allowed to drift along on a shoe string, while other sectors of education have been provided with the means to make the progress that we so much desire.

The primary school has gone through a period of decline which has been countenanced, if not deliberately so, then unconsciously, by the local education authorities, and the Department of Education and Science. I am glad to see that the public conscience is being awakened to the folly of our past neglect of the primary school. At last it has been realised that the vast sums of money that we spend on secondary schools, technical education and universities and so on will be very largely wasted unless we have a strong base on which to build.

There has been a deliberate salary policy over the past 10 years or so by which local authorities have been allowed to pay extra to many teachers in secondary schools, with the declared objective, in 1956, of attracting people from the primary schools. This objective was achieved most successfully. Ever since, the primary schools have been paying the price for this terrible policy. Plowden says that we should attract more men into the primary schools. Before we can do this it will require a reversal of the salary structure which has been responsible for this movement. The test of whether local education authorities are sincere in attempts to stop this drift will come shortly when the new salary scales are negotiated.

If this opportunity is not taken, then I am afraid that the primary school teachers will think that the honeyed words which they have heard in the last two months are no better than the words that they heard over the last 10 years. It is not often that an opportunity to prove one's sincerity comes at such an opportune time. The ball is now very definitely in the court of the Burnham Committee and the results will be studied very closely by all teachers in primary school staff rooms. Estimates vary as to what the removal of the differentials might cost; some say as much as £5 million. If this is the cost, then it would be a small price to pay for the loyalty and devotion which the primary school teachers have given to the educational school service, despite the provocation that they have had since 1956.

Undoubtedly the most important section of this Report deals with educational priority areas. I prefer to talk in terms of educational priority schools rather than areas. An area is rather difficult to define and in some of our major cities, where primary schools are very close together, within 300 to 500 yards of each other it is difficult to distinguish between one part of an area and another. Often there can be the world of difference between one school and another in the same area.

I hope that we might have a closer examination of the difficult conditions in schools. We may find that there are classes within a school which could claim to be educational priority classes, whereas the school itself could not make such a claim. The sort of discrimination that has gone on against various schools in a locality is indefensible. Perhaps in a certain area one has two schools, fairly close to each other, with very much the same sort of children, but just because one school is smaller, it is denied the equipment, the books and the canteen service and so on which are enjoyed by the larger school. I hope that this is something which the Report will help to put right in the near future.

I agree with all those who are opposed to paying the extra £120 per annum to teachers in particular schools in certain areas. There are too many anomalies in the salary structure already for us to add any more. One of the worst disservices to education was undoubtedly the introduction of differential scales in 1956. This created, as has been said before, a race from school to school in order to obtain a particular post of responsibility. Unfortunately some people now look on this activity as a commendable experience, exhibiting initiative on the part of the teacher. Who can blame people for going from school to school in search of extra money when the minimum scale for teachers was so low that an adult teacher of 21 may be taking home less than £12 a week?

Some areas may have difficulty in recruiting teachers. To give them extra money is one way of achieving this end. One other result of our differentials was to destroy very largely the spirit of voluntary work which has gone on in our schools and to create resentment on staffs and between schools and this proposal would only add to these difficulties.

The problem of an area to recruit teachers goes deeper than merely being a question of money. Plowden recognises the need for adequate housing, industry and culture in a given area. Stoke-on-Trent is not exactly the Costa Brava of the West Midlands conurbation, but we never have had problems in achieving our teacher quota. We would very much appreciate a raising of the quota, or of having no quota at all. However we would want more of those teachers in the primary schools. Any money which is to spare would be better spent in pro- viding equipment, and the other effects, which go toward making a good school, rather than in this manner.

The one thing which would attract people into difficult schools is a reduction in the teacher-pupil ratio. When one talks of giving more money one has to ask: who will be attracted? Will it be the ambitious, the needy, the devoted, the person with a sense of vocation? What would be the terms of reference to the teachers whom one is asking to go into priority schools? Would it be: Hurry up and get on with the job so that we can bring this school up to scratch so that as soon as this has been done the £120 can be taken away."? If so, would these people be expected to remain after having suffered a wage cut of £2 a week? Children, particularly in a primary school need a stable staff. They need teachers who have served that particular school, and who feel part of it, and part of the neighbourhood of the school. We should not despise, as has been the case in some quarters for some time, long service and loyalty. This is something which we should applaud. The people who flit from school to school seeking a permanent position may do themselves a little good, but they are of very little good to the schools on which they briefly alight in their search for nectar. I am pleased that the Plowden Report puts this on record and acknowledges it in a positive manner.

This is a problem of personal relationships between teachers and parents, between teachers and schools and between schools in the neighbourhood concerned. This is not the kind of world in which one gets a posse of Stakhanovites or Red Guards to follow the organisation and methods boys, blitz the place and then move on and then let others take over. The lasting effects of what we are proposing concerning educational priority areas will take a long time to show and we must recognise this. It will call for patience and understanding. It will call for skill and devotion on the part of people prepared to serve in them.

However, coupled with this, suitable alterations to the fabric of the buildings and additions to the equipment are needed. Above all, we shall need a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio in those areas. All lasting and spectacular improvements will stem only from this. If we do not have enough teachers, the only answer is to train more. To move them from one place to another is no solution. We must train them and give them a suitable remuneration, especially those at the bottom of the scale. We have to get our priorities right. We must examine Government expenditure in all spheres, if necessary, to get the money to provide the basic necessities.

The Report advocates more contact between schools and parents. This is commendable and will appeal to all those interested in the matter. But much has already been done in parent-teacher associations, sports days, and so on. That we need more of the right kind of contact between teachers and parents is undeniable. The Department and local authorities should spend time on exploring the possibilities in this respect.

It is, however, so easy to get the wrong kind of contact between parents and schools, which will disrupt school life and cause friction. This is something against which we should guard. But the Report goes further in suggesting that teachers should visit the children's homes. I wonder whether this is "on". One can almost imagine little notes being sent by Mrs. Smith saying, "Come up; I want to see you". We must recognise that the qualities required for being an excellent teacher are not necessarily the qualities which someone needs when going into people's homes. There are many very good politicians who are absolutely useless at knocking on doors and canvassing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] It is a shame, but it is true.

Teachers have qualities, but we must not expect those qualities to be elastic so that they can adapt themselves to every proposal which is made, no matter how beneficial it may appear to be. Perhaps we could call for an extension of the welfare services by means of a much closer liaison between the welfare services and the schools in their neighbourhood, or perhaps the Department would want to look again at the possibilities of the school councillor service and consider how it could be adapted to primary school as well as secondary school needs.

It has long been assumed, at least by the unenlightened, that the lower down the education ladder one gets, the easier it is to spare would be better spent in pro- die hard, and they are still prevalent in many people's minds. But each sector of education has its own problems. The ability to teach as opposed to academic attainment is an essential part of the make-up of a teacher in the primary schools. I have been convinced for a long time that the greatest skill in the education service is needed by the teacher in the infant's school who has the job of receiving children straight from home and trying to discipline them and get them in the habit of learning.

It has long been recognised that the sooner we begin to learn, the easier it is. It has been said that unless we can learn certain things at a given age, we shall never learn them. This may be a rather broad generalisation, but in particular instances it may well be true. We have tried to introduce foreign languages into the junior schools. I am sure that there is a long story attached to that which I will not go into now, but the lesson is clear. The younger we are, the easier it is to learn. Yet we have so overcrowded our primary school classrooms that the time for individual work, the space for experimental work, and the possibility of teaching according to aptitude and ability have been curtailed to a criminal degree.

It is a crazy education set-up which says, "When you are young and able and perhaps willing and eager to learn, we shall make it so difficult for you that you will find it almost impossible. But when you are older we will give you all the equipment you need and reduce the pupil-teacher ratio so that you have a chance to pick up the things which we should have taught you in primary school." History will forgive people for making mistakes if they correct them, even though it never understands why they made them in the first place.

