HL Deb 06 June 1945 vol 136 cc435-44

3.47 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill, which owes a great deal to the labours of my predecessor in office, has as its chief object the application to Scotland of the main principles of the national educational policy embodied in the Education Act for England and Wales, which passed your Lordships' House last Session. But, as your Lordships are aware, the educational history and traditions of Scotland are different from those of England, and therefore the policy of the 1944 Act has to be modified and adapted to suit Scottish conditions. Moreover, some of the provisions contained in that Act are not needed in Scotland, because these particular problems have been happily solved by earlier Scottish legislation, including the Act of 1918, for which the noble Lord, Lord Alness, was responsible. I venture to think that your Lordships will have no difficulty in accepting those parts of the Bill which are similar to the provisions in the Act which was accepted by this House last Session. I am also confident that the adaptations which it has been necessary to make in order to meet Scottish requirements will present no difficulty to your Lordships.

The Bill provides that the school-leaving age shall be raised to fifteen not later than 1st April, 1946, or such subsequent date within one year thereafter as the Secretary of State may by order appoint, having regard to the time required for enabling adequate provision to be made for a supply of teachers or of school accommodation to meet the needs of children between the ages of fourteen and fifteen years. The Bill further provides that the upper limit of the school age shall be raised to sixteen as soon as the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is practicable to do so.

Not later than three years after the raising of the school-leaving age to fifteen, there is to be instituted a system of junior colleges—corresponding to the institutions which are called county colleges in the English Act—for the part-time instruction of young persons after they have left school and up to the age of eighteen. The Bill also contains clauses dealing with the provision of school meals and milk, with medical inspection and treatment, with the care of handicapped children, and with independent schools, all of which are very similar to those which have already been adopted with reference to England and Wales. The Bill also aims at improving the provision for all forms of technical education, the development of which is of the highest importance to the future prosperity of the country.

The educational reforms proposed by the Bill will be brought into operation by means of schemes for the provision of primary, secondary and further education. These schemes are to be framed by each education authority for its own area, and submitted to the Secretary of State for consideration and approval. By this means it will be possible to give effect to the general principles of policy which are embodied in the Bill in such a way as will meet the varying needs of each area, and will take account of developments in educational practice from time to time. I have attempted to give your Lordships an outline of the main provisions of the Bill. There are also a number of minor changes, most of which will be found in the Schedules, which are intended to bring the existing Acts relating to education in Scotland into line with the present measure, and to pave the way for a subsequent consolidation of all these Acts into one comprehensive Statute.

This Bill lays down a general policy for the development of Scottish education, and the schemes to be framed by the education authorities will provide the machinery for carrying out that policy. But, in the long run, the possibility of achieving the educational advance which we all desire will depend to a very large extent upon what happens in the school and the classroom. Parliament and the education authorities can create the material conditions, but they will be ineffective unless we can attract to the teaching profession an adequate number of suitably qualified teachers. During the war, the schools have been able to carry on, in spite of depleted staffs, because teachers who in normal circumstances would have retired have been willing to continue at their posts, and a substantial number of married women teachers have returned to the schools. With the end of tie war in Europe, many of these teachers will no doubt be thinking of giving up their wartime work, and their desire to do so must be accepted with full sympathy and understanding. I sincerely trust, however, that many will feel able to remain in the schools for a little longer so as to tide us over the period until teachers who are serving in the Forces are able to return, and until the flow of new entrants begins to reach the schools.

It is on this flow of new entrants that we must rely to supply the additions to the teaching staffs that will be needed for the full operation of this Bill. I hope that the importance of the work which they will be called upon to do for the cause of education will inspire many young men and women with a desire to enter the teaching profession: but we cannot expect large numbers to respond to this appeal unless the conditions of service are reasonably satisfactory. It is therefore, with great satisfaction that I have learnt that the National Joint Council, which has been set up to deal with the salaries of teachers in Scotland, has been able to arrive at an agreement on this important question. Your Lordships will not expect me to express an opinion on the scales of salary recommended by this Council until I have had an opportunity of considering them, but I should like to pay a tribute to the work of the Council and to express my pleasure at the fact that the scales are to be associated with the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, whose work as chairman of the Council has contributed so largely to the success of its labours.

I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is most desirable that this Bill for the improvement of Scottish education should be placed on the Statute Book as soon as possible. The numerous consultations which my predecessor has had with the various interests concerned have resulted in a substantial measure of agreement, and it is the hope of the Government that it will be possible to pass this measure during the lifetime of the present Parliament. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Rosebery.)

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, when I told the noble Earl that I wished to say a few words on education this afternoon his reply was: "Oh, you cannot do that; it is an Education Bill." But I hope that your Lordships will bear with me for a few minutes, for this is a subject upon which I have great anxiety, and I do not know in respect of what other kind of Bill I could possibly say a few words on education. Nearly everybody whom I know well who is connected with the educational services in Scotland is agreed upon one thing. That is that during the past fifty years Scottish education has declined and fallen very considerably. It has done so, I think, not only in comparison with the education given in England but also absolutely.

