HL Deb 07 February 1940 vol 115 cc467-512

THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are in a position to make a general statement on educational policy in present conditions with particular reference to the problems caused by the evacuation of children of school age and also to the needs of young people between the ages of fourteen and twenty; and to move for Papers.

The most reverend Primate said: My Lords, the object which I had in view in putting down the Motion which stands in my name was to consider the situation of education in war-time, particularly with regard to the problems of the evacuated children and of the group of young people between the ages of fourteen and eighteen or twenty, and very specially to give the noble Earl the President of the Board of Education an opportunity, which I think he may welcome, of telling Parliament, the local education authorities, and the country generally about the policy which he now proposes to pursue. The subject, I need scarcely say, is of the greatest possible importance. Inevitably at the outbreak of the war there was a dislocation of the whole educational machinery of the country. That dislocation has now lasted for five months. It obviously cannot continue, and there is a real danger lest concentration on the immediate issues of the war should lead to neglect of this subject, which might have very serious consequences upon the whole social life of the country.

First then, let me speak of the problem created by the evacuation of children from vulnerable areas. The broad facts are, I think, sufficiently clear and well known. Let me just summarise them thus. There were about half a million children who were not evacuated at all. Of the 735,000 who were evacuated no less than 43 per cent. have returned to their homes. I shall not weary your Lordships with details, but there are some which are, I think, specially significant. For example in Yorkshire, the home of a very independent and sometimes obstinate race, there was very little response to the plea for evacuation. In Leeds only 26 per cent. of the children were evacuated; in Sheffield only 17½ per cent. Of other districts it is noteworthy that in the City of Glasgow no less than 70 per cent. of the evacuated children have returned. I have a personal experience in that matter, as a large party of children from the slums of Glasgow were billeted in my holiday home in Scotland, and I regret to say that the experience of a few weeks was sufficient to convince these children that the attractions of one of the most beautiful spots in the West Highlands could not be compared with the attractions of their native slums, and they promptly returned. In the case of the City of Aberdeen—even more remarkable—75 per cent. of the children have returned; in the case of Birmingham half of them. In London I think the figures are better than I expected: only about 34 per cent. have returned.

What are the reasons for this immense return of the evacuated children? They are many. It cannot be said that it has been due to any ill-treatment in the homes in which they were billeted, for I should like once again, as I have already done in your Lordships' House, to express my admiration of the way in which the householders, especially the housewives, in the country have faced a most difficult situation. Nor was it due to any lack of comfort or food, for I suppose most of the children were more comfortable and better fed than in their own homes. Nor was it expense, for it so happens that the great majority of the returns took place before the scheme of contributions was launched. The real and constraining reason was the strength of the homing instinct. I think that is a fact at once significant and pathetic—significant because it shows the immense strength of the family life and of the home in this country, and pathetic when we remember the kind of home to which most of the children were willing to return.

Let me say just one word about the reception areas, where I suppose there are still about half a million children. Inevitably the arrangements made were of a makeshift character, but on the whole, as I think the noble Earl the President would confirm, they have worked as satisfactorily as could have been expected. Of course sometimes there has been friction, due mainly, as always, to troublesome individuals, but I think great credit is due to the local education authorities throughout the country for their efforts to deal with a wholly unprecedented situation, upsetting all their established machinery. And I think still greater credit is due to the teachers, who have had to undergo exceptional strain, and with some exceptions have risen nobly to the occasion. I think also it may be said that the children in these reception areas have had some benefits from their experience. There has been greater variety in the teaching, there has been a widening of their horizons, and in some cases there has been given to them, I think, especially it seems in Devonshire, a real love of the country, which may have important consequences in the future.

The real core of the difficulty is in the case of the children who have been left in the vulnerable areas or who have returned—I suppose about a million. It is indeed lamentable that between 400,000 and 500,000 children have had absolutely no schooling between September and the beginning of January. They inevitably, as the phrase goes, ran wild in the streets. More than that, they lost the benefit of the invaluable medical services. We all know how dangerous it is to allow even milder ailments to be prevented from receiving early treatment. Moreover, they lack the encouragement of bodily cleanliness. We are all familiar with the stories of the verminous children in different parts of the country, but if that was their condition after only four weeks at home what would it be after twelve, fourteen or fifteen weeks? More than that, the children have been deprived in many places of all the benefits sometimes of free meals and of the supply of free or cheap fresh milk. For all these reasons, educational, moral, physical, it is of vital importance that the number of schools in these vulnerable areas should be immediately increased and that schools should be reopened.

I do not know much about the rest of the country. In London I see that 132 of these emergency schools have now been opened, and it is hoped that 400 of them may be ready within perhaps two months. I should be very grateful if the noble Earl could tell us how far, throughout the country, there has been this general reopening of the schools. Here, perhaps, I may ask how far he has been successful in persuading the civil defence and military authorities to release the school premises which they commandeered at the outbreak of the war. The lack of these premises has been most serious in every area—neutral, reception, evacuation—and particularly it has been unfortunate in the case of the secondary schools which depend so much upon their own premises and on access to their own apparatus. There can be no doubt that, for reasons with which we can sympathise, these civil defence and military authorities at the outbreak of war were needlessly grasping. For example, some public schools such as Cheltenham and Rossall, which were sent away from their premises to do their best elsewhere, have now been told they can return because other arrangements have been made. It is difficult to avoid asking why these arrangements could not have been made at an earlier stage. At any rate, laudable as the desire is of these authorities to meet the needs of the country for civil defence and military convenience, they must be reminded that there is another need of great importance—namely, the need of our children receiving at least a modicum of proper education.

But to return to the schools which are to be reopened or have been reopened in the vulnerable areas, even so their condition is not satisfactory. For the most part, I suppose, they will be reduced to part-time shifts, and I suppose, if the example of London is generally followed, they will only be available for children over eleven; and in all cases at present it depends upon the parents whether they choose to send their children to an available school or not. It seems to me clear, on any survey of the situation, that unless it is to get quite out of hand, with very disastrous consequences, there must be in both reception and evacuation areas a greater measure of stability. I suppose we must contemplate the possibility of these abnormal conditions lasting, possibly, for two years. Stability is necessary in the reception areas because no proper arrangements can be made if they can be disturbed at any time by the arbitrary withdrawal of the children. It is necessary in the vulnerable areas because it ought not to depend, I would submit, upon parents—not always very wise or well informed—whether they choose or not to send their children to the schools that may be available.

If this be so, and if it is impossible to carry out even a short-term policy during the war without some greater measure of stability, does not this point to another conclusion about which I wish specially to ask a question of the noble Earl? Is it not clear that the time has come when compulsory education must be reintroduced in the evacuation areas? I do not see how any policy can really be conceived or carried out which does not rest upon that basis, and, if that be so, the sooner it be determined the better, and the sooner a definite date can be given the better—I hope not later than the beginning of April. Of course, there must be considerable modifications. For instance, it is impossible for a long time to secure full-time education for almost any of our children in reception and, still more, in evacuation areas. Moreover, plainly there must be some exemption in the case of children where there is no available school within reasonable distance of their homes. But, speaking generally, it seems to me—and I know to the great majority of education authorities in the country—that the time has come when compulsory education in these evacuation areas must be restored.

If so, then may I say one other thing? I quite understand the reluctance of the Government, if it be reluctance, to take this step if they cannot assure parents in these vulnerable areas that their children will be as safe as they would be if they were sent into reception areas. But on this matter of safety, I cannot help thinking there has been a good deal of exaggeration. If shelters are available in the school premises or even in the near neighbourhood, the children are no more exposed to danger in the schools than they are in the cinemas or playing in the streets. On the contrary, they are probably safer because they will be under the control of their teachers and therefore under discipline. After all, if parents choose to take the great responsibility, in spite of many warnings, of keeping their children in these vulnerable areas, their decision must not be allowed to deprive their children of all that schooling means in their lives.

If there is to be compulsion, another conclusion seems to be inevitable, and that is that the parents in these vulnerable areas—mostly our cities and large towns—must be given a second chance of evacuation. I hesitate to suggest that evacuation should be compulsory. That is not in accord with the traditions of our country, and I doubt whether it would be really carried out, but I do plead that the widest use of publicity should be made without delay, by every device that publicity can command in these days, to bring home to the parents in the evacuation areas three principal points. Firstly, that the danger of air raids is not over, on the contrary, it may be becoming more imminent, and that if evacuation waits until bombing has begun, it may take place in circumstances of great confusion, even of panic. Secondly, that therefore the parents must consider again whether they ought not at once to evacuate their children. Thirdly, that whatever decision they reach, if they decide to send them to reception areas, they will not be at liberty to remove their children arbitrarily at any time during the school period which they may think fit, and if they choose to keep their children in the evacuation areas they must understand that their children will be required to attend school for some time every day, or, if that be quite impossible, to attend at some centre where their home instruction can be settled and where they can have medical supervision. It is really essential that parents should be given this second chance.