I wish to say a few words about the size of primary schools. This is an important matter. It is not easy to lay down rules and say that all our primary schools will be of this or that size. But we must guard against the danger of having primary schools which are too small. I would think that a three-form entry school, thinking in terms of 30 and not 40 in a class, was an ideal size. This would give the possibility of a staff of 12 or 14 with a range of ability and experience and interest which would enable the school to take on most of the activities which junior schools would like to take on. It would give the school a flexibility which would be impossible in a smaller school. A school of such size would enable the staff to know virtually all the children in it.

The Plowden Report has engendered in the country a tremendous amount of support, enthusiasm and good will, and a lot of curiosity about the primary schools. Primary school teachers are grateful that so many people are preaching the gospel of equality, which they have not heard before. But the least impressed people are the primary school teachers. They have a feeling that they have heard it all before, that this is where they came in. They have the feeling—I hope that it is wrong—that the only proposals which will be implemented are those which will not cost any money. If one has been closely connected with them, one can understand how they feel and their scepticism.

With so many drawbacks and so little encouragement, it is nothing short of amazing that so much which is good, new and lasting has been achieved in our primary schools. It is now up to the Government and local authorities to grasp the opportunities which the Report has presented to them so that they can give to the primary school child and teacher the facilities and equipment, recognition and remuneration to which they are entitled. If we are to get the full benefit of the large sums of money which we spend on secondary education, we must ensure that our primary schools are dealt with in a proper manner.

8.10 p.m.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

As a Liberal, I welcome wholeheartedly the Plowden proposals, partly because of their educational content and their social content and partly because they highlight the primary sector of education.

The Report says a great deal. It is a very long document, containing more than 200 recommendations. There is hardly one which I should not want to see implemented at the earliest opportunity, and many of them will cost a good deal of money.

I shall concentrate briefly on three areas this evening. The first is the major proposal in the Report to set up these priority areas. I welcome the essence of positive discrimination in that. It is justified on grounds of liberty and equality. A child who is held back by an inadequate primary education is denied an essential freedom. However, if we are to set up these areas, what we have to know is what the areas are to be, how they are to be defined and who is to do the defining of them.

In the chapter on teacher supply, the Report says that schools requiring higher teacher concentrations could have any of five different qualifications, and it refers to such matters as large numbers of retarded children, immigrants, or those from deprived areas, exceptional inexperience or weakness in several members of the staff, experimental work needing additional but temporary staff, unusually inadequate accommodation, and very large or very small schools.

That is just in the chapter dealing with teacher supply, but I wonder if those same criteria will be applied eventually to the choosing of the areas of special priorities. Should we for instance, since the list mentions immigrant schools, concentrate resources largely upon immigrant schools, or should we spend the money on dispersing immigrants more widely among different schools? I know that many local authorities in urban areas look askance at the transport problems and costs of dispersal. They should come to Cornwall and see our problems.

Recently, to see whether it was run in a proper manner, I travelled on a bus with some 50 children who had to travel six miles to school. That is a fairly common journey. Some children have to travel 15 miles to school. In the County, we spend £250,000 on school transport alone. The idea of shipping people from one end of London to the other is no problem in comparison. I should have thought that it would be better in this context to spend money on dispersal rather than on immigrant schools and leaving them heavily concentrated as immigrant schools.

We should beware of regarding areas of special priority as being wholly urban areas. There has tended to be a feeling in the Press reviews of the Report that these inevitably would be urban areas. Broadly speaking, urban poverty is nearly always worse than rural poverty, but that is not to say that poverty, slums and squalor do not exist in rural areas. There are slums in the rural areas of England, and there may be many areas with schools of that sort which need this special priority treatment.

The Report says, for instance, that schools with an age range of 5 to 11 should have at least three classes, each covering two age groups. There are many primary schools in my constituency where that is not the case. I presume, therefore, that they would be regarded by the Plowden Council as being in need of special priority treatment.

It is very important that we get right what these areas cover, because they will cover a substantial proportion of our child population. The Report says that they should cover about 2 per cent. of the primary child population in 1968, but that it will rise to 10 per cent. by 1972–73. Ten per cent. of our child population in these areas means that they are of immense importance.

I turn now to teacher supply. The Report says clearly that to reduce classes in primary schools in the special areas to 40 by 1972 will take 1,000 extra teachers, and that to reduce them to 30 in these special areas will require 7,300 extra teachers. It says of the target of 30 that it is a reasonable aim, and most of us would hope that it was. Then we come up against the problem that 7,300 extra teachers by 1972, on top of what we know already about the teacher shortage by that year, is a considerable increase. The estimate is that, at the present rate of increase, classes of more than 40 will only be abolished by 1974–75.

I noticed that the Secretary of State said today that he hoped that classes of more than 40 would be abolished by 1971. We have the Ninth Report, we have the right hon. Gentleman's statement today, and we have the Plowden Council's estimate. They are all different years. Presumably they are based on different birth rates, and the most recent birth rate has turned down. I hope that that was what the right hon. Gentleman was using today when he referred to the year 1971.

I believe that both the Plowden Council and the Secretary of State are being over-optimistic about the teacher shortage and the teacher supply position. It is quite likely that in primary schools we shall find ourselves by 1972 with a shortage of full-time teachers, leaving aside part-time teachers for the moment, of something over 20,000, and a total shortage in all schools of nearly 70,000 full-time teachers by that year.

The figures which were given by the Secretary of State in his speech at Brighton in April of last year and more recently in his optimistic statements have been based on 40 as a standard number for classes in primary schools. Most of us would believe that that is not a figure at which we want to aim, because we want to aim at a higher target.

Are we likely to close the teacher gap? I do not believe that it can be done unless we change the whole structure of teachers' pay. Many hon. Members have mentioned the Burnham Committee and getting negotiations going again. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) said that it was essential to improve the minimum rate I could not agree less. With the very large numbers of people coming forward and wanting to join the teaching profession, there is no problem. The real problem is keeping them in it. The teacher's basic salary is a very good one for a girl when compared with what she could get elsewhere with her qualifications. It is not even a bad salary when compared with training schemes in industry. It is when one gets four or five years further on that the real problem occurs.

Mr. Newens

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, according to the N.U.T. questionnaire, the average income per month of a teacher aged between 20 and 24 was £47 net, and that between the ages of 25 and 29 it was only £65 net? Does he think that that is an adequate salary? I can assure him that many teachers at the bottom end of the scale are extremely uncomfortable and that they find it difficult to make ends meet.

Mr. Pardoe

Yes. I am quite convinced that they do, but when those figures are compared with average incomes in my constituency, they are laughable; yet everyone believes that they are underpaid. I am sure that most hon. Members believe that we are underpaid for the work that we do, but that does not mean that we ought to get an increase.

The fact is that the rate of pay has to be tied to the numbers coming in, and the teacher training colleges find no difficulty in getting recruits. Presumably those at the bottom end of the scale already have a sufficiently large carrot dangled before them to attract them into the profession. A large number of young girls may be attracted into the profession. None of us would oppose the principle of equal pay. The only way to overcome the shortage is to pay those who wish to make a long-term career of teaching. If we reopen negotiations in the Burnham Committee, this is where any money will go. I may have many young female members of the N.U.T. around my neck tomorrow for saying this, but it is right.

Teaching aides are welcome to the younger generation, because most would welcome an extra pair of hands. We should decide where to draw the line and what jobs they will do, and teachers are right to insist on no dilution of the profession, but I hope that they will not insist on rigid demarcation, because public opinion would regard this as stupid. Even with the aides, there will still be a chronic teacher shortage.

Therefore, can we honestly afford 20,000 extra teachers to raise the school leaving age? The Liberal Party, like the Conservative and Labour Parties, wholeheartedly favoured this move when it was announced, but it would be stupid if one could never change one's mind in our Parliamentary system. The situation has changed dramatically. When the move was announced, it was in terms of a 4 per cent. economic growth rate, which was widely expected to be in our pockets. But now we know that it will not increase by more than 2 or 3 per cent. in the next decade.

