HC Deb 26 July 1977 vol 936 cc307-12
Mr. Speaker

Mr. Oakes—to answer Question No. 44.

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

44. Mr. Anderson

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will now make a statement on the future of colleges of education in Wales.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

In my right hon. Friend's statement to the House on 24th January she proposed the ending of initial teacher training in the Polytechnic of Wales at Barry and the West Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education at Swansea. Since then, in consultation with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, very careful consideration has been given to the many representations made on the subject, including deputations from Welsh Members of Parliament, the Welsh Joint Education Committee, and the West Glamorgan and Mid-Glamorgan local education authorities.

The process of review has been a very difficult one since the constraints which originally prompted the original proposal to cease initial teacher training at two colleges in Wales remain in force and cannot lightly be set aside. Having listened carefully, however, to all the arguments that have been deployed as to the special circumstances of the Principality, it has been decided to allow a certain relaxation of those constraints in order to permit a modification of the original proposals.

It has been concluded that, with great regret, the proposed withdrawal of initial teacher training from the Polytechnic of Wales must be confirmed but that teacher training in the West Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education may be retained with an allocation of 300 places. Although a small increase of 50 on the total allocation of places to Wales—to 2,900—can be conceded, any larger increase could not be justified.

In order therefore to accommodate the retention of teacher training in Swansea it is necessary to ask the following colleges in Wales to surrender 50 places each compared with the provisional allocations which my right hon. Friend announced in January: Gwent College of Higher Education, Caerleon; South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education, Cardiff; Bangor Normal College; Llandaff College of Education; and St. Mary's College, Bangor.

I am arranging for the allocation of places for all teacher-training institutions in Wales compared with the proposals announced on 24th January to be circulated in the Official Report. The responsible authorities are being informed of the decisions affecting their respective institutions.

Mr. Anderson

Is my hon. Friend aware that the West Glamorgan County Council is delighted at the reprieve and at the reduced level, which is for it the basic minimum level of provision in the county? Will he confirm that the role played by local representatives, led by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry, the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), showed that the previous recommendations would have destroyed the concept of the West Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education and dealt a blow to in-service training in the county, which is extremely highly developed?

Mr. Oakes

Yes, I confirm that. As my hon. Friend knows, it was a difficult decision between the various colleges. However, the deputations, especially the one led by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, in whose constituency I believe the college is situated, convinced me that it would be wrong, especially on in-service grounds, to close the institution altogether.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I congratulate the Minister on the consultations that he has carried out and on the care with which he carried them out. I express relief that it has been possible within the global figure of college of education places in Wales to make these modifications, especially in relation to Swansea, although we regret that it has been impossible to maintain the teaching provision at the Polytechnic of Wales at Barry. I express the hope that the Church in Wales has been better treated in this respect than the Church of England in an earlier operation. We hope that teacher training in the Principality will now be able to go ahead without further upheavals.

Mr. Oakes

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his original remarks. As for Barry, it is with great regret that we must proceed with the proposal to close the teacher-training establishment within the polytechnic. However, I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that to have kept it open would have meant reducing teacher-training places at the other colleges to such an extent that it might well have made some of them unviable. As for the position of the Church, the hon. Gentleman will know that the figures for Trinity remain unchanged.

Mr. Fred Evans

Is my hon. Friend aware that his statement will cause great bitterness and resentment in the county of Mid-Glamorgan and in large areas of Gwent? Is he further aware that in the Polytechnic of Wales we have an institution that has built itself in a very short time to a standard in the taking of CNNA degree courses equivalent to that prevailing in many provincial universi- ties, and that its teacher-training side is regarded as an integral part of it? Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the wish of an eminent academic staff of the teaching force of South-East Wales and the wish of the students themselves who attend the institution that it should continue in being? Will my hon. Friend undertake that further representations will be received from the bodies concerned?

Mr. Oakes

I should emphasise that the decision regarding the Polytechnic of Wales is in no way a reflection on its academic standards, which are of the highest. Regrettably, it is in the same position as many colleges in England—where good colleges have had to be closed. Otherwise there would be an over-production of teachers.