If it be the case that we must contemplate a period of, say, another year and a half or even two years of these abnormal conditions, then I wonder whether the Board of Education are sufficiently aware of all the complicated facts which have arisen during these last five months of war. The noble Earl may say they know about these facts quite sufficiently, but there are a great many people who think the time has come, before dangers increase, to make a very expert survey of all these conditions so as to be able to avoid in future some of the difficulties which, quite naturally, have arisen. I do not know whether the noble Earl feels that it is possible for him at this present time to appoint some expert commission of inquiry, which would be asked to report within the shortest possible time, so that something like: the planning of a really better conceived evacuation policy can be undertaken.

There is one point which I hope the noble Earl will see to, and that is that in future the billeting as well as the schooling of the children should be in the hands of the local education authorities. In this connection I think it would be pertinent to ask the noble Earl, looking forward to some longer evacuation, if he can tell us the position about the camps. There were, I think, 51 camps allowed to be built, and I believe 31 of them have been built. I should like to know very much how many of these will be available for school purposes, perhaps for special classes of children. I am quite certain that these are matters that require great consideration, and I shall await, as all your Lordships will, with great interest what the noble Earl may have to say about the attitude of the Government towards restoring compulsory education. I am sure that he will balance all the difficulties and risks that are involved on the one side, with the danger on the other of making a multitude of our boys and girls and children throughout the country suffer arrears of neglect from which they may not be able to recover.

Now I turn to the other main problem which I wish to bring to your attention, and that is the problem of the youth of the country between the ages of fourteen and eighteen or twenty. I am not going to discuss the position of the boys who are leaving the public schools before their time of service comes, a subject which was dealt with, your Lordships will remember, by Lord Derby and many other correspondents in The Times. Nor am I going to speak of those who leave the secondary or technical schools, but entirely of those—that is the great majority—who leave school in order to obtain work. There is no doubt that the opportunity of education and, as the Board have stated, the social and physical development of young people of these ages, have been too long neglected in this country, and that neglect must bring with it grave perils. These are the most formative ages in any human life. They determine mainly the quality of manhood and womanhood and of the future citizenship of the country. No doubt, as we are all aware, there are many voluntary organisations which have been endeavouring to surround them with healthy interests. I need not specify them—scouts, guides, brigades, clubs and the like—but the fact remains that less than half of these young people of whom we are thinking are reached in any way by these voluntary organisations, and if they are, it is often for the briefest possible period. For the most part they are left to the influence of the pictures and of the streets.

In some respects their condition is aggravated by war-time conditions. I need not dwell upon the temptations and opportunities of mischief presented by the black-out in the evenings. They find it very hard to obtain any regular work; they are too young for service in the munition factories or the Army; and I am told that many employers, when they approach the age of eighteen, are reluctant to take them on lest they should have any obligation towards them when they are called up for service. Certain it is—and I have a good deal of evidence on the point—that in the East End, which I used to know so well, and in other parts of the country, a very serious deterioration of youths, boys and even girls of the age group that we are considering has set in. In these circumstances, we are faced with a very serious and important problem. It was, therefore, with the greatest possible encouragement that we heard an announcement in this House from the noble Earl, I think it was in October, that the Board of Education, realising the importance of this problem, would henceforth regard themselves as responsible for the social and physical welfare of these young people, that a National Youth Committee was to be appointed, containing representatives of local education authorities, of the voluntary organisations, of industry, and of all those concerned with physical training, to advise the President of the Board, and that a special Department of the Board would administer funds for maintaining and developing this social work among these young people.

This was followed in November by a circular, No. 1486, of which I think it is not an exaggeration to say that it marks an epoch in the history of education in this country. It invited local education authorities throughout the country as soon as possible to co-operate with the voluntary organisations to set up everywhere local youth committees. Your Lordships will remember that His Majesty was pleased to associate himself with this movement, and to ask for leaders. I do not know how far that appeal of His Majesty has been answered. Moreover, the circular invited all the local education authorities to inform the Board on, I think, the 1st of March, what arrangements they were making. I hope the noble Earl will be able to give some encouraging account of the progress of this great movement. Certainly it would be a thousand pities if it were to fail through any lack of understanding, or of zeal, or of leadership, or even from having only a languid support. It obviously is a movement that will require constant drive, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education will be able to supply something of that stimulus, for it is a scheme conceived, as I see it, in the best traditions of this country of associating the State with these voluntary organisations, and, if rightly managed, it may bring great benefits to these young people in the most critical years of their lives.

If I do not weary your Lordships I should like to refer in passing to one particular form of this association of the State with voluntary bodies. It perhaps seems a small one, but it may bring a not unimportant contribution to the solution of this problem. Your Lordships all know that since 1914 agriculture in this country has lost a quarter of a million workers, and the country is making great demands upon production from the land of the country at this time. Already a girls' land army has been formed, and all honour to the girls who have enrolled themselves in it; but why should there not be a land army of boys which they would enter not simply as temporary war work but as a step towards permanent settlement on the land? Among its many useful activities the Y.M.C.A. has been training boys for this very purpose for the last six years, and training them so well that the Government have given sub- stantial grants to the work, but unfortunately those grants are limited to boys from the Special Areas. There seems to be no reason why that restriction should be maintained and I hope the Government, through the appropriate Ministry, whether of Education or Agriculture or Labour, will see that these grants are extended. There are, I am told, plenty of applicants, and if that were done it would bring benefit not only to those boys themselves but also to the oldest and most honourable industry in the land.

Now I reach a further point, and it is one to my mind of the greatest importance. How can we consider this problem without coming to the question how long shall we allow the education of these young people to stop at the age of fourteen or, when the recent Act is carried into operation, fifteen—just the very age when most of your Lordships were beginning your education in your public schools? I cannot help wondering—I hope the noble Earl will allow me to put the point—whether his own mind is not casting back to the Fisher Bill of 1918. That was one of the most promising attempts at social reconstruction after the last war but, as we know, it has never been fully carried out. There were many reasons for that. Employers had fears that they would lose their command of juvenile labour, parents had fears for the loss of family income, the public had fears about the cost. But since then I think we have all learned that the extension of education would give ample returns both in industrial efficiency and in social well-being. I venture to ask whether the noble Earl does not think—perhaps he can only give his own personal opinion—that there may be a prospect in the near future of the door which was opened in 1918 and then closed being reopened and kept open for the future. If so, of course, then the system must be more flexible. None of us wishes our young people to be drilled, like the German youth, into conformity with the designs and opinions of the ruling classes, and therefore it is important that there should be the closest association between the State and voluntary organisations whether of employers or of other private agencies. But if the German method is wrong the German principle is right. It is a matter of vital importance to the com- munity that it should be concerned with the training of its future citizens.

In these remarks—and I most sincerely apologise to your Lordships for having occupied so much of your time in making them—I have kept perforce to two restricted fields. I must resist the temptation to embark upon the larger issues which surround them. It may be that on some later occasion I may have an opportunity of asking your Lordships to consider them. Meanwhile, in conclusion, I will only say this. Beyond question after this war there will be the widest and most far-reaching changes in the social life of this country. The national system of education must partly be fitted to these inevitable changes and partly influence their character and their course. It cannot any longer follow the tradition of that complacent individualism which we inherited from the last century which was content to provide the largest possible number of young people with open chances of getting on, of climbing—to use the once familiar phrase—the educational ladder to success. Still less can it follow the policy of totalitarian States to train youth in the worship of, and obedience to, the State. It has another task, as has been very well said: to make them fit members of a free society. That is a task much more difficult but, I think you will agree, infinitely more noble. Meanwhile during the war let us hope nothing will be clone or left undone which will make it harder to resume the work of full education when the war is over and that the best minds of the country may undistracted by the war devote themselves to thinking out the lines upon which a worthy system of education can be framed. I beg to move.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships and the whole country are under an obligation to the most reverend Primate for raising this subject. I would fain hope that many will read his concluding sentences, because they contain the germ of doctrines which of course the most reverend Primate knows will be well supported on this side of the House and which if properly understood will be, I am sure, a stimulus as well as a guide to our future efforts. My noble friends and myself had drafted a question on the same subject, but the most reverend Primate, not for the first time, was there before us. Our resolution, I must admit, was not in quite such friendly terms—shall I so put it?—as those of the Motion now before us, but nevertheless we are only too happy to have the opportunity of following the lead of the most reverend Primate and pressing the Government for a statement of their policy on this subject. There is no doubt that the first major casualty of the war has been the national system of education. Compulsory education has gone. I have here a statement by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education in which he says: His Majesty's Government have decided that such schools in evacuation areas as can be made available for educational purposes shall be reopened for the education of children whose parents wish them to attend. In other words the whole principle of compulsory education for the children of the State is therein abandoned. It takes us back to 1870. We have half a million children, more or less, running about the streets with no provision for schooling and under the conditions so graphically and truly described by the most reverend Primate.