We should also take into account the fact that, when we decided to raise the age, we had not committed ourselves to full-scale comprehensive reorganisation. Although the Secretary of State says that he is not pouring any money into this—I wish he would—it is nevertheless taking up some of our resources and has made a difference to the basis of the earlier decision.

My priorities are, first, primary and nursery education, second, secondary reorganisation, and third, raising the school leaving age. Perhaps we ought to adopt Fabian tactics and increase the age a term, rather than a year, at a time. That does not mean that I do not put a substantial—

Sir E. Boyle

May we try to get some coherence into the Liberal policy on this? I see no merit in the term at a time idea. As it is, a considerable number of pupils stay on to the end of the summer following the April in which they are 15. Surely the worrying factor is the gap between that figure and those who stay on for a full fifth year. I have never believed that there is any merit in the halfway house of saying that, if people stay on one more term, that is going in the right direction.

Mr. Pardoe

These figures vary greatly from one part of the country to another. There are schools in London where 80 per cent. of the children stay on, but the further north one goes, the less this applies. I am not running away from the principle of secondary reorganisation, which I support wholeheartedly and wish pushed through fairly and with enough cash to do it properly. We are hearing a good deal of the miserable words, "Can we afford Plowden?", and also warnings about the resources which are available. I wish that those who make these dismal sounds would make the same sounds about the bases in the Persian Gulf. The same people do not make the same sounds on these two matters. It is extraordinary to be told that we cannot afford these modest proposals until the 1970s. Can we avoid spending more money? We can run away and say that primary education should have a larger share or that education generally should have a larger share of social security spending, but this is ducking the issue.

We need better secondary education, universities, houses and hospitals. One cannot run away in that way. No substantial cuts can be made in this sphere; more money has to be found. We might recognise that what we need is, unfortunately, yet another committee to investigate education financing. As long as we go on trying to finance the whole system out of general taxation, where it is constantly competing against the east of Suez programme and other things, education will have a severe struggle to get its proper share.

A good deal of money is available outside the general taxation system. We all know of the considerable sums which can be raised to build swimming pools or finance overseas trips. When I visited one of the new comprehensive schools in London last week, I was told about a trip to the United States of America which would cost £120 per child and that the parents would have to find the money. One child was late in paying but he eventually brought a cheque. His form master was surprised and made a joke about it being impossible that the boy's father was a school master. The boy said, "Don't worry. My two sisters have paid theirs too." That was £360 on one day. The master asked what his father did for a living and the boy said that he was a porter at Covent Garden. He may have won the pools; I do not know. But a considerable amount of money is available.

We have seen that private education is prepared to spend £3,300,000 on the new St. Paul's School at Barnes, which works out at £3,300 per place, compared with £900 in the most modern comprehensive school in London. I do not criticise St. Paul's for spending this money. This is a standard of excellence which ought to be emulated in the public sector.

I welcome the Report, because it recognises that education is an instrument of social revolution. We are always being told to take education out of politics. This phrase has a certain appeal to some people. I see no reason for doing so. If education does not serve social and political purposes, it serves none. As a Liberal, I want to participate in society and therefore welcome the greater participation of parents in school life. I abhor the idea of an élite. I dislike the meritocracy as much as I dislike the aristocracy. Although we should pursue a course which leads to a standard of excellence, about which we have heard a good deal from the Right wing in this country, it should not be pursued at the expense of everything else.

I throw overboard the idea of education being designed to turn out busy and useful little worker bees. The purpose of education is human happiness. Although the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) spoke of the need for more technicians—he used phrases of that type, as we all do nowadays; we talk about an investment in education, because we must sell education to the country, and about getting a return from our investment in the form of technicians and so on—the real values of our society would be improved by an improvement in the quality of life of the average child. Although the talent of the gifted child is important, it is the happiness of the average child that is essential—Plowden seems to carry us some way along the read to this ideal.

8.30 p.m.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I welcome most of Plowden, although, like most hon. Members, I have certain criticisms to make about it. As the Secretary of State probably expects, I intend to concentrate on one section of Plowden—the proposals about nursery education.

I agree to some extent with what is said about the imbalance that exists between primary education, secondary education and the universities. The fact that there are 6,580 primary schools about 100 years old and that three-quarters of our primary school children are being educated in them—as against only 349 secondary schools of the same age—indicates that there is an imbalance.

I am a member of an education authority of a rapidly expanding county not far from London. We have had the experience of an enormous number of children being imported into the county, mostly from London. As the hon. Member for a highly industrialised constituency in the West Midlands, I assure the House that the problems of primary education in areas of this kind are greater than the problems of the expanding newer counties which have the benefit of new schools, as Plowden points out.

We in Britain lag behind many countries which have done a great deal to provide nursery education. We lag behind them in spite of repeated promises—the Education Act, 1944, and numerous reports since then—that something would be done. I have had the privilege of looking at nursery education in the Soviet Union and Sweden. Far greater provision has, for a considerable time, been made in those countries for the pre-school child. We should remember that children on the Continent and in those two countries start school at a later age than ours. Even so, comparatively speaking, they provide far more for their younger children than we do.

In talking about nursery education, I wish to divorce this matter completely from the subject of pressure on mothers who go out to work. I approach the subject only from the standpoint of the benefit to the education and development of the child that comes from the provision of pre-school education. Mothers will go out to work whether or not nursery education is provided. The problem is that if mothers go out to work, the only way to provide the right kind of conditions, education and care for children under five is to provide them properly. If that is not done, rotten, makeshift and inadequate substitutes will be found, as they are being found today.

I pay tribute to the many voluntary organisations that have been started because of this lack in the public sector. I pay tribute to the pre-school playgroups, the Save the Children Fund, the large number of co-operative societies which have started pre-school playgroups on their premises and the enormous number of mothers who have started these groups and other kinds of nursery classes to make up for what the public sector has not provided.

Many local education authorities have done what they can and are anxious to make even more progress. Some, on the other hand, have lagged behind even the pressures which my right hon. Friend has placed on L.E.A.s to start pre-school classes for returning teachers. I do not want to see returning teachers as the only privileged section of the community allowed to put their children in nursery classes while they are working. Nor do I want to see returning married doctors and nurses being the only privileged group.

I want to see nursery education expanded to include most children from the age of 3. Here I join issue with Plowden in its view of the number of children who should have nursery education. To say that we could expect 15 per cent. is an under-estimation of either the need or of the parent's desires in this respect, and the expression of parents' opinion of parents ought to be taken into account. We could go a long way further than we do to support the voluntary groups I have mentioned.

Nursery education should be available to any children at any time after the beginning of the school year from age 3 to the age of compulsory schooling. I would be utterly opposed to changing the age of entry to compulsory education in any way at all until such time as nursery education is available for most children between 3 and 5 years.

I agree that more consideration should be given to the depressed areas or the deprived areas—the educationally needy areas—but we must bear in mind that if the whole group of children from age 3 to age 5 is to develop its own personality, skill and talent—and so provide the right foundation on which to build the house of our State system of education—it requires the stimulus of its peers and the extension of the child that can be made from the early age of 3 in these very vital ages of 3, 4 and 5.

If we are building a house, it is absolutely essential that the foundations should be properly laid and built. If we are building a State system of education following through to primary school and comprehensive school up to the age of 18 or 19, it is absolutely essential to get the foundations right. I believe that, in the long run, we shall save far more money by getting the foundations right initially than by using patching-up methods and taking the remedial steps we have to take to make good deficiencies in the early stages of the system. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind that there is very great concern about any suggestion that entry age into compulsory schooling should be changed until such time as proper nursery provision can be made.

We are told in Plowden that: Local education authorities should undertake local surveys at an appropriate time to assess the net cost and extra accommodation needed to establish nursery provision. I say that "an appropriate time" may be five or ten years away. The term is far too vague and indefinite. My right hon. Friend should now be asking local education authorities to investigate the matter in their own areas, estimate the demand for nursery education and then submit their proposals to him. "At an appropriate time" is not urgent enough. This is an urgent problem and I hope that my right hon. Friend will take action on it.