I have taken a good deal of pains to try to find out the truth concerning this matter. There is one small point which has some bearing on it. The first-class men produced by own county who have risen from the bottom appear to me to have ceased a generation before my own. Up to that time we produced men of the highest eminence, but after that period I cannot recall any of really outstanding eminence. Moreover, I have taken considerable pains to inquire into the matter, and I have reason to believe that a very large proportion of elementary school boys after leaving school become, within about a year, practically illiterate. They can neither read clearly nor express their thoughts clearly, and their capacity for reading and understanding what they read is extremely limited. The proportion of those boys is very difficult to estimate, but, as far as I can make out, it amounts to very nearly one-third. That, I suggest, is a very serious matter indeed. I have met no one in the profession of education who contradicts that estimate of the proportion. The headmaster of the technical branch of a very celebrated secondary school in Scotland told me, with a very grave face, that we were sending into industry lads of the calibre of an N.C.O. in the Army in the proportion of one to sixty, and lads of the calibre of an officer in the proportion of one to two hundred. He said that he looked upon the position with great misgiving.

I have discussed this with various people, directors of education, university professors and schoolmasters, and I have had various reasons given to me to account for the situation. One reason offered to me was that the boys of whom I have been speaking represent the ineducable class of boy. I do not accept that. In the first place I do not think that a boy is ineducable just because a man tells me that he cannot educate him. In the circumstances, I consider that the proportion is much too high. Indeed, having seen a great many of the boys myself, I am perfectly certain that it is not correct. Again, I have been told that these are pupils who require special care, special education. To a certain extent that may be true, but I do not think that it is the complete truth, because I find that most of these lads of fifteen or so with whom I come into contact suffer from a form of atrophy of some of the capacities which I think every child of six has in a very strong degree.

Other lads who have shown brilliance and have been very successful at school, complain to me of the great waste of time which they experienced at school. They tell me that a great deal of time is spent unprofitably. But the principal cause of the trouble is overcrowding of the classes. I think it is probably true that in our elementary schools most of the classes are overcrowded by one-third. Education authorities in many parts of Scotland have written to me, and possibly to many of your Lordships also, saying that in their view a reduction in the size-of classes is of far greater importance than the raising of the school age. I think that that must be a fact, because if your Lordships accept my figure, that the classes are too large by one-third, the raising of the school-leaving age to fifteen and the reduction of the size of classes will entail almost doubling the school accommodation in Scotland. If the value of nine years under the schoolmaster is only what I suggest that it is, it is much more important to reduce the size of the classes than to raise the school age. I am entirely in favour of raising the school age when it is practicable to do so, but I do not think that it can possibly he practicable as soon as is indicated in this Bill.

I should like to see some effort made to examine critically the whole present system of elementary education. I should like to see this done by men of great educational standing, members of our universities, but not necessarily by members of the educational heirarchy. I do not say that because I have a "down" on schoolmasters; many of them are my close friends. There is a tendency, however, amongst those who practise a profession to think that what cannot be done by methods. to which they are themselves accustomed cannot be done by any other method. I understand that in some parts of England there are elementary schools which are run on experimental lines, and in fact on precisely the lines which I would have suggested if I had been worthy to be consulted. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether there are any elementary schools in Scotland which are run more or less on experimental lines. I think that that is a very important point.

There is another matter in connexion with education which I think must cause the noble Earl very great concern. That is the steady rise in juvenile delinquency in Scotland, and this in spite of a system of dealing with juvenile delinquents which tends to make matters appear better than they might otherwise seem to be. I know that this matter deeply exercised the mind of the noble Earl's predecessor in office, and I have heard him talk about it very often. There is no doubt at all that the responsibility for juvenile crime must be divided between the school and the home. Every Education Act diminishes the influence of the home, and there are many other enactments which contribute to the same result. I do not want to give many examples of that but, to mention only one, there is the Statute which compels women to serve on juries, thereby inculcating the view that service on a jury is more important than looking after a family. I could give your Lordships a perfectly horrible instance of that which occurred in London to someone whom probably most of you know. Anything that diminishes the influence of the family tends towards juvenile crime.

The Bill now before your Lordships appears to me to diminish the influence of the family as compared with that of the school. Clause 22 pays lip service to the duties of parents, but Clauses 44 to 6o remove the responsibility of parents for We education of their children further than they have ever been removed by any legislation of this kind before. What we really ought to have, if it could be achieved, and what I think every director of education would welcome, is local school management committees very largely made up of members elected by the parents of the children attending the schools in the area, with a few county council representatives to keep the committees straight in their relations with authority. I am sure that that would be preferable to having representatives on the local committees drawn from councils whose members are elected owing to their capacity to deal with roads and other matters not connected with education. There are other parts of the Bill which tend to diminish the influent, of the home, but I shall not trouble your Lordships with them.