May I without going into too many details add one or two more statements of fact to those which have already been communicated to us? Of course the figures change every day and I do not pretend that the figures I have are the most recent. They are, however, the best I could get. It appears that in the evacuation or neutral areas, of about 2,800,000 children considerably less than half are receiving full-time education; in the reception areas, of 2,500,000 children about half appear to be obtaining full-time education, and the remainder part-time odds and ends: three hours a day and other part-time schooling in houses, in groups and in various other manners arranged by the teachers. We saw the organisation of the transport of these children when evacuation took place, and I think every one of us was impressed by the efficiency of the organisation and by the forethought which was displayed by the county councils, the London Passenger Transport Board, and other organisations. It was a model, one might say, of organisation and the results of forethought. But the fact was that these children were "dumped" into the reception areas, and those there did the best they could. The voluntary billeting committees and others, and the teachers who went with the children, made, and have since made, heroic efforts to do the best they could in most difficult circumstances.

But where in all this was the Minister of Education? The inquiry of the most reverend Primate was a superb example—to change the metaphor—of the velvet glove. So far as I know, in the direction of the reception of these children, in the making of arrangements beforehand for their reception, for their training and the rest of it, the Minister of Education—and I am glad that he is in this House—appeared to have abdicated his functions. He never seemed to be there. It was left to the local education authorities and to a large number of self-sacrificing, willing persons of all kinds to do the best they could. But the Ministry of Education were not in the picture and have not been in the picture. I sincerely hope that the result of the Motion that is now on the Paper will be to put a little ginger into the Board of Education and make them assert themselves a little more.

What was the first thing the noble Earl allowed to be done—I do not say he did it, but allowed to be done? Fifty-five of his inspectors went elsewhere. Well, who are the inspectors? They are the eyes and ears of the Board of Education; they are people who know what is happening in the areas where the children are going; in what sort of conditions they are being looked after, what the health services are like, what the vacuum is. That is what these men are for, and fifty-five of them were got rid of. No wonder the Minister of Education has to admit weeks afterwards in plaintive circulars that he is "not very well informed." Of course not; he allowed himself to dispense with trained informants. The work of an inspector of education is not work which any well-meaning amateur can pick up in a few weeks; it is a highly expert business. I think it is lamentable that at the very time all this was going on and these children, being scattered all over the place, needed more looking after even than before, the Board of Education allowed themselves to lose the staff whose business it was to look after them. That does not appear to be the end of the story, because I see that in an answer in the House of Commons on January 25, the Parliamentary Secretary said: The total number of members of staff of the Board of Education now on loan to other Departments is 663. In other words, the Minister of Education really went about the business thoroughly: he has divested himself of his assistants on a wholesale scale, and I am afraid we are paying some of the penalties for it.

I am glad that the most reverend Primate referred to the taking over of schools and expressed the hope that something would be done to redeem the excessive zeal of the military authorities, or the defence authorities, whoever they are, in different parts of the country. The effect is, I find, that in London 600 schools were taken promptly and 220 of them have already been returned as not required. In other words, schools were emptied, all the apparatus so painfully and laboriously got together was scattered, and it is found afterwards that they were not required. I think that the Ministry of Education should have been behind the local authorities in wanting to know a little more particularly whether these places really were required, and if so for what, and when, and answers to questions of that kind. I remember myself having to go round schools in 1914 and 1915 to try to get a large number of beds. We had to get 150,000 beds, if I remember rightly, and it was my painful duty at the Board of Education to try to get them; but I well remember the splendid resistance that the local authorities put up when we wanted to take a secondary school or some other well-equipped institution. We always have to remember that it is the best places that are taken. It is not the undesirable, badly-equipped schools they care about; they go for the very best, and I do not blame them. That is quite natural. But that is all the more reason why the Minister of Education should be careful to see that more are not taken than are really required.

I see that in the matter of secondary schools the position is this. There are 470,000 children receiving secondary education. It appears that now only 154,810 are receiving full-time schooling. In other words, three-quarters of the secondary school children are not receiving it. Those children, at the age to which the most reverend Primate most particularly referred, are not receiving the most expensive kind of education which we have taken pains to provide at great public cost. Let me remind the noble Earl what happened in the last war. I am glad to say that this decimation of our education services did not take place then, but what did happen was quite the contrary. Before the war had gone on very long, the cry became very urgent that we needed better-trained young people, more chemists, and more experts in many branches of art and science. The result was that, if your Lordships will look at the Budget of 1915, passed when the war was on, you will find that greatly increased provision was made for technical and secondary education. At the very beginning of the war, because it was felt that the additional and better training of young people was a vital national necessity, that actually happened. The Budget of 1915 made additional provision for secondary and technical education. At the same time the Committee of Scientific and Industrial Research, now a very flourishing institution, was set up. It was started at that time on the recommendation of a Committee set up by the President of the Board of Education. My noble friend Lord Gainford was then President of the Board. Unfortunately he is not here to-day, but he appointed that Committee in 1915; it was one of those signal contributions that he has made to our national equipment. The point that I am making is that war emphasizes the need for the better and more skilled training of our young people and that, therefore, it is the more culpable—that is the right word—to allow a position to be created in which in five months two-thirds of the children receiving secondary education appear to be scattered I know not where.

There is one other matter which I am glad that the most reverend Primate raised, and that is this question of safety provision for the children. The noble Earl has quite rightly required that provision should be made for the safety of the children in neutral as well as in evacuation areas, but I cannot understand why that was; not thought of before. Why could not more of this have been done before? If you look at the grants, you will see that the education authorities were promised 50 per cent. as a grant. But that appears to have had a note of interrogation after it; it was not quite certain what the circumstances were in which they would get it for the provision of safety measures for the children—sandbags, timber and so on. I should, however, also draw attention to the fact that the priority allowance for the provision of materials for school authorities in order to provide safety places for the children gave a very low order of priority. The fact is that the Minister of Home Defence, the First Commissioner of Works and other aggressive colleagues have elbowed the noble Earl out of the way. He has been too shy with these people. He ought to have had as good a percentage allowance for the provision of material for safety measures for the school children of this country as was obtained by anyone else. If I had been there, I venture to think that I should have got it! There is no reason at all why someone else should get 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. and the children be fobbed off with 50 per cent.

Let me say a word or two about the other services. The health and medical services, I am afraid, seem to have been almost dissipated. I shall be glad to hear what the noble Earl can promise us about that. I confess that it was really most distressing, after the many years for which many people have been labouring at the development of school medical services, to find that such a large number of children, when they got into the reception areas, were not as clean as they ought to be. It was really most disappointing and, if it meant anything, it meant that our school inspection and school medical services and nursing services and the rest required not scattering to the winds but augmenting. It meant that we were not doing enough for the children. I am glad to know that the second batch of evacuees were much improved in this respect as compared with the first, but the whole position shows how necessary it was not to dissipate these services but rather to strengthen them.

Reference was also made to the decline in the consumption of milk in schools. This is another ancilliary service which has been let go, if I may say so; the consumption of cheap milk in schools has declined by roughly one half. It is in fact rather more than a half, but we will say by a half. The reason is that there has been no drive behind the maintenance of the service. If one wants an example of a circular which is plaintive and feeble, one should read Circular 1490 of the Board of Education, recently issued. The Board refer to the attitude of the local authorities with respect to these medical and other services, and they use the words "from the limited information at their disposal." Those are the words of the circular. Well, their information is likely to be limited if they allow their inspectors to go away; it cannot be anything else but limited; but it ought not to be limited, and indeed it ought to be better than ever, because the children are being so scattered and should therefore be looked after more closely than before. The circular says that "from the limited information at their disposal" the Board have the impression that while some local authorities have done well, in the case of others "these services have practically ceased to function." Those are the words of the Board's own circular. I hope that the result of this discussion will be that the noble Earl will make up his mind that these services ought to function; there is, I think, a greater need for them to function now than there was before.

The most reverend Primate was really most lenient in the matter of camps. It would be very interesting to have some light on this subject, because I should like to supplement what the most reverend Primate said by one or two other details. I will take them from Lord Portal himself, who is the Chairman of the National Camp Corporation. On January 22 he gave an account of this matter in which he said that 31 camps had been arranged for at a cost of £1,200,000. They covered from 20 to 40 acres and all the buildings were centrally heated and electrically lighted. There was accommodation for the headmaster, managers, staff, and so on, and there was a store and a tuck shop and all kinds of other pleasant amenities. On January 22, twelve of them were ready for occupation, and the others of the first 31, as the most reverend Primate has told us, are likely to be ready in a few weeks. Of the twelve that were ready, however, only two were taken and made any use of, one by the London County Council and the other by the Bank of England. I admire the enterprise of the Bank of England, but where was the President of the Board of Education? What was he doing? What were these camps built for? It would be interesting to know. Anyhow, the Bank of England, for some reason or other, are coming back; they are giving up their camp. The result so far of this expenditure of £1,200,000 on the building of these 31 camps, of which twelve have been ready since January 22, is that one is in occupation by an education authority.