I hope, also, that in order to overcome the difficulties of buildings and places, he will institute a research project by the architectural section of his Department, or ask one of the progressive local education authorities—and some of them have done this before in connection with other spheres of educational building—to put in hand a research project into the kind of simple, prefabricated nursery unit that could be added to existing infant schools and so make an adequate but not expensive provision of these kind of places.

The whole problem of the provision for young children stems not only from the present inadequacies of our education system and building—a legacy, of course, which we understand we have taken over from a previous Administration—but also from housing deficiencies. Many children who ought to have nursery education today, need it partly because of the circumstances of the whole family surroundings.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and local authorities could make a contribution fairly painlessly and inexpensively to the provision of nursery school accommodation by bearing in mind that in new developments in many towns and cities there are ever-increasing numbers of young children living in large blocks of flats with no play space attached to them such as there is in similar blocks in Sweden and the Soviet Union. There could be a joint approach by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to local authorities to earmark flats on new estates for nursery schools which could serve the young children on those estates. In this way provision could be made cheaply, at a cost of building a flat with slight modification and alterations to the lavatory accommodation and so on.

An added advantage would be that the children would not have to travel out of the estate to get their pre-school education. If local authorities co-operated they could make a vital and valid contribution to nursery school education which could leapfrog some of the difficulties hon. Members have envisaged during the time before we can go ahead with building the nursery schools we need. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education and Science will make that approach to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government

I am trying to rush through quickly what I want to say. I do not want to be controversial about the Plowden proposals concerning the number of children per trained nursery teacher, but I do not believe any forward-looking Government can seriously contemplate any dilution of present standards. We say that now the reasonable number laid down for one teacher is difficult to achieve because of the shortages of places and of teachers, but I do not think that one trained teacher for 60 children, with or without aids, is enough. The rather arbitrary grouping suggested by Plowden of three groups to one trained nursery teacher, is not good enough. We need to look at this again and also at the whole question of training for teachers of nursery schools.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at training for primary school teachers to see if it can be linked with training of nursery school teachers and make it all nursery-primary training. The N.N.E.B. courses are valuable. They could be supplemented with one year courses for mature women who know how to handle children. They could help trained nursery teachers without the necessity of having a two-year course. These courses should be based on colleges of further education so that the student would have two days a week release to continue with academic studies.

In order to allow other hon. Members to take part in the debate I must conclude, but I must add a word to the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) for methods to find finance to extend nursery education and to deal with the whole primary sector. I hope that teachers, parents, all men and women of good will who are anxious to see our educational system improved, extended and upgraded, particularly those who are anxious about nursery education, will knock at my right hon. Friend's door and help him to knock even harder at the doors of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Defence.

The way to find the money to do all those socially essential things we want to do in housing, education and many other fields of activity, is to cut our bloated, extravagant and over-burdening defence expenditure. I ask my right hon. Friend to think what he could do in the field of nursery education, or education generally, not with what was saved by raising the fees of overseas students, but with the cost of even one Polaris submarine.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

I hope the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) will forgive me if I do not comment fully on what she said. I hope that the Secretary of State will pay a good deal of attention to her comments, having regard for the persuasive way in which she put her case and the persuasive look which she gave him in the last moments of her speech.

During the afternoon we have heard a great deal about costs and priorities. I was particularly pleased that the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) stressed the fact that there are a great number of recommendations in the Report for which no expense is necessary. He said that all that would be necessary to implement them would be a change of opinion. However, that does not mean that the recommendations would be any easier to implement, because to change opinion is often more difficult than anything else, human nature being what it is.

Opinions on education have changed in the past, very largely as a result of the Reports which preceded Plowden, such as Robbins, Newsom, and so on, and I have no doubt that this Report will continue to change opinion in the right direction. It certainly should, in the light of its very high standard—even by the standards that were established by earlier Committees.

If primary education is to have a higher priority, then something else must have a lower priority. If that is not accepted, anything said by the Government or anyone else is meaningless. There must be changes in current educational priorities. If there is no change, it will be virtually impossible to implement any reasonable proportion of the Plowden recommendations.

I hope that the Secretary of State has carefully considered paragraph 1184 entitled "Priorities", which describes the criteria upon which the Committee assessed its own priorities. This paragraph poses the questions asked by the Committee about each proposal before recommending its priority.

The criteria and the questions seem to be both forthright and sensible. One might ask to what extent the Secretary of State asked those question on any subject with regard to educational expenditure before coming to a decision. If this same criteria were used, and the same questions asked, a number of existing priorities for both current and future expenditure would take a very different place to that allocated to them.

I wish briefly to comment on one or two points concerning the Committee's own priorities. First, on the subject of the educational priority areas, about which so much has been said during the debate, it would seem that the concept of the E.P.A. emphasises once again that in yet another sphere the day of the blanket benefit is over, that flat-rate Government aid for whatever purpose is outdated both by post-war achievement and by the more specific problems which today face a British Government. If, in education, we are to endeavour to provide more equal opportunity for all children, we should have to discriminate positively in favour of the less fortunate areas.

Turning next to the question of inducements to teachers in these areas, I should like to add only one point to the many which have been made. Although recruiting is important, getting teachers to stay in these areas is even more so, and not only for educational reasons, for if more married teachers could be persuaded to establish their homes in these areas they would do a great deal to enrich and build up the community.

My third point concerns building, which has already been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle). He referred to the recommendation in the Report that authorities saving money on individual major projects should be permitted to spend it on minor projects. I believe that the implementation of this recommendation would give local education authorities extra discretion, and at the same time provide them with a powerful incentive both to look for ways of saving money and perhaps to introduce cost effective schemes on the American pattern with which to press builders for more efficiency and higher output. I know that more often than not it is very difficult for local education authorities to keep within the limits imposed on them for major school building schemes. Nevertheless, I believe that this would be a real incentive if it could be implemented.

The Report will provide the guidelines, if not the blueprint, for primary education for several decades ahead, but I think that its importance lies not only in what it says but in what it does not say.

Chapter 30 on Research, Innovation and Dissemination of Information puts together in its ultimate and penultimate paragraphs the many fields where further studies might fill gaps in existing knowledge. It is an extensive list of 19 subjects, plus a suggestion to set up a full-scale inquiry into teacher training. This was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle). Clearly all 19 subjects must be tackled sooner or later by some committee either directly or indirectly.

Although it might be invidious to do so, I want to draw the attention of the House particularly to one subject which earlier merited a chapter of its own. This concerns the education of gifted children, and the recommendation at the end of the chapter is that Long-term studies should be made on the needs and achievements of gifted children. There is no section of children, from whatever background they come, who are of more overriding importance than these gifted children. It is from their numbers that the leaders of the community should emerge, but they will emerge only if their gifts and their ability are encouraged to the full. And if they do not emerge it will be less to their own disadvantage than to the nations'.

These children must be provided with the right opportunities, but I fear that at present we may not always be setting our sights in the right direction. As the Report says: There is, first of all, what may be described as an egalitarian suspicion of the whole concept of giftedness.… At the outset giftedness meets with an irrational obstacle. Irrational obstacles and suspicion must be removed, and more knowledge and more research is needed.

Of course the less gifted, whether in mental capacity or in the environment from which they spring, must be nurtured, but in our care and concern about their needs we must not forget the one continuing theme, the pursuit of excellence, which should run through all our educational debates. Only by providing the right opportunity for gifted children can the pace of advance towards the ever receding goal of the pursuit of excellence be hastened.

At the beginning of my remarks I spoke of priorities. I intend to end in the same vein. According to the National Plan, expenditure on schools of all sorts is intended to rise by £224 million or 27 per cent. in the years covered by the plan. We now know that the plan is invalid. On the other hand, the Plow-den recommendations, if accepted completely, would add a great deal to the projected costs. It would be remarkable if the Government were prepared to accept all the Plowden recommendations in the time scale allowed; but, whatever is accepted, some reordering of priorities will be necessary.