As to further representations, I think that we must finalise the position now for the sake of the colleges themselves. I know that this will cause resentment in some parts of Wales, as indeed the closure of colleges in England caused resentment. I ask the House to understand that it is necessary to take this action. Otherwise there could be as many as 60,000 teachers heading for certain unemployment by the mid-1980s.

Mr. Hooson

Is the Minister aware that the selection will cause some surprise in Wales because of the great tradition of the Barry Training College, which has become a part of the Polytechnic of Wales? Will he confirm that the reduction of 50 places in each of the other five colleges will be reviewed from time to time in view of the changing situation and demands in Wales, particularly for colleges specialising in teaching the Welsh language?

Mr. Oakes

The figures will always be reviewed. For example, if the birth rate were suddenly to increase, the places might be restored. The difficulty of the Barry Training College is similar to the difficulty at Bangor Normal, St. Mary's, Trinity and so on.

Mr. Ifor Davies

Is the Minister aware that his favourable reconsideration regarding Swansea will be well received throughout South-West Wales? Equally, is he aware that it will be well received by the University College at Swansea, which has such a close working relationship with the new college of education?

Mr. Wyn Roberts

After the withdrawal of 50 places from each of the five colleges of Gwent, South Glamorgan, Bangor Normal, Llandaff and St. Mary's, Bangor, will the Minister give an absolute assurance that the future of those colleges is assured?

Mr. Oakes

We are hoping that by keeping to these figures in both England and Wales we shall create certainty within the colleges that these are the figures and that another review will not be taking place in two or three years' time. One cannot give an assurance to the mid-1980s or anything of that nature, but it is certainly our intention not to have any change in these numbers in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Kinnock

As the Barry Polytechnic has the highest entry standards and the fastest-growing developmental standards of any Welsh training colleges, does my hon. Friend accept that this decision is educationally irresponsible and totally unsupportable? There is widespread feeling in Wales that this decision has been reached as a concession to minority cultural interests that have no wide-scale understanding of the teaching needs of Wales.

Mr. Oakes

The decision has not been made because of any prejudice due to minority interests. I had to be aware of the role of the Welsh language in Wales. Due consideration had to be and was given to that matter.

Regarding the college itself, that part of Wales is better served with teacher-training centres where in-service teacher training can be carried on alongside initial training than in the West Glamorgan area. That was why West Glamorgan was preserved, albeit with a very small number of entrants.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Does the Minister accept that his decision has withdrawn from the major education authority of Mid-Glamorgan the allocation of essential in-service training and initial training places? Will he look again at this arbitrary figure of 50 to be withdrawn from each of the other colleges? Will he also look specifically at the effect of this withdrawal on the viability of colleges in North Wales and say that both in-service training provision and initial training at the North-East Wales Institute is to be retained?

Mr. Oakes

There is no change in the figures for North-East Wales. In North Wales generally, 100 places from the two colleges in the city of Bangor were necessary. Had Barry remained open, we should have had to reduce the colleges in North-East Wales to the point of non-viability.

Mr. Tom Ellis

Is my hon. Friend aware that his statement will be accepted generally in Wales as an admirable all-Wales compromise and that the antidevolutionists who are trying to raise some kind of North-South Wales issue out of a genuine problem have been confounded by this decision?

Mr. Oakes

I did not take that matter into consideration. I tried to look at the matter on educational, geographical and in-service training grounds and on the use of premises particularly in a Welsh context where there are two languages, not one, to deal with.

Following is the information:

Number of teacher training places in 1981
Revised July 1977 As at 24th January 1977
Polytechnic of Wales, Barry Nil Nil
West Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education, Swansea 300 Nil
Gwent College of Higher Education, Caerleon 450 500
South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education, Cardiff 550 600
Bangor Normal 350 400
Llandaff College of Education (in University College, Cardiff) 200 250
St. Mary's College, Bangor(in University College of North Wales, Bangor) 150 200
North East Wales Institute of Higher Education, Cartrefle 400 400
TrinityCollege,Carmarthen 500 500
Total 2,900 2,850

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