I am sure your Lordships will agree, after that statement of fact, that the most reverend Primate was indeed lenient in the way in which he put his interrogation. I should like to ask whether the noble Earl proposes to use these camps. If not, why not? If so, what for and when? I am sorry to have to introduce some note of pugnacity into these inquiries, though I think they are none the worse for that, but I am sure all agree that the present conditions really cannot continue and every one of us would be glad if we found that the noble Earl had screwed up his courage to decide that our system of compulsory education was to be restored. We know very well there are all sorts of difficulties in giving a definite date in certain areas, but we shall not be unreasonable as to that, as long as we are assured that that is the policy of His Majesty's Government and that they mean to achieve it. Really it is not right to leave this matter to the local education authorities. They have among them an uncertain number of children in reception areas—I do not know whether it is a million, or what the precise figure is, it is a very large number anyhow.


It is well known.


Well, I have got the figure of a little over a million, but many have returned, and that is why I introduced a note of doubt. Anyhow, there are a million or more children in the reception areas. It is not right to expect the local education authorities, backed only by a very dubious and hesitant circular, to incur expenditure in providing for the education of the children. In any case, there should be some certainty about the matter; we should know what is the policy of His Majesty's Government. Apart from that, the local education authorities and these billeting committees have not the power. We all know, those of us who live in these areas, that there are and have been quite a considerable number of empty houses which could have been taken and used, and which sometimes were taken by other people. The President of the Board of Education under the Defence of the Realm Regulations has a plenitude of powers with regard both to the requisitioning of buildings and to making many other provisions, in the words of the Defence of the Realm Act, "for providing services essential to the life of the nation." The Minister, if he cared or was authorised to exercise them, has a very large number of powers which could be exercised in the reception areas to secure proper accommodation, and the organisation of the services for these children, which are quite beyond the power of local education authorities in those areas. We cannot expect them to exercise them in any case unless they know precisely how they are going to be refunded their additional expenses, or if they are going to be refunded at all.

I hope that the Minister himself will take hold of this difficulty. It has drifted far too long. I would suggest that there are various essentials which emerge now: that the local education authorities in the evacuation areas should plan now what is to happen with regard to the education of the children in their areas and those who may afterwards have to be evacuated; that the President of the Board of Education should recall his inspectors and reequip himself with a competent staff; that he should then set out to ascertain the number of children to be educated in reception areas, and should have a survey made of additional accommodation, empty halls, houses, and other places in reception areas which may be used for educational purposes; that the local authorities should be clearly informed not only as to their duties but as to the amount of assistance they are going to obtain to discharge their duties; and, finally, that the main responsibility for dealing with these evacuated children, for billeting, for organising the restored services in the reception areas should be a responsibility accepted by the President of the Board of Education himself.

This is an intricate and complicated set of questions, quite beyond the ability of local education authorities unaided. The survey and direction of the whole business, I suggest, should now courageously be undertaken by the Minister, and I hope that he will refuse any longer to allow himself to be bustled out of the way by more energetic colleagues. I hope that the result of this debate will be that he will determine to assert himself, otherwise I make bold to prophesy that hereafter he will be looked upon as a man who was appointed guardian over a vital national service and was found asleep at his post. With regard to the wider question of the adolescents, raised by the most reverend Primate, I would only say that members of my Party associate themselves heartily with the hopes that he expressed, and we trust that the noble Earl in his reply will be able to give the House some definite and encouraging information.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships this afternoon I would like to confine myself merely to one part, though a very important part, of this problem. That is the question of boys between the ages of fourteen and eighteen and the position of the voluntary organisations who for so many years have been tackling the question as far as it concerns these boys. There are in this country one and three-quarter million boys between those two ages, and the voluntary organisations at present cater for three-quarters of a million of them—very nearly half; and I think your Lordships will agree that, in view of the fact that practically the whole of the work done and the money expended by the voluntary organisations have been provided without any outside help whatsoever, this is a remarkable achievement. I think your Lordships will probably also agree that the work which has been done and the experience which has been gained should not be lost sight of now that the time has arrived when a greater interest is being taken in Government circles in this question than has existed before.

In view of all this, I can say wholeheartedly that the voluntary organisations, without exception, welcome the Board of Education's circular which the most reverend Primate quoted just now. I cannot remember the number of the circular, but it was called "The service of youth." That circular was welcomed by the voluntary organisations, more especially because it definitely stressed the value of co-operation between the education authorities and the voluntary organisations. That co-operation, I may say, has been sought frequently by voluntary organisations in the past, and to some extent has been freely given, and I only trust that it will increase in the future. I think we can definitely say that this scheme which the Board have brought forward can only succeed if we have the very fullest co-operation between the education authorities and the voluntary organisations.

There is one point which I should like to mention to your Lordships as being, in the opinion of those who have worked for some years in one or other of our voluntary organisations, of primary importance, and that is the fact that in youth work uniformity is very undesirable. You have got boys of widely different characters and widely differing tastes, and the present system of voluntary organisations, with their different methods of working, is adapted most suitably to the boy of this country. His tastes and his character can be catered for in every possible way. I want to make that point very strongly, because we do not want to see in this country a stereotyped form of youth work set up.

People have said that one of the troubles of the existing youth organisations is the fact that there is considerable overlapping. My experience is that that belief is exaggerated. Overlapping certainly may exist in places and probably does, but it can easily be avoided provided you have good will on both sides, and I have never yet experienced the situation of two voluntary organisations fighting one another. They have enough to do to keep their heads above water without fighting one another. Overlapping, therefore, can easily be avoided, and in the County of Hampshire our Boys' Clubs Association has a working agreement with the Boy Scouts whereby, if there is any overlapping, interference, or unpleasantness, the matter can be referred to a joint committee, thrashed out, and settled.

If I do not weary your Lordships I should like, as I am most interested in this Boys' Club movement, to speak of that particular movement, one of the greatest of our voluntary organisations. Club life is not either a juvenile St. James's Street or a glorified fun fair. Life in a club is something much more positive than that, and, if I may, I should like to quote from this small booklet issued by the National Association of Boys' Clubs: The purpose of the club is positive. It exists to produce good, not to be a negative preventive of evil.… The conception of a club as a mere refuge from the streets, an alternative to the pictures or the street corner, where leisure may be whiled away in innocuous amusements designed to keep boys out of mischief, is more than inadequate; it is deadly. We have got this great number of 1,000,000 boys between the ages of fourteen and eighteen who are not at present catered for by any existing voluntary organisation. Something must be done to set this position right, but I suggest that this something must not be merely the setting up of a building and gathering into it every boy found walking about the streets and saying to him, "Here are a building, a billiard table, a ping-pong table, amuse yourself, and keep out of mischief." That is not the way to treat this very great and serious question.

The boys who come into our clubs have got obligations to the clubs. The boy is made to feel he is part of the club and that it is owing, in part, though probably a small part, to him whether the club is running successfully and happily or not. Further, and very important, he has got to pay a subscription to the club. The usual sum is twopence per week, sometimes threepence, sometimes a penny. I suggest that even if it is only a penny a month it is better than nothing. Obviously the return from subscriptions only pays for about 2 or 3 per cent. of the annual cost of the club. That does not matter. What you want to have is the boy realising that he is, if only in a small way, contributing to the upkeep of the club, and therefore has some responsibility in the running of it. As I have said, there is a danger that standards may be relaxed in order to obtain numbers. This is most undesirable, and we have all got to keep before us this point, that clubs must be centres where characters are formed and not stagnant pools of complacency.

It has been said in several quarters that this situation is too weighty for the voluntary organisations to tackle. The voluntary organisations have always needed three things. They have needed leaders, they have needed finance, and they have needed premises. May I take these three things one by one, and put the situation a little more clearly? As your Lordships will realise, the need of these three things has increased doubly since the war. Take the question of leaders first. That of a boys' leader is not a reserved occupation until over the age of thirty-five. Therefore there is a shortage of them. It has been suggested that schoolmasters, who are reserved from the age of twenty-five, should be brought in to continue this work of leadership in boys' clubs, hostels, and recreation centres. I do not wish to imply for one moment that any member of your Lordships' House had anything but the most cordial relations with those masters who instructed us in bygone days. We were obviously what is known as "blue-eyed boys," but we can remember some whose school life was full of stress and strain, physical as well as mental; and bearing in mind that it is with those boys whose school life has not been successful that we have to deal more than with the others, I question the advisability of whole-heartedly supporting the suggestion that schoolmasters should be club leaders. Obviously there are exceptions. Some of our clubs at present are run by schoolmasters, who perform that duty admirably, but we have got to take each case individually and not think that just because we have a great many thousands of schoolmasters in this country, we have got sufficient staff for as many clubs or hostels as we wish to provide. That is a very dangerous opinion to hold. Your leader has to be trained. He has got to be a leader, not a commander. The average schoolmaster, to some extent—and you cannot blame him for it—has got into the habit of telling someone what he has got to do instead of, as in the case of our club leaders, showing him how to do it.