Lord Eccles said this in another place on Tuesday: … the Secretary of State should stop pretending that he can do so many things at once and instead recast his priorities so that what is most worthwhile doing can be done well."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords; 14th March, 1967, c. 212.] Why have not the Government made a start? They have been sitting on the Report now for four and a half months. We are told that Socialism is meant to be the language of priorities. The Government must have some idea whether some of the priorities referred to come high on their list. The House will be disappointed that the Secretary of State has not used the opportunity afforded to him by the Opposition today to give some indication of in which direction the Government intend to move.

8.56 p.m.

Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)

Some of the Plowden proposals would involve enormous expense, but others would not exert such a heavy pressure on the taxpayer. I am thinking of the proposals relating to improving relations between parents and teachers. Relations could be much improved without outlay to the extent that some of the proposals would involve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) spoke of the need to change the composition of boards of managers and governors. I am in sympathy with the views my hon. Friend expressed. We should consider ways of enabling parents to serve on boards of managers or governors. It is an unpalatable fact that people who serve on local authorities appoint people to these boards on purely political considerations. This happens no matter what the political complexion of the local authority is. I know of a number of schools whose managers send their children to private schools outside the State sector. Such people should not be appointed to dominate boards dealing with the needs of those who do not have the means to send their children to private schools.

If we did more to improve relations between parents and teachers, we should not make things more difficult for teachers but much easier, because it would be a two way traffic. Many parents could make useful suggestions and render a valuable contribution to school life. Improved relations with parents could enable teachers to let parents know what they seek to do. Many of the parents whom teachers most wish to contact are not the type of parents who normally come to school to discuss the problems of their children. It is important that teachers should come into contact with such parents and seek to exercise some influence on their behaviour.

I have been amazed at the correlation—it is noted in the Plowden Report, and I have seen it in my own experience—between absenteeism and delinquency. In my view, teachers have an important job to do even in seeing that children attend school, because, when they are at school, they are quite often prevented from getting up to mischief which, sooner or later, would bring them before the courts. There is a marked connection, also, between unruliness at school in a particular pupil and disturbance in the home or an unsatisfactory home environment.

The Secretary of State could do much to help to encourage improved relations and improved communications between parents and teachers. It would not cost much, and a great deal of good could come from it.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

My hon. Friend says that it would not cost much to establish this better relationship, but will he go further and agree that, once we had parents interested on parent-teacher associations and boards of managers and going direct to the school, public opinion and public pressure for more expenditure so that we could have smaller classes and other improvements would become much greater? Would not this greater weight of public opinion make it easier for the Government to allocate more money to education so that there could be smaller classes, more teachers, and so on?

Mr. Newens

I agree entirely. The more parents know about education, the more willing they are to have greater public expenditure on the promotion of education projects.

There is also the need—this, too, is pointed to in the Plowden Report—to draw together the social and education services much more. I refer here to the vital rôle played by the education welfare officers. I applaud the efforts being made by the association representing education welfare officers to secure recognition of the important part which they have to play in education, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will do all he can to support the efforts being made in this direction.

Further, on the subject of drawing together the social and education services, we have seen recently how necessary it is to pay attention to the material needs of children, particularly certain deprived children. It would be most regrettable if we were in any way to undermine the school meals and school milk services, which have done a great deal to create the standard of health in the community at large which we have come to expect today.

A word now about the age of transfer. I am delighted at the proposal for the introduction of nursery schools, but I do not consider that there is a case for raising the age of compulsory full-time or part-time attendance at school. If there were time, I should like to develop the argument about that. In my view, it would be a most undesirable step. Moreover—I speak for no organisation in this but express a personal view—I doubt the desirability of raising the age of transfer from junior school, or middle school as it will become, to secondary school. The extra school year may not be well used in the middle school. In addition, one must bear in mind the pressure in secondary school for specialisation to begin early in preparation for examinations at the age of 14. A great deal of damage can be done. I welcome what my right hon. Friend said on this matter in his opening speech today.

On the question of educational priority areas, I agree with discrimination in favour of the under-developed, but I utter a word of warning here along the lines of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester). The educational priorities should be related not to areas but to particular schools. Many slum schools still exist in good areas.

In my constituency, which I imagine would be regarded as a good area, there is a primary school at Waltham Abbey with an appalling building and overcrowded conditions which are a great deterrent to teachers taking up employment there. Failure to designate my area as an educational priority area would be very unfair to the pioneer teachers who try to do excellent work in such bad conditions, because people have no incentive to go to teach at the bad school but will be attracted to the good schools which in many cases surround it.

The emphasis must be on the educationally under-privileged in the schools and on minorities, not majorities. We must remember that there are people like the gipsies—I should like to say more on that subject if I had time—to whom the Report made an important reference.

I want to say something about the question of the part played by teachers. There is necessity for better buildings, more equipment, aids and so on. But if I had to choose between having better buildings and so on, but with poor teachers, and bad buildings with good teachers, I should choose the latter.

Plowden states that in 1963 there were fewer qualified teachers in the primary schools than in 1960. Although the situation has been improved since then, we must keep our eyes on it. It is necessary to give teachers more attractive salary. I want to combat the nonsense which is talked, and which we heard a little while ago from the Liberal bench, about the pay being sufficient to increase the attractiveness of the plums at the top of the profession. It is only when we give teachers on the basic scale proper treatment that we shall get the sort of education we want.

I want teachers to do considerably more to increase their contact with parents. But let us not forget that when a young teacher must support a family he is often obliged to do an out-of-school job to earn enough money. Something must be done to improve that situation.

I very much welcome the proposals generally in the Report, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will seek to implement as many as possible when there has been an opportunity for general discussion. I also very much hope that he will be able to find the money to implement some of the important improvements which cannot be made without considerably more expenditure.

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhapton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) in that I hope that the Government as a whole will realise how important it is to cut down defence expenditure if we are to have the money we want to carry out the policies about which we have spoken today. Unless we can produce the money to do that job Plowden will, for the most part, remain merely what might be described as "a consignment of hot air". A great many of its proposals cannot be put into effect unless we put additional money into the educational services. I want to see that done on teachers' salaries.

Many teachers have been seriously upset by the suspension of the Burnham negotiations. I was glad to hear what my right hon. Friend said today about his hopes of being able to announce a resumption of negotiations shortly. We shall only be faced with that struggle later on unless something is done to increase what we spend on education.

Unless we determine to do something about what is said in the Report we shall be judged by later generations to have had some of the vision but to have lacked the will. Education is investment in the future, and if we really believe in the future, as we must, we must also be able to find the drive and funds to carry out the sort of proposals put forward in the Report.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. Richard Hornby (Tonbridge)

Some of the later remarks of the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) would perhaps have been better suited to a discussion of the Burnham Committee, although I have some sympathy with him because, sadly, the Committee has not been sitting when it should have been, so I understand his reasons for those comments. However, we are grateful for the better news about the Committee given by the Secretary of State today.

We have had a wide-ranging and interesting debate on an extremely important subject. It is no surprise that the debate has been wide-ranging, since we have a Report which covers 495 pages of text before getting to the appendices and statistics and 197 recommendations—the fruits of three years' hard work by a very distinguished Council. It is no surprise either that every speaker in the debate has regarded this as an important subject, because the children of the primary schools are our future—although we may sometimes find it hard to realise when we pass their school playgrounds that we are looking directly at what may or may not be the possibilities for economic growth and a happy society in a few years' time.

This is an important subject because it touches on matters far wider than primary schools alone. In the Report, one looks at the problems of home life; at the relationship between the mother's work at home and her desire to earn money; at the question of whether she should or should not go out to work; at the problem of the depressed areas, where employment is less than elsewhere; at the links between primary and secondary schools; at many problems connected with the recruitment and training of teachers.