Finally, I come to what seems to me to be the gist of the whole matter. That this Bill will raise the salaries of school teachers is something which I am very glad to hear, because that is very important; but I do not think that it follows that because you raise the salaries of the teachers you will get more or better teachers. The qualities which go to the making of a good teacher generally drive him into the teaching profession whatever the salary may be. In my view, teaching is a dedicated profession, and you have in the teaching profession already all those who are ideal teachers. Of the remainder, a considerable number are merely competent and efficient servants of a system, and that is all that can be said for them. There is also a small minority whom every headmaster wishes on to his neighbours if he can. If I am right in that view, increasing the salaries of the teachers, however much more attractive it makes the teaching profession, will not necessarily lead to a very much better service. It seems to me that you are only going to increase the amount of sawdust: in proportion to the amount of flour in the cake. On all these grounds, I should very much like to press upon the noble Earl that he should consider what I have endeavoured to put forward. I should like to see the whole system overhauled with a view to providing better elementary education, because, if the facts are as I have stated and I have not given an erroneous estimate of the situation, I am sure he will agree that the whole system does deserve examination.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to make a very brief point, as one who has had some connexion with persons engaged in adult education. From what they have told me, I take a somewhat different view from that of the noble Lord who has just sat down about the desirability of smaller classes rather than raising the school age. There can be no doubt, I think, that those who stay longer at school do in fact come to have a greater appreciation of the value of education, and are therefore more inclined to continue that education after they have left school than are those who leave earlier. It is the common experience of all who have to do with adult education that, although during the past twenty years the numbers attending adult classes have enormously increased, that increase has been smaller proportionably among those who left school at fourteen than among those who have had a secondary education. From that I think it is possible to deduce that if education is continued rather longer, the value of that education becomes apparent to the children, and they will therefore continue it. I suggest to His Majesty's Government that that is a point which should be taken into consideration, and that too much emphasis should not be laid on the question of the size of classes. I fully understand the feelings of the teachers who have to instruct excessively large classes, and I have the deepest sympathy with them, since obviously they must feel that they are unable to carry out their task; but there is another side to the picture, and I venture to put it before your Lordships.

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, the enthusiasm and interest which my noble friend Lord Saltoun has always shown in education in Scotland is well known to me and to many others in this House. I cannot here feeling, however, that one or two of the criticisms which the noble Lord has made have really been strong reasons why this Bill should be passed. I do not quite know where he got the figure of 33 per cent. for those who, one year after leaving school, were unable to read and write.


That was only a personal inquiry. I have examined lads and have gone round asking other people what their experience was, but I do not know what the figure is.


I cannot help thinking that that is rather a high percentage. If it were true I think it would be a strong argument for keeping these children an extra year in school. Equally, the "uneducatable" children (if that is the right word) whom the noble Lord mentioned, would have a better chance by having an extra year. The noble Lord also said he hoped that education would be examined by people of learning and understanding in Scotland. Well, I can assure him that this Bill was not brought forward without having been carefully examined, and with the help of people of great learning and understanding, and I can all the more confidently assure him that that was the case because I was not consulted myself. I appreciate his point about the school teachers, but they were not only school teachers, they were the best material that we could find.

We have now an Advisory Council in Scotland on Education of which Sir Hamilton Fyfe is the Chairman. They are at present engaged on primary education and have taken exhaustive evidence on primary school methods. I know that they will do what they can, and I sincerely hope that they will be able to satisfy the noble Lord in that respect. As regards experimental schools we have got no experimental schools as such. I made inquiries about that myself, and I am told that the Scottish Education Department, through their inspectors, are always willing to examine, and are now engaged in examining, methods of experimental education proposed by education authorities, but the wishes of parents must be taken into account, because the parent will be quick to complain if he thinks his child is being used for experiments which might result in retarding the child's progress. I think that is quite fair. It is different in the case of private schools, as these can be conducted by modernized methods. I rather think there is one run in Glasgow on those lines; but I think the noble Lord will agree with me that it is dangerous to run an experimental school on its own.

As regards the raising of the school age rather than lowering the number of children in a class, I think I can answer both the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, and the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, at the same time. I think we should all like the school age raised and smaller classes as well but, as I said in my opening remarks, that really depends entirely on the number of school teachers that we have got. At the present time, in spite of the fact that we have got school teachers still carrying on who should be retiring, and other women teachers who though married are also carrying on, we are quite short of teachers, and we hope that when those who are serving in the Forces come back we shall have both the raising of the school age, which is embodied in this Bill, and also smaller classes, which the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, wants. I think I have met every point raised by both noble Lords.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.