Then as to finance, as I have already mentioned, the finance of these voluntary organisations is practically entirely voluntary. Here again, since the war, we have suffered a very serious decline. I want to make this point. We welcome in that circular to which reference has been made, the suggestion—I think it was only a suggestion—that was made that funds would be provided by the Government for our work. If I may be so bold, I am going to make a suggestion regarding these funds. We have still got an enormous number of voluntary subscribers, and everybody would agree it would be for the best that these voluntary subscribers should continue to exist. In my experience the only way to keep them is to ensure that any grants which are made to our voluntary organisation work should be made to the head office of the organisation—that is to say, to the head of the Association. If these grants are made centrally, and then from the head of the organisation distributed through various centres to the clubs, you get no trouble in the matter of your voluntary subscribers; but if grants are made from the Government or from the rates to clubs direct, you find that voluntary support falls away, practically as well as financially. It is a psychological point of view, and it may sound stupid, but it is definitely the case.

Lastly, there is the question of premises. The Board of Education here again suggest that a loan of school premises might be made to voluntary organisations at a nominal charge. That is a most excellent suggestion and it is one which I may say we have been trying to get adopted in various parts of the country, though without much success. I can do nothing but welcome the suggestion. Buildings have been one of our greatest bugbears since the war started because of the number that have been taken for A.R.P. I can understand that being done in the case of school buildings, but our buildings have been taken wholesale for A.R.P. purposes. I know a small village in Hampshire where a club building was taken as an A.R.P. centre. The boys endeavoured to carry on the club in a gymnasium which they constructed themselves out of old stables. Imagine their dismay when a week later those stables were also taken from them. That is in a small village in Hampshire, as I say, but the curious thing is that the building which was taken from the boys was taken to be used as a mortuary. I am glad to say it is still unoccupied. We should like to have it restored to the boys, and populated by them.

I have wearied your Lordships over long, but I want to say this lastly. The needs of youth are very great, and they will cost money, but I think that the national cost will be greater if we leave the character of our youth undeveloped and untrained. On the question of getting a job done in the best possible way at the least possible cost I would observe that I do not think you can improve upon your voluntary organisations. The trained leaders and organisers that these voluntary organisations possess have an almost uncanny knack of being able to get the clubs to do things for themselves, and that is one of the great advantages of the club work. It is an advantage in time, it is an advantage in that it costs less, and, further, it is an advantage afterwards, because the inhabitants of that club will honour and respect a building which they themselves have helped to construct. The great Dr. Johnson once said that youth was the age of enterprise and hope. I conceive it to be our duty to see that that enterprise is directed into wise channels, and that the hope is kept buoyant on waves which are both profitable and useful.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for intervening now, but as one who has studied these problems practically from the point of view of the difficulties and advantages of a reception area, there are two points that I would like to ask the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, to bear in mind. One was just touched upon by the most reverend Primate, and that was the difficulty that has been caused by the fact that in most areas the billeting authority has not been the same authority as the education authority. The difficulty we have had in the reception areas has not been the difficulty of finding accommodation for children in the homes, but the difficulty of finding accommodation for children in schools. The noble Lord opposite suggested that the Board of Education should make a survey. I am afraid he has got very little faith in the local authorities in the reception areas. Naturally one of the first things that was done by them was to find out the number of buildings that were available for the accommodation of the children. In some cases two shifts have had to be worked so that the children could find accommo- dation in a school. That is most unsatisfactory both for the children already in the reception area and the children who come down from the evacuation areas. A good many of these difficulties could have been avoided if first of all the children had been sent to places where there were schools available. Once children have settled down in homes and found how to get on with their new foster parents, I think it is more undesirable to take them away from their foster parents than it is to move them into a place where they might get better education. If the same authority had been concerned with both things a good many of these difficulties would not have arisen.

There is one other question I should like the noble Earl to bear in mind, and that is the tremendous benefit this evacuation has brought to the health of the children from towns. All of us who have seen them, and their parents also who come to visit them, have noticed an improvement in their health in a large number of cases. We have no actual proof of that improvement, it is merely one's general impression by looking at the children, but I have heard of cases where people have weighed the children and where doctors who came down with them have noticed that the children who were formerly getting free milk when they were in the town no longer needed it when they had been a month or two in the country. I suggest to the noble Earl that he should try to get proof of this improvement which we have all noticed, and if he gets proof he will be facing rather a difficult problem, for it will be obvious that we cannot, when the war is over, throw away the advantage which these children get by coming into the country. If they get this benefit to-day they should get it also in peace-time. The noble Earl I think must discuss with his advisers the question of having evacuation not only in time of war to escape the dangers of bombs from the enemy, but also in time of peace to help our children to escape the dangers of disease.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to speak for a few moments on the Motion, for which we are all extremely grateful to the most reverend Primate, from a standpoint slightly different from that of my noble friend Lord Addison. I shall be speaking from the point of view of many people on the Education Committee of the London County Council. As we are the largest of all the local authorities in the country that administer the Government's wartime educational policy, I think it would not be untrue to say that our problems and difficulties may be regarded as fairly representative of those facing the urban authorities in evacuation areas. We have done our utmost—and I am sure the noble Earl will endorse this—from and before the outbreak of war to co-operate with the evacuation policy of the Government, and to adapt our methods of education to the changed conditions brought about inevitably by the exigencies of A.R.P.

While accepting most regretfully the lowering of educational standards entailed by modern warfare, we have tried to provide the maximum educational opportunities for our children compatible with the overriding necessities of civil defence. Almost half our London school children were successfully piloted with their teachers to the reception areas during the week preceding the war, though about one-third of them have since returned to their homes. That leaves about 230,000 children who are safely billeted at this moment in the country. These children seem from all accounts to be getting on pretty well. We have no reason to worry about them. The hosts and hostesses who are now in loco parentis are usually doing their best to make the children happy. They are almost all receiving a full-time education, whether scholastic or physical, and their health has definitely improved since they left London for the country. I should like to endorse most Strongly the point that was made by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. We in London are certain as he is that this is the case because, apart from their healthy appearance and good spirits, the number of cases in which free milk is given by doctor's orders has considerably diminished. What the country is doing and has been doing since the outbreak of war for these town children is to provide them with more fresh air, more exercise, and thanks to the fact that they get to bed earlier, with more sleep. As time passes they will benefit increasingly from their country life, and it is not too much to expect that many a child who would have grown up a weakling in Poplar or Bermondsey will be sturdy by the time it returns from Sussex or Devon.

Our real anxiety has been the children who either did not leave London at all or have since come back from reception areas to the danger zone at home. We have by sharing the burden of the Government done our utmost to dissuade parents from keeping their children in London. We have pointed out that they are exposing them to unnecessary danger and depriving them of a normal education. Nevertheless, though it must be pointed out that London parents have brought back fewer children than has been the case in other reception areas, there are 240,000 schoolchildren in our administrative county to-day. We have done and are still doing our level best to prevent them from running wild in the streets, which is the greatest of all the dangers that have been enumerated in the course of the debate to-day. As many as 100,000—that is nearly half of these children—have been getting home education in small classes from the teachers who could be spared from the country. Since the Government altered their policy and gave permission for elementary schools to be opened in evacuation areas, we have opened 132 schools with places for more than 35,000 children working in double shifts. By the end of March we hope to have opened 550 schools with accommodation for 180,000 children. That will give your Lordships some evidence of the magnitude of our effort.

Our main difficulty in making the most of these admittedly limited facilities is that school attendance has been extremely disappointing. Many children who would have been enrolled if attendance had still been obligatory are now wasting precious months which they will never recover. Furthermore, while they are away from school they cease to benefit from the school health services. I am thinking, of course, of medical and dental inspection and of the distribution of free milk and of the supply of milk at a reduced price. Another disadvantage of voluntary attendance in the London area is that many parents are removing their children in order that they may go out to work on their fourteenth birthday. In the reception areas where the compulsory system still remains children must remain at school until the end of the term during which they attain the age of fourteen. All these impediments to the welfare of London children would immediately disappear if the Government restored compulsory school attendance in the evacuation areas whenever schools are open and available. The children in those areas would benefit more from that reform than from anything else that can be done for them by Parliament at the moment. May I say at this point that it was very encouraging for us to hear that the major request put forward by the most reverend Primate was for the restoration of compulsory school attendance in evacuation areas?