This, indeed, is a wide canvas—much wider than just the education of children under the age of 11 or 12 or 13. We on this side of the House, with right hon. and hon Members opposite, are grateful for this Report and I am sure that everyone is glad that there has been an opportunity on this Supply Day to debate it.

I want to make one comment about the value or otherwise of Reports of this kind. This matter has been raised both outside the House and by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) today. The suggestion has been made in some quarters that Reports of this kind are perhaps a mistake; that this will be the last of them; that they take too long to produce; that, as a result, some of the information is out of date by the time decisions are taken based on evidence given in such a Report; and that they provide the Government of the day with an excuse for doing nothing while the Report is being compiled According to my hon. Friend, this Report tells us nothing that we did not know already—in which case, I am bound to say to him that, having read laboriously through all the statistics, I am most impressed by his range of knowledge.

In this case I disagree with the criticisms that have been made and the same goes, in my view, for the Robbins, Crowther and Newsom Reports. I believe that it has been valuable and will continue for a considerable period to be valuable to have had studies in this sort of depth covering the whole range of education. They have had to be studies in depth and breadth because education cannot easily be split up into separate compartments.

Both for the Government of the day and for future Governments, for teachers and administrators and parents, this Report and others like it can have a major formative influence both in the schools and outside. The depth of the Report is worth waiting for on that account. I hope that parents, in increasing numbers, will be encouraged, through the parent-teacher associations and elsewhere, to spend the quite considerable sum in buying the Report.

As for the suggestion that nothing happens while the Report is being compiled, this is not true, because a great deal has been going on with experiments in primary schools while the Report has been compiled. Nothing has been held up. Experiments in different practices and in different areas have been developed. Through its Report the Council has brought together the whole picture and enabled us to see what is good, what is average and what is bad and it can help us to eradicate the had and bring the average as well as the bad up to the standards of the best.

We have to recognise that the Report poses some difficult problems for the Secretary of State. He and his Department now cover a massive area of activity. The recommendations of the Report involve a great deal of consultation with local authorities and others, and although we would have liked to have heard more detail to-day, we understand why that has not been possible and, presumably will not be possible for some time. However, it is not fair of him to say that the Report has been available for only two months. I appreciate that the local authorities have had it for only two months, but the right hon. Gentleman had it for at least another two before that. We hope that the consultation will now proceed quickly and that action will follow.

The right hon. Gentleman has further problems in the substantial range of expenditure with which he is concerned, some £1,700 million for his Department as a whole. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) said, this requires from him a most careful and difficult choice of priorities from which he cannot escape, much as he might like to. I am bound to say that I felt that he was wishing that he could escape during the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), who assured him that his door was going to be battered by the friends of the nursery schools, to which she would add the friends of the primary schools, and to which many of us would add the friends of the overseas students, the friends of harrassed directors of education struggling with secondary reorganisation and the friends of independent direct grant and grammar schools. It is getting quite a long list and I am almost sorry for the right hon. Gentleman, except that in some of these things he has the way out at the back door if he so wishes.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) said that in considering priorities we on this side of the House must not set up secondary reorganisation as being in conflict with primary proposals. I accept that the two problems cannot be separated because of the effects on the curriculum and ages and problems of transfer, which we have recognised in our examination of the problems of selection at 11. But there are other aspects which reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham.

Public opinion has been riveted on something other than the primary schools where it most importantly belongs. The time of administrators has been taken up to a very heavy degree and, despite the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that no money is attached to the secondary reorganisation proposals, it must be a fact that there will be some diversion—anyhow of minor works money—of resources from the primary to the secondary sector.

We on this side of the House have attached and do attach very great importance to the primary schools. Primary schools and teacher supply are the topics that we have mentioned again and again as being most deserving of attention. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that this was a slightly late conversion on our part. In saying that we had not given fair attention to the primary schools in the past, he was forgetting that one's priorities have to change, and his will, too, at different periods of time as different tasks come forward. I do not think that three, four or five years ago, or earlier, anyone would have seriously suggested that the elimination of the all-age school, with all that that meant for secondary school building programmes, was not right at the top of the priority list. His suggestion that we have not done as well as we might in teacher supply totally ignored the fact that we brought in the three-year period for teacher training, with precious little protest from the then Opposition.

Again and again in speeches from both sides of the House in this debate the order of priorities in the Report has emerged as (1) education priority areas; (2) teachers' aids; (3) the improvement of the bad school and building problems and (4) the extension of nursery education. This is because these are the priorities laid down by Lady Plowden and her Council.

One of the satisfying features of this Report is that the priorities are stated in time and money terms, the two being inseparable to some extent. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) has said, we accept the importance of the proposal for education priority areas. One must be willing to discriminate in order to work effectively in this area of social need. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe was quite right when he said that there was a brain drain among deprived children quite as important as the brain drain involved in people going overseas.

Two criticisms which I have seen of this proposal in the Press should be specifically and firmly rejected. The first criticism made of the education priority area scheme is that this is not fair shares. It is precisely because there are not fair shares now between some types of school that this proposal has been made and should be supported. Secondly I have seen what I can only describe as a disgraceful suggestion, that this proposal should be rejected because it amounted to investing in failure. Who is prepared to talk of failure among children aged 5?

On all scores this is a proposal which we ought to accept. I hope that it will be possible to separate the budget which is at the rate of £10 million a year over five years from the rest of the expenditure programme so that it can be seen that this is an additional commitment for this purpose rather than a redeployment of resources from other areas.

Enough has been said about designation to indicate that there is a point at which the Minister should look seriously to see if it cannot be dealt with best through the normal machinery of contact with the L.E.A.s. Perhaps the L.E.A.s should have the opportunity to suggest the designation of schools, including sometimes a single bad school which merits consideration under Lady Plowden's terms but which may not necessarily lay in a wide bad area.

Next, teachers' aides. One is aware of the anxieties and doubts among members of the teaching profession about teachers' aides. I am sure that it is right that this proposal should go ahead. I am equally sure that we have much to learn about the supply of people who will come forward into this type of work, about their training and about how they should be used in the schools. But those are not reasons for delaying the start of what can be a very great help to teachers. I hope that the training methods will be kept as flexible as possible.

In most cases, a course of two years is much too long. One might just as well do three years if one is competent to do two and go on to be a fully qualified teacher. I hope that something much shorter and simpler will be devised. It may well be that people who have been trained as aides in this way and have worked under the guidance and control of a trained teacher will become one of the right hon. Gentleman's most valuable pools of recruitment for the training colleges and ultimately for teaching. I believe that this is the right way to go ahead. I hope that the fullest use will be made of the H.M.I.s in seeing how aides can be best used in the schools.

Thirdly, I want to say a few words about the improvement of bad schools. I was glad to hear what the Secretary of State said about the substantial provision made for more primary school building compared with secondary school building over the next three years. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth said, we attach great importance to the relaxation of the minor works controls. I hope that the hon. Lady will say something about minor works. I am also very sympathetic to the proposal made to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes. He referred to the advantages which might accrue from encouraging local authorities to spend on minor projects money which they are able to save on major projects. This is a valuable suggestion which could be of considerable help.

Fourthly, I come to nursery education, which is perhaps the newest ground to be examined in considerable detail by a body like the Plowden Committee and by the House. The importance attached both socially and educationally to this matter is growing fast all the time. There is no doubt of the educational and social value of some form of nursery provision before the age of 5. My view, which is shared by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, is that the cost of providing this nation wide—£110 million is the estimate—is such that unless we accept the minority Report in favour of parental contributions or cut back on other parts of the education budget it is not likely to be possible to provide nursery facilities on this scale. The good is very often in conflict with the ideal.

For this reason, we put it to the Secretary of State that he should accept the closely reasoned arguments of the minority report, even though it involves some breach in the principles of hon. Members opposite about fee paying.