In conclusion there is one other major problem of educational organisation in war conditions to which I venture to hope the Government will turn their attention. We have noticed with considerable dismay that there is still a steady trickle of several hundred children flowing back to London every week. If this trickle is allowed to continue at the present rate it will completely disorganise education both in the reception areas and in the evacuation areas. In the former localities there will be few children left to teach, and in the latter there will be far more children than those for whom teachers and school places can be found. The moment has surely come when parents should be given a time limit within which to decide whether they want their children at home or in the country. This would give parents a last chance of evacuating their children to a safety zone, and it would put an end to the constant fluctuation of the school population that is rendering impossible maximum efficiency of the dual educational system we are trying to run at the moment. Only thus, I believe, can education be organised on a firm and stable basis for a three-year war; and that is the second reform which I would venture to urge upon the Government in the hope that before long we may be able to make the best of our educational opportunities, limited though they must be under war conditions.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I think we are all under a very deep debt of gratitude to the most reverend Primate for introducing this debate and for the manner in which he has done so. In his speech he expressed a very deep concern —and I think a concern which most of us must share and indeed welcome—with regard to the present state of our children. I think he has spoken for more than those who are usually called the educationists of this country. He has spoken for a great number of people who in the past may have been inclined a little to regard education as something of an expensive luxury whereas to-day they have been driven to the hard conclusion that it is in fact the very basis of the continuation of civilised life in a nation. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, followed the most reverend Primate. I hope he will forgive me if I do not reply to him in exactly the same spirit as that in which he himself spoke, because I cannot help feeling that here we are discussing a problem which is essentially run on the basis of partnership—a partnership of the Board of Education, of the local education authorities and of the teachers—and that the spirit of Party politics is not really very germane. He seemed to me to speak, if he will forgive me for saying so, with almost a delight that he could find certain things that are in fact and admittedly wrong with the state of education to-day because it no doubt helped a certain point of view. It does, however, make me feel that I shall be able to look with confidence for his support whenever I find any difficulty about the rebuilding of the machine, no matter what majority is in charge of a particular council with whom I may be dealing at the time.

He has suggested that from the beginning the Board of Education have really abdicated their functions. He instanced that we had now dispensed with the services of certain of the inspectorate who were doing other work of national service. I think that point has worried a great number of people. But really, if one analyses what in fact was the work before the war of a great number of the inspectorate, even the noble Lord will have to agree with me that I should not have been justified in failing to respond to the appeal that was made. A great deal of the time of some of the inspectorate was taken up, for instance, in co-operation with the authorities, in the examination and over the preparation of plans of new buildings. A great deal of their time was taken up with planning the arrangements for what we call the Hadow scheme of reorganisation, and a great deal of the time of some of them was taken up, for instance, with the organisation of short courses, week-end courses and so on, for the teachers, which at the express request of the education authorities were given up during the war. As and when there is a need for the services of these inspectors, I can assure your Lordships that they will return, it not to the performance of their old functions—which do not continue during the war—at any rate to helping the work of the Board. Already some of them have in fact returned.

I do not want to detain your Lordships with a specific defence of our work because of a few words of the noble Lord, Lord Addison. But I would say this: that whether we take the Association of Education Authorities, the Directors of Education, or the National Union of Teachers, there is not one case in which the Board has not been thanked for its efforts; and I think we are perhaps readier to prefer the thanks of those who are really carrying out this work and are in the closest touch with it, than to mind about the words of the noble Lord, Lord Addison. I should like the noble Lord to give me a single example—I do not ask him to do it now, but he can do so at any time after the debate—of an area where in fact the position is not clear as between the local authorities and the Government, or as between the local authorities, the evacuation authority on the one hand and the reception on the other. I am quite convinced that by now he would not be able to do so.

But we do not want to-day to discuss the past; we are interested in the future. I share the concern that has been expressed; I feel as much concerned as the most ardent critic; but I confess that I find it quite impossible to approach this discussion with any sense whatsoever of apology. Once you admit the principle of the policy of evacuation and the desirability of removing the children from the towns to the country, then the rest is only the logical sequence. It was inevitable that, if the children were expected to go to the country, the local authorities should not be asked to protect the schools that were left in the towns. It was inevitable that they should be tempted by their emptiness to use them for first-aid posts and for other purposes for which, by their general layout and sanitation, they were the quite obvious choice. That is no excuse for accepting the position as it is; but I do think it is a reason, and a very definite reason, for asserting that circumstances and not neglect are responsible for the problem that we are discussing to-day. Air warfare has inevitably introduced a new factor of social disorganisation in war-time, and one which, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Addison, who tends rather to think in terms of the last war—a phrase that he repeatedly used—fails to see. I think it is clear that we have been paying a heavy insurance premium in the form of children who are out of school, and that we cannot continue to pay. But I hope that your Lordships will feel, when I venture to lay before you certain proposals, that the Government have been able to achieve the by no means easy balance between on the one hand the care and education that are the right and need of the children that are to constitute our future generation, and on the other hand their safety.

Certain comments have been made today, including some very helpful comments, if I might say so, from the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, on the problem of the reception areas. But I shall rather hope to-day to speak mainly on the problem of the evacuation areas, which is, I think, perhaps troubling your Lordships mostly at the present moment, and therefore to make my references to reception and neutral areas rather brief. My observations, of course, relate mainly to England and Wales, and in Scotland the responsibility falls on the Secretary of State. He has asked me to say that the review which I am making applies generally to Scotland also, and that he is taking similar action with certain modifications to suit Scottish conditions.

What is the position in the reception areas? As the most reverend Primate has said, for a variety of reasons, but mainly perhaps because in the absence of bombing the homing instinct has proved to be strong, a considerable number of children have returned—though less, I think, than is sometimes thought, because the figures of unaccompanied children returning are sometimes lumped in with the figures of returns generally, which include figures of mothers of accompanied children. The numbers that are now out in the reception areas are something over 400,000, apart from many tens of thousands of unofficial evacuees who have been there from the beginning. From what has been said to-day, I think there seems to be fairly general agreement that, comparatively speaking, these children are really faring fairly well. The position cannot, of course, be ideal, with this tremendous increase of the child population in those very areas of this country which have always been recognised to be the least advanced with regard to educational buildings and equipment; but, according to my information, between 80 and 90 per cent. of the children now in the reception areas are working under full-time control. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Addison, was under the impression that the proportion was nearer 50 per cent.; but, as he said, the figures are changing, and changing very rapidly. I think 50 per cent. is much nearer the figure for October and November than the present figure. It is extremely difficult to obtain absolutely accurate figures because of the changing conditions, but the figures which I have given are the results of the inquiries of my inspectors; they have not been obtained by strict statistical methods from the authorities themselves.

Again, I think that it has been generally admitted—both the most reverend Primate and the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, mentioned this point—that on the whole these children, from the point of view of health and even from the point of view of education, have probably gained at least as much as they have lost. There is one point, however, which has given me a certain amount of concern. It has not been mentioned to-day, but it is one to which the consideration of the Board of Education is being given. I am not quite happy about the senior children; I think that they are a little tending to mark time during their last year or two, although to some extent that is inevitable with the lack of provision for advanced instruction. I think we must all have been pleased that the most reverend Primate once again paid a tribute to the householders. Their patience and their willingness to serve have, I believe, been quite remarkable, and we owe a very heavy debt to them.

The question of camps has been raised, and here again I fear that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Addison) is just a little out of date, because at the present time twenty camps have actually been allocated for schools. He asks where the President of the Board of Education was and what he was doing when difficulties were arising, and I will tell him. The President of the Board of Education was not ordering schools to go unwillingly into camps, because he did not believe that was the way in which to make the system work. The only way in which a camp can be run successfully is when the headmaster and staff really believe in it and are willing to try to make it work. If we give a little thought to the problem, we must realise the immense difference between running a day school and running a boarding school. They are two completely different professions; and therefore, instead of ordering schools to go, we both approached the individual schools and negotiated with their headmasters and also conducted negotiations with the local education authorities, and we have found a considerable number of schools which in fact want to go.

Again it has been suggested that greater use should be made of houses, and particularly larger houses, which should be taken over. We are inclined to agree that this aspect of policy could probably make a considerable contribution to the problems of the reception areas, particularly in the case of some of the children who are less easy to billet and less suitable for billeting. I believe that a good deal of difference could be made to the feeling in the reception areas if certain children—not very numerous, but of whom we hear a good deal—could be removed from the homes. But I cannot help feeling that when both camps are full and houses have been taken over, that is going to affect a comparatively small number of children, and a great deal of the burden is bound to remain with the householders. I hope, I repeat, that the householders in continuing to give this service will feel that their contribution to the war, their bit of war work, is something which is really important and which is deeply appreciated not only by the Government but also by the nation as a whole.

For secondary schools evacuation has of course been harder than for elementary schools. By its very nature secondary education is of a more formal character and it is less easy to find substitutes for the classroom in the garden, local museum and school journey and generally those informal activities that have been so helpful for the elementary child and teacher. However, by dint of keeping constantly in touch, arranging schemes of re-billeting and the hiring of extra halls the position is being steadily improved. Special care has been taken to see that sixth forms and the school certificate classes are working full-time, and the examining bodies will take all their difficulties, such as shortage of laboratories, art rooms and practical rooms, into account. I am glad to say also that satisfactory arrangements are being made between the different local authorities for the holding of examinations for the award of special places.

I have really very little to say about the neutral areas. There are approximately one and a quarter million children there, of whom 95 per cent. are now in school, and the majority of them full-time. There is a delay in some cases, mainly for this reason: Before Christmas, the Board informed authorities in neutral areas that they might allow their children back into school before protection was completed provided that the work was well in hand. We did that in order to make it easier to get the children back to school, but unfortunately some of the local authorities have not yet availed themselves of that sanction. I can tell your Lordships, however, that we are in constant touch with them and that pressure is being brought to bear on them from the Board; and as the figures that I have given refer to the end of December and as the position is becoming better every day, I think it can be taken that the situation is well in hand. Now I come to the problem of the children who are giving us most concern at the moment.


Before the noble Earl leaves the question of the reception areas, I wonder whether he will forgive me if I ask him one question, which has I already been raised in the debate, but which he has not answered. It is whether it would be possible to obtain any undertaking from the parents that they would not withdraw their children from the reception areas during the school term. It would be of immense advantage to the reception areas if such an assurance could be obtained, because this is one of the matters which are causing the greatest difficulty at the present time.


I think that that is a very important question. I had intended to deal with it under another heading, but I can refer to it now. There is an extremely strong case, in my opinion, for asking for such an undertaking. On the other hand, this matter has been put to the local authorities and has been discussed at some length with them, and, while I should not like in any way to put any particular responsibility on them, I should say that it was viewed rather unfavourably. Their very strong opinion is that, if it were I applied to the children who are out, immense numbers would be brought back, I and if it were made a condition of any further evacuation, they would not go. That has been put extremely strongly to the Government. I cannot say at the moment that any definite decision has been come to, but we will, I think, have to consider it in the light of those representations.

Now with regard to the evacuation areas. Your Lordships will remember the position. It was last November when in this House I announced the decision of the Government to sanction the reopening of schools, subject to certain conditions. At the same time Sir John Anderson wrote round to civil defence authorities asking them to survey the buildings that had been taken over and diverted by them to first-aid posts and A.R.P., to see what could be returned. Well, we know what has happened. Some progress has been made. Out of something over 1,150,000 children in the town zones, there are still approximately 400,000 receiving little or no care—and that in spite of very considerable pressure from the Board. I think it is clear that a further lead is needed from the Government, all the more so in view of the fact brought out in this debate by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, which I should like to confirm, when he said that even where in certain cases facilities have been provided the children have not attended. Whatever the risk of bombing—and I speak personally as one who believes that that risk is still a very considerable one—it is clear that this position cannot continue.

What can the Government do? We have to act in the light of the fact that the Board of Education do not either own or run a single school. As I have said, our educational system is one of partnership between the Board and the education authorities. On the other hand, in these matters it is for the Government to give the lead and, where necessary, to accept responsibility, and I definitely accept that as the function of the Board, especially in time of war. I think the help that we can give can be put under three heads—first, school attendance, secondly, school buildings, and, thirdly, air-raid precautions. Up till now it seemed to me—whatever my intentions had been for the future—that it would have been dishonest to speak of enforcing attendance when in fact I knew perfectly well that the facilities just were not there. But from now on—here I quite agree with the most reverend Primate and others who have spoken in the debate—the time has come to see that every child goes to school somewhere. If parents are not willing to send their children to the comparative safety of the reception areas, a possibility that still is open to every child, then they must send them to school in the towns. The moment the children can be accommodated in the schools, attendance must be enforced.

Nor is there any reason for waiting for schooling to be full-time or for every age group. Thus, if only half-time education can be provided for children over eleven, there is no reason why attendance should not be enforced at once to that extent. This does not mean that half-time provision is considered by His Majesty's Government to be sufficient. It is not. Full-time schooling should and must be the objective, and for all children, from infants to seniors of fourteen, with separate and proper provision for secondary education; but, as a purely interim goal for those authorities that can do no better—and the Board will need to be satisfied that they can do no better—I will regard half-time provision for all children by, say, the beginning of April as the beginning of the summer term, as an acceptable minimum. Now I have to recognise that this is no easy task that we are setting the local authorities, and that even this limited objective will be difficult for some authorities to attain and they will need assistance.

This brings me to my second point—namely, the question of school buildings. We hear a great deal about commandeering by the Government, but actually this is not the most serious problem. The Office of Works, it is perfectly true, did take over seventy-nine schools at the beginning of the war, but they have set the example by handing back seventy-two. There are two more offered back, but certain authorities have told me that their hands are full at the present time and that at present they do not need them. The War Office have a number, but they have always proved most helpful in cases where the local education authority have approached me to ask to get school buildings back. There have again been cases in which I have suggested to certain education authorities that I should approach the War Office, and I have been again told that they did not need the schools at that moment, although I am afraid in fact a great many of their children are unprovided for. The real problem is those school buildings that frequently some other committee of the same authority now occupies for civil defence. In some cases the school is going to need the whole building. In other cases joint occupation, I think, may be possible, provided the civil defence post takes up less room, and I think it is hard to see in some cases perhaps why they should not do so. A circular, following up that of last November, and urging greater efforts by the local authorities, is being sent out to-day by the Minister of Home Security with the agreement of the Minister of Health, who is responsible for first-aid posts. That will be a repetition of the former circular of November, but put now, naturally, in stronger terms.

Now I come to my third point, that of air-raid precautions. Schools have to be protected for children to go there, particularly if they are going to be compelled to go, but this takes time—time first to plan, and then to carry out the work. Your Lordships will remember that at the beginning of my remarks I reminded you that we were all expecting the children to be out in the country, and therefore this work has not been done in the evacuation areas. We were right at first to take the view that a school must be fully protected before the children were admitted, but we hive to realise now, as many of your Lordships have said, that these children of whom we are speaking have been out of school for five months, and against the possible risk of bombing has got to be balanced a quite certain deterioration. Accordingly, the Government are prepared to allow authorities to admit the children if they have started the protection, and it is likely to be completed within a reasonable period—say, three or four weeks. I am inclined to doubt if authorities will feel justified in prosecuting for non-attendance until that period has elapsed, but the question of prosecution lies with the authorities.

That should help considerably in time, but there is a further way in which we can help also. Hitherto it has been the general practice for a school to take only the number of children for whom protection can be provided. That sounds good common sense, but with the increase of private shelters it has become possible to modify that principle. There is no reason why children who live within, say, five minutes of the school should not go to their own shelters on the sounding of a warning. That suggestion was thrown out by the most reverend Primate. Nor indeed is there any reason why residents round the school should not volunteer to accept children. Of course this could only be done according to a carefully worked-out plan. You do not want children running out from the schools into the streets during an air raid without organisation. You want a plan carefully worked out and approved by the Regional Commissioner. It would need frequent drills and practice in order to ensure that the plan, when made, is in fact adhered to. By this method it might well be possible to admit 300 or even 400 children to a school scheduled to take only 150. A circular dealing with this point and with others to which I have referred is going out from the Board of Education to-day. One last word before leaving the evacuation areas.


May I ask what percentage grant is going to be given to local authorities in respect of the materials and costs of providing this shelter, and what grade of priority they are going to get?


I understand there are no difficulties about materials at all. If there are, I hope they will be put to us. We have had no complaints at all. On the question of grant, the formula was revised just over two months ago. The formula is that in no case shall an authority receive less than 50 per cent., but where its normal education grant, by reason of the weighting, is higher than 50 per cent.—in some cases it goes up to 70 per cent.—then the authority will receive grant at that rate. That is the formula that was announced in the House of Commons some time ago, and that stands. In regard to health, the authorities were told before Christmas to resume all their health services. It had been pressed on them before, but this circular to which the noble Lord has referred, Circular 1490, was then issued. Not only were they told to resume all their health services, but the Minister of Health co-operated with me in putting at their disposal all the staff and all the buildings of the first-aid posts in order to ensure that all children should be examined by the end of March—a concentration of medical effort that has never been known before in the history of the school medical services.