With regard to teachers in the nursery sector, again I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will keep the arrangements flexible and let them develop. In addition, the presence of a highly-qualified adviser available to a great many schools run by relatively short-trained people will be a far more practicable proposition than a large number of long-term trained people.

Those were the main points which I wished to make, and I turn briefly to one or two other matters. Points have been raised about the age of entry, and I would emphasise, with a vested interest as one who has three children born between the months of May and August, that there is a considerable disadvantage to children who cannot get a full three years' education before going on to the next stage, and some alteration would be welcomed.

As several hon. Members have said, some of the most interesting passages in the Report concern the contact between school and home. In that connection, I would make one point which I have not heard mentioned so far in the debate. It concerns the rôle of school governors, about whom a number of wise comments were made in the Report. It is depressing that 30 per cent. of head teachers had to report, when questioned, that their governors were of no help to them. I am sure that it is as depressing to the head teachers as it is to the governors themselves. One would like to see considerable thought given by local authorities and others to the appointment of governors and to advice being given to governors and school managers on how best they can be helpful.

In particular, they can be helpful as a link between the school and the environment in which it is set. As a way of making that link more effective, I hope that our school managers increasingly will include in their midst mothers or fathers of children who recently attended the school. In that way, we are most likely to get such links developing.

One or two comments were made on independent schools, and I only mention two of them. The first was the point made by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe, and I would say to him that, at a time of scarce resources, it seems madness to be pressing for the elimination of independent schools. It must be the aim always of any Secretary of State for Education to seek to bring the whole of the maintained system up to the standard of the best schools in the country, whether they be in the independent or in the maintained sector. If he succeeds in doing that, it will mean probably that applications for places in independent schools will fall away. Until then, we must retain the right for parents to choose an independent school if they so wish.

On the point mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth about corporal punishment, it seems a slightly excessive proposal that recognition of independent schools should be refused unless corporal punishment is specifically banned from them.

As I said at the start, we have had an interesting debate. We have had before us what one newspaper described as an encyclopaedia of primary education in a country of limited means. Lady Plowden and her colleagues have done their best to give us the priorities. Now we hope to hear from the hon. Lady anything she has to say in addition to what the Secretary of State was able to tell us and, in the weeks and months ahead, we look forward to hearing full and frequent action reports from them both.

9.35 p.m.

The Minister of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

I share the feeling of the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. Hornby) that this has been a useful and valuable debate. It has shown how valuable is the presence here of hon. Members with professional knowledge of teaching.

It would be less than frank to point out that it is a matter of some shame to us as a House that the attendance today has been so slight. We are, after all, talking about more than 4 million children in our primary schools. Many hon. Members have said that these are the foundation of most of what we wish to see in this country. Perhaps because this is not a matter of profound dispute between the parties we do not fully recognise what we as a House have to contribute in constructive ideas to some of the most crucial issues in politics today.

There was a moment when I wondered, in view of the remarks of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) about "Beeching-type" salaries for headmasters, whether some of my hon. Friends were hinting that they would join the drain from the House to the places which they came from.

I should like first to deal with the one issue which touches directly on political controversy. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), who usually does not indulge in such things, was a little disingenuous in pointing to paragraph 31 and repeating the phrase used there about "creating individual educational environments" for different children. My impression of that phrase from reading the Report was that it was a hint not that selection should be retained, but rather that they support the practice which is already common in the best primary schools of trying to give individual attention to children in terms of their particular capacity and characteristics.

The Committee has made its position clear on selection. It says: When there is encouragement from local advisers and when refresher courses coincide with the disappearance of formal selection arrangements, the work of the junior schools is liberated. That is a wide-spreading phrase. Paragraph 410 says: for the last 20 years, the 11-plus has shut off from grammar schools many who wanted to go there and whose subsequent careers have shown that they would have profited from the opportunity. My reading of the Report is that it clearly believes that selection, at least in the form which the right hon. Member for Handsworth does not support, has had a cramping effect on the work of the primary schools. This is a point which my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) brought out clearly in a useful speech.

The point which the right hon. Member for Handsworth made is one on which I am in sympathy with him and it was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich. This is the point about the nature of the training of teachers. The right hon. Gentleman made a fair point, that a narrow range of subjects was offered to many students going to colleges of education. It has been said that much may be lost in maturity in consequence of the fact that many teachers go straight from colleges to schools. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree, however, that this is, in part, a reflection of what is still often too narrow a range of subjects, particularly for girls in secondary schools. It reflects the shortage of science and mathematics teachers, above all in girls' schools, and more attention should be given to this.

Another point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich with which I have every sympathy was that about the need to get more experience of outside life before teaching. I believe that he was particularly thinking of the sort of experiments in in-service training of teachers to widen their experience and give them some knowledge of the industrial world. The hon. Member for Tonbridge referred to the link between primary schools and economic growth, but one thing which we need to do, perhaps even more in future, is to build bridges between the world of education and the world of industry, to which most of the children will go.

The right hon. Member for Hands-worth asked a direct question about special schools and the possibility of an inquiry in them. The recommendations in Plowden will be referred to the Advisory Committee on Handicapped Children and his suggestion about a special inquiry into these schools will be very much borne in mind. With particular reference to what his hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said about counselling, this matter is likely to be referred to by the Seebohm Committee, as it obviously relates in some respects to the wider aspects of family welfare, in which handicapped children are greatly involved. Consequently, we will want to see what the Committee recommends, but we will take note of that suggestion.

I will deal with some of the other subjects that have been raised in the debate. One issue which came up frequently was the whole question of whether primary schools have suffered as the price of the development of secondary schools. I do not think the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth will disagree with me when I say that during the period 1960 and 1964 priority was given largely to the reorganisation of all-age schools and that this was bound to reflect in the division of the school building programme and matters of that kind.

As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the balance is now being gradually redressed in favour of primary schools, and this debate has been useful at a time when the direction of interest in education is beginning to move the balance back to the primary schools.

Sir E. Boyle

I would not quarrel with the hon. Lady's statement if she would generalise it and widen it somewhat and say that priority was given to secondary improvements at that time. I think that about half the money for secondary improvements between 1960 and 1964 went to the elimination of all-age schools, while the rest went to a considerable number of secondary replacements, not least of some of the older grammar schools; but I agree that secondary improvements had the bulk of the extra resources.

Mrs. Williams

I do not want to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman and, equally, I think that he will not disagree with me when I say that one of the patterns which has been emerging is that the obsolete and inadequately equipped schools are now much more noticeable in the primary than in the secondary sphere.

I come to the question of teacher supply, to which reference has been made by many hon. Members. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) was absolutely right in what he said about the staff-student or staff-pupil ratio being important basically in trying to improve primary school standards. His remarks reflected the views strongly held by Plowden, which stated: On the teachers, on their skills and on their goodwill, far more than on organisation or buildings, the future of education depends. My right hon. Friend made out a good case to show the degree of priority that is being given to increasing teacher supply. Despite the fact that there has been a rapid increase in the number of children attending primary schools—the number increased by 106,000 in 1966 and by 150,000 in the current year—the staff-pupil ratio has been held.

It is interesting to consider the situation in just two years. In 1964–65, 24,300 students started training and in 1966–67, 33,400 students will start training. One can see from these figures the degree of effort—virtually an emergency programme—that is being put into this question of teacher training. This is crucial not only because of the rise in the number of boys and girls attending primary school but also because of the tendency, which showed up some years ago, for boys and girls to voluntarily stay on after the compulsory leaving age. As a direct result of this, the demand for teachers is extremely great.

It is necessary to remember that the claim of the ever-rising demand—the hunger, one might say—for higher educational standards has also been pressing on the limited supply of qualified men and women. Nevertheless, within this total teaching force—and, more particularly, within the number of teachers who are now in training—the proportion of those who have taken primary and primary-secondary courses has shown a welcome improvement. The number has gone up from 72 per cent. of the total number of teachers in training—or, in absolute figures, 12,411 student teachers in 1962–63—to 80 per cent. of the total, or 26,015 student teachers now. In terms of numbers, this has been more than a doubling of the number of students taking primary and primary-secondary courses.

Several hon. Members have referred to the need to get more men into our primary schools, and this point was made by Plowden. Despite the claims for the advantages of equal pay, which I share with the teachers, I accept the recommendation of Plowden on this matter, and my view was echoed by a number of hon. Members.

Here, again, the position is not as encouraging as we would like, because it is still true that most men teachers choose secondary school—but there has been a slight improvement. In 1962–63, 817 men went into primary schools, and primary schools alone, while 1,902 men have done so in the current academic year. For all students, the number has risen from 5,000 to 11,000; that is, an increase from 29 per cent. to 33½ per cent. of the total number of teachers in training now taking primary courses, and primary courses only.

When one has said all that, it is still true as several hon. Members—and notably the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth—said, that there is a grave loss of teachers to the profession in the first 3–5 years after they leave the colleges of education. It is therefore all-important to attract as many mature teachers and as many married women returners as we can.

Here, again, the position is, at least, mildly encouraging. Three years ago, 5,507 married women returned to the schools and 7,366 returned to the schools last year, of whom three-quarters went into primary schools.

I still believe that there is more we can do, and I am still convinced that there is more that local education authorities can do, to try to make room for married women returners. Although I may be thought to have an axe to grind here, and perhaps I have, I believe that married women teachers have a great deal to contribute—at least as much as those fresh from colleges of education.

The numbers of part-timers show a welcome improvement. There are now 41,000 part-time teachers and three years ago there were only 26,000, and half of the present number are employed in primary schools. We hope further to encourage that movement by reckoning part-time service for purposes of superannuation payment.

Here, again, it is fair to mention another thing. Many part-time teachers, like many married women returners, by nature of their domestic responsibilities are not mobile, or at least are not very mobile between one education authority and another. We therefore hope and believe that many education authorities will follow the example given by some leading education authorities by making more room available for teachers who are immobile, and making sure that the stock of qualified immobile teachers is taken up early in filling the quota.

In that respect, another encouraging movement is the introduction, so far in only three places, of part-time training courses for married women. Married women wishing to take training on a part-time basis are showing a very welcome response and this, again, looks like an area of supply we are on the point of tackling, and tackling very usefully.

I turn now to two or three other suggestions that are made in the Plowden Report. I was interested to find that there was support from all the three political parties in the House for the concept of the educational priority area. This is a very radical and important idea. I suspect that it is an idea that goes far beyond the bounds of education alone. It is the concept that environmental poverty, poverty in terms of schools, in terms of turnover of teachers, in terms of housing, in terms of amenities—in terms of the total environment in which children and parents live—can deeply affect educational achievement, and much of the most exciting research of recent years has pointed to this conclusion.

I thought that the hon. Member for Tonbridge was quite right in making very short shrift indeed of those who talk in terms of wasting money on failures. These children are not failures or, in so far as they are, they represent the failure of the system, not of they themselves, and we need to put that right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) referred in this context to immigrant children. I am sure that she will have seen in the Plowden Report that the existence of children who cannot speak English, or who do not speak English as a first language, is one of the criteria that the Council itself puts forward in identifying educational priority areas, and I think that there is no doubt it will be taken very much further in the whole of our social thinking. With particular reference to education, it is worth noting what my right hon. Friend said, that there will be a quota conference shortly. As he pointed out, the building programme will take account of this concept, of educational priority areas so it is hoped that the quota conference will be able to take account of it as well.

I turn to another issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman. He asked for a direct answer to the question of what consideration could be given to the possibility of children entering school compulsorily on two dates a year instead of every term. I am sure that he will recognise that this is precisely the kind of subject on which my right hon. Friend would find it necessary to have the fullest possible consultations. Preliminary advice we have had indicates considerable division of opinion on this issue. It involves questions which would need to be considered by the teacher organisations as well as by local education authorities. I hope that with that assurance the right hon. Gentleman will allow us at a later stage to state our view on this matter.

Sir E. Boyle

I am sorry to insist on this, but it is mentioned by Plowden as an interim, not a long-term solution. Could not a further statement be made on it before the Summer Recess? I should be sorry if it were allowed to run into the sand and there were no further statement made in this House.

Mrs. Williams

Obviously this is an extremely important matter. I think the right hon. Gentleman will have to accept that in so far as there is delay it will be delay because of consultation itself. Clearly a change could not be made without full co-operation of all involved and it would be wrong to make the statement without taking them fully into consideration.

I turn to the subject of nursery schools and issues raised with such force by my hon. Friends the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) and Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) and others. It must be fairly accepted that this is a relatively neglected part of educational provision. I do not wish at this point to blame the right hon. Gentleman because he found it necessary in Circular 8/60 to discourage further expansion of nursery provision because he found the pressure on supply of qualified teachers so great. It was possible for him towards the end of the previous Administration to make exceptions for nursery classes or nursery provision which returned substantially more qualified teachers than were required to staff them. My right hon. Friend has found it possible to make another addendum to the circular and exception of that kind. It is fair to indicate that on a preliminary study we have been able to make on the effects of this second addendum we find that about one-tenth of the local education authorities report that there has been an increase in the number of mothers returning to teaching of about 20 per cent., that is to say, mothers with children at nursery schools, compared with the situation before the further easing of the restrictions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough was quite right when she said that both addenda, that of the right hon. Gentleman and that of my right hon. Friend, were directed towards returning teachers to the schools. Of their very nature they were not measures which could greatly extend provision of teachers for nursery education itself. My right hon. Friend will bear very much in mind the suggestion that so far as easing can be made it should be in educational priority areas. There is a great deal of experience, not least in the United States, which shows that work done for children educationally deprived in their early years can make up for what they have lost. They are impoverished because their families are not able fully to support them or they are faced with difficulties in terms of their own councils.

I refer to two things which have been done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough pointed out, the Department of Education has made a small grant to the Pre-School Play Groups Association by financing the salary of a full-time adviser and some of the office and administration costs. We are considering whether a grant can be made also to the Save the Children Fund to which 80 pre-school play groups are at present affiliated. Seven hundred are affiliated to the Play Groups Association. All this, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, is only a step towards the ideal of full nursery provision for all children. A great deal of the difficulty turns on the question of how these schools can be staffed. This is a matter which must be discussed at great length. We must bear in mind all the time that the first priority has to be for the infant and primary schools. Therefore, the question of staffing is at the centre of how much nursery provision can be made.

I should now like to mention two facts very briefly before bringing the debate to an end. Many speakers have pointed to the need for greater contact between parents and teachers. I find very attractive in the Plowden Report the idea of a brochure on the maintained primary schools, just as there are brochures on secondary schools and on some independent schools. This would give parents a sense of identification with the school.

I also find attractive the idea of trying to explain the curriculum in primary schools to parents. Many of them do not fully understand the blending between work and play of a creative kind which is opening opportunities for their children, but which is so remote from their own experience. Many distrust this and do not fully understand what is being done.

The Plowden Report is eminently worthy of the tradition of great educational Reports in Britain. It is infused with humanity, and with a kind of controlled passion that every child shall have the educational opportunities which the best of our primary schools can offer.

It is not complacent. It wants to make the best still better. It makes demands on all of us concerned with education. It makes demands on local educational authorities, on teachers, professional associations, on head teachers, on administrators, and on Parliamentarians. In some cases, the demand it makes may conflict with our traditional approaches and habits. It is tempting for each one of us to tell the others to get on with their part of the necessary changes, and to reserve our own position.

If the Plowden Report is to have the effect that we all want it to have, of opening still wider the opportunities for our children, to enrich their understanding of this fast changing world, we must each ask ourselves what we can contribute, and each of us must set about doing it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded, pursuant to the Order of the House this day, forthwith to put the Questions which he had been directed to put by paragraphs (5) and (7) of Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply), beginning with the Question in respect of which a Member had given notice that he wished to declare himself with the Noes.