Undoubtedly, without the power to compel children to attend school, it has been found difficult to get hold of them, and that is an additional reason or justification for the decision I have just announced—namely, for resuming compulsory attendance. But I do want to impress on local education authorities the importance of pressing ahead with this work even more rapidly, if necessary, than with getting the children back to formal schooling. I cannot help feeling all the time that minor ailments that are neglected to-day all too soon develop into life-long afflictions. I see no reason, for instance, why care committee workers and, if need be, other volunteers should not be called in to do an intensive and immediate canvass of all parents whose children have not returned to school. That is a suggestion I have made already to certain authorities, and I hope it is being carried out. In speaking of health I not only include, but emphasize very strongly, the importance of school meals and milk. The last figures for the consumption of milk in schools that I have certainly show a very welcome increase.

In all these matters I do ask the authorities to remember that it is not enough to sit down and steadily rebuild their services at peace-time speed. We are dealing here with an emergency, and energy, drive, and improvisation are needed if permanent damage is not going to be done to our children. In November and December of last year it seemed enough, and the right procedure, to issue circulars asking authorities to proceed with the rebuilding of the educational machine and making suggestions to them how to do it. To-day I tell them in the name of His Majesty's Government that this work is urgent and must be carried out at the earliest possible moment. I hope your Lordships will take it from that that the Government intend that this work shall in fact be carried out.

This point has been mentioned in the debate: Does this determination to rebuild education in the evacuation areas mean that the Government no longer believe in the policy of evacuation? I answer most definitely and categorically it does not mean that. The Prime Minister in his speech at the Mansion House the other day made very clear the view of His Majesty's Government on that point. Up to now the war has not developed as we expected, but from what Germany has done to the citizens of other nations and even to our own citizens, from what she has done to our own unarmed fishermen and sailors along our coasts, it is certainly not humanity that has prevented a general assault on the civil population of this country. It may be that she will wait longer before she makes that general assault. It may be we shall have some warning before a general assault is made. Equally it may be we shall not have warning, and parents of children who are now in the evacuation or danger areas should keep that in mind.

I am afraid I have spoken at very considerable length, but the most reverend Primate has referred to another aspect of our policy—if I may say so, a very important one—that of young people between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, or perhaps, as we have come to think of them, between the ages of fourteen and twenty, the year of conscription. I think all of us enjoyed and appreciated the speech that was made on this aspect of our work by the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, who has given so much thought and work to the problem. It was, as the most reverend Primate said, last October that we had a debate in your Lordships' House, introduced by the Lord Bishop of Winchester, on the problem, and it was then, as has been said, that the announcement of the setting up of a National Youth Committee was made. That Committee has lost no time in getting to work. Its first task was to try and repair some of the immediate ravages of war, and under that heading it has had to deal with the problems of buildings, of leaders and of finance. On the first problem, I can report very good progress. One large association has reopened no less than thirty clubs. This is an indefinite field of work, and I cannot give your Lordships statistics, but what I can say is that from every single organisation concerned in this work we have received a report that they are satisfied on the question of leaders.

The Committee is at this moment at work on this problem, which is under the active consideration of the Parliamentary Secretary, who is Chairman of the Committee. Already considerable work has been done. The most reverend Primate reminded your Lordships that this work had been commended to the nation by His Majesty the King, who has always shown such interest and enthusiasm for anything to do with adolescents. Since that letter was issued to the public, a bureau for volunteers has been set up. Just over 700 young people have volunteered for this work and nearly all of them have been suitably placed. I would just like to add on behalf of His Majesty's Government our assertion of the importance of this work at this time, and an appeal to those who take an interest in it to feel that it is in fact as important war work as they can do if they are skilled in it and understand it. With regard to finance, it is quite true, as the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, said, that voluntary subscriptions are not so easily come by to-day as they have been in the past, and it has therefore been found necessary to make grants to voluntary organisations. I agree with the noble Viscount generally that the grant should be made to the central organisation rather than to the local body, and for the reason he gave, though where local education authorities themselves make a grant then, of course, it is given locally.

Those are the immediate problems. Important as they are, I am not sure that they are the most important part of the work of this Committee. I think more important still is the task of knitting together the efforts of the Board and those of the local education authorities, the voluntary organisations, industry and trade unions, all of which are interested and have contributions to make from their various individual sides to this problem. The most reverend Primate was good enough to refer to the circular that was issued by the Board on the advice of the Committee as marking an epoch. I would like to assure him that I know the Committee will treasure very greatly that compliment from the most reverend Primate, who, we know, has given so much effort to this problem. He asked me if I could say what progress has been made under the circular. He informed your Lordships that replies to it had to be in by March 1. Although there are still three weeks to go I think your Lordships will be glad to hear that already we know that 76 out of 146 authorities have not merely considered plans but most of them are in fact already taking action. The Parliamentary Secretary is about to make a tour of the authorities in order to stimulate their work and to help them to work out definite plans.

I believe myself that this National Youth Committee, quite apart from its immediate tasks, is laying the foundations of what we have long needed in this country, a central focus for problems of all kinds connected with youth, linking up the Board and all these other agencies that I have mentioned and providing a channel through which the problems of youth can be dealt with. I should particularly like to thank the most reverend Primate, and through him those who work with him, for the help and cooperation that we have received from various agencies of the Church in the work of this Committee. Inevitably the Work of this Committee links up the work for adults also. The evening institutes, for instance, which deal with all ages, both the youth and the adult, I think your Lordships will be glad to know are again getting into their stride after being hard hit by the black-out. Moreover, the technical colleges, which have an immediate contribution to make to the problem of training workers for war-time industry, should have both a long-term problem and a long-term contribution to make, so that after the war, when we shall have a greater need than ever for skilled and trained men in industry, we may have those men ready.

I particularly stress the importance of the work of the junior technical schools, and the schemes for day release which certain employers are starting. I venture to make an appeal to everyone connected with this work either directly or indirectly to remove every possible obstacle in the way of technical colleges getting back to their full capacity. We have heard a good deal about the commandeering of technical colleges. Actually out of 260 major institutions only two are still retained by the Government, and one of these is in process of being returned during this month. But there are five or six which have been diverted to other purposes by some authorities. I can tell your Lordships that with regard to them we have been in touch with those authorities, and are continuing to keep in touch with them, in order to get those colleges returned to their appropriate use.

Although I have addressed your Lordships at some length there is a great deal that I have left unsaid, but I feel myself, and I know that your Lordships feel too—it has been said in this debate—that education is not less important in time of war but more so. I hope that those who work with us at the Board, the local education authorities, the teachers, and your Lordships, will feel that this task of ours of rebuilding this great educational machine is indeed part of the nation's war effort, looking at the matter even from the most short-sighted point of view, for keeping up the morale of the home front. But we have an even greater task. I see as our main task that we have to ensure that the liberties and the values for which our generation are fighting and dying are kept alive in the hearts and minds of those young people who are to carry on after us. Whatever may be the issue of this war life is a continuous process, and there are very few issues in human life that are ever settled finally. You cannot just win a war and then slacken off. That surely is the lesson of the twenty years that have succeeded the last war. Amid all the uncertainties of the future I think one thing is surely quite clear, and that is that life for our people is certain to be harder and more testing than anything we of this generation have ever known. Therefore the equipment, physical, technical, mental and moral, of the coming generation will need to be the best that we can give them if they are to repair the ravages and wastage of this war.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful, and I am sure your Lordships must be most grateful, to the noble Earl for the fullness and importance of the speech which he has just made. We must have some sympathy with the noble Earl that he has been called to preside over the Board of Education at a time of such exceptional difficulty, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Addison, was a little lacking in generosity when he did not make it plain that of course the difference between this war and the last war and all that can be done and said is that in this war we have had to face the problem of the possible devastation of cities from the air. I think the speech of the noble Earl has shown that although he has not been in the limelight—and being in the limelight is not always the best place for work—he has been very much in the picture and has shown a real grasp not only of present problems but of the whole field of education. I hope very much that the speech of the noble Earl will be widely reported and will be read not only by local education authorities but by the public generally, for it is a declaration of real importance. Particularly I would thank him for having announced that His Majesty's Government are proposing to restore compulsory education in evacuation areas as soon as that can possibly be done. I think that ought to make a great difference.

Also I am very grateful for what he said about relaxation of the requirements of protection for the schools, and I was very glad to hear that what has been done in the way of implementing the circular about youth committees is on the whole so encouraging. I do not withdraw what I said that I think the assumption by the Board of Education of direct responsibility in this matter is a very remarkable fact. The only point to which I hope the noble Earl will give a little more consideration is the possibility—indeed I consider it almost the necessity—of giving a second chance of evacuation to the parents in these areas, prepared for very fully, and of giving them all the relevant facts which they ought to have in mind. Inasmuch as the noble Earl's speech has been so clear and so full and has given much information which we all desired, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.