HL Deb 10 October 1945 vol 137 cc221-43

2.58 p.m.

THE EARL OF GLASGOW moved to resolve, That in Scotland the reduction in the size of the classes in the primary and infant divisions of the schools shall have priority over other prospective educational reforms and that a Code Regulation laying down the maximum size of classes in the primary schools be issued under the Education (Scotland) Act.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am asking your Lordships in this Resolution to consider the most important and the most clamant of educational reforms —the reduction in the size of the larger classes in the primary and infant divisions of our schools. There is nothing new in this: educationists and members of tae public have urged for many years that this handicap on education should be removed. The opinion of Scottish educationists is that this important question has received scant consideration by the Education Department in Edinburgh, in spite of their having advice from the Scottish Advisory Educational Council that this is an urgent need. It is probable that the former Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Johnston, did not wish to clutter up the Education (Scotland) Act with matters which he considered were extraneous to the chief objective, the raising of the school-leaving age: but I think that, if he had been better informed about the strong opinion which existed in favour of the reduction in the size of classes, he would have taken a different view. No one is more interested in or has been more directly concerned with the educational future and welfare of the children of Scotland than Mr. Tom Johnston, except perhaps his successor, Westwood. I earnestly appeal to Mr. Westwood to have this blot on our educational system removed at the earliest possible moment. I should like to take this opportunity of saying how glad we are in Scotland to know that Mr. Westwood is progressing favourably after his recent serious illness. I am sure that all the members of your Lordships' House will wish that he may soon be restored to his usual health.

I believe that I speak for most people north of the Border when I say that they consider that a reduction in the size of classes should take priority over every other educational reform. The Primary School Teachers' Association has pressed for this, and the Education Committee of the County Councils' Association has passed a resolution that a high priority should be given to it. The County Council of Ayrshire passed a resolution that the first priority should be given to a reduction in the size of classes, which should take precedence over every other educational reform. This resolution was moved by a Moderate member of the Council, and seconded by the leader of the very large Labour minority, who has since become a member in another place.

In moving this Resolution I have no wish to embarrass the Government. I do not for a moment suppose that I could embarrass the Government in any case, but I do not wish to do so. Education should not be a Party question, nor should such a construction be placed on the desirability or otherwise of this much-needed reform. We all want to see the raising of the school-leaving age, and we all want to see a reduction in the size of classes; the only difference of opinion which exists is as to which should come first. I am concerned at the fact that, unlike the English Act, there is no mention of the reduction of the size of classes in the Education (Scotland) Act. Under the English Act it is laid down by regulation that the maximum number of pupils in primary school classes should be thirty infants in senior classes, thirty in classes of infants between the ages of three and five, fifteen for classes of infants under the age of three, and forty for other classes. There is a subsequent provision to the effect that a class should not be deemed to exceed the maximum number as long as the Minister is satisfied that every effort has been made to comply with the Act, and that the inability to do so is due to the lack of teachers or of school accommodation due to war conditions, or due to difficulties occasioned by the coming into operation of the Act. Those last few words are subtle, for if they were not there, local education authorities would be legally empowered to give precedence to the reduction in the size of classes. The English authority has made a gesture of sympathy which is entirely lacking in the Scottish Bill, and I ask, in this Resolution, if the Secretary of State will see his way to bring forward a statutory regulation laying down the size of the primary school classes on the same basis as under the English Act, with the exception that in the indemnity clause these last words to which I have just referred should be omitted, thus giving the reduction of classes first priority.

I hear with impatience Scotsmen who talk about slavish imitation of England. Where English laws are sound let us use them; where we think we are right, let us strike out a line of our own. Some of your Lordships may ask yourselves: "Why is this Resolution being brought forward at this late date? Surely our educational policy has been agreed upon with a view to the main objective the raising of the school-leaving age. Plans cannot be altered now." That is what may be in the minds of some of your Lordships. But there is no reason why the plans should not be altered. It is a very small alteration that I am suggesting. All that is required is the issue of a code regulation, and a change in the instructions given to the local education authorities. The two questions, the reduction in the size of classes and the raising of the school-leaving age are interlocked. Both reforms require extra teachers and increased school accommodation. When, eventually, teachers are available from the training colleges, I want to see local education authorities empowered to direct them to the black spots —to those schools where exists the handicap of classes of forty-five, sixty-five and, sometimes, as many as seventy pupils. Then when the work is completed, the teachers still coming in could be sent to schools with a view to the raising of the school-leaving age. There should be no difficulty in making this alteration in the plan.

With regard to the increase in school accommodation, that, of course, is also necessary. At present the policy of the Scottish Education Authority is that hut-merits are to be allocated to schools largely from the point of view of the raising of the school-leaving age. The schools with large classes are entirely ignored. Here is a paragraph from a Scottish Education Circular, dated July 9: A large proportion of the building resources allocated by the Education Department has been specifically earmarked for the school meal services. The remainder covers all other works for which the Department is responsible —namely, accommodation for the raising of the school-leaving age, technical instruction for ex-Service men, pre-apprenticeship courses, training colleges, youth community centres, etc. All these things are important, but their value to the youth of the nation, as I shall explain in a moment, will be greatly lessened unless the paramount reform of all is taken in hand first. Therefore, I ask that the first allocation of hutments be made to those schools where the classes need to be reduced. Clamant cases for the erection of school meal accommodation or, perhaps, for community centres could be left to the discretion of the local education authorities. And why should smaller classes in the primary schools be considered a paramount reform? Because without it more than a quarter of the children in Scotland are not in a fit state when they leave school to have a part in all these facilities for advanced education, for the reason that they are insufficiently grounded, not only in those qualities which make a good citizen, but also in reading, writing and simple arithmetic, which are the foundations of all learning.

Educational reform —I am speaking in platitudes perhaps but there is no harm in repeating this —should begin in the infant and primary stages. As long as children are herded together in large numbers without individual attention, the majority of such pupils will remain unattracted to school life, and will loathe the prospect of an additional year. The value of raising the school-leaving age will be largely negatived by the unsoundness of the position in the elementary stages, where the development of the child is being retarded by its neglect in the large classes which are now tolerated. An elaborate superstructure is folly if the main building is insecure. And let me remind your Lordships again that the increase in individual attention to children of the same age group possibly but with essential intelligence and temperamental differences; has been demanded by every section of public opinion and can only be achieved if the size of the classes is reduced. Anyone who goes, as many of your Lordships have done, into one of our large schools to-day must be appalled at the magnitude of the task which faces the one teacher who is endeavouring to harmonize the intellectual, emotional, and æsthetic needs of children whose only definite common feature is that they have marched along in the same age group since the law compelled them to attend school. More than one quarter of the children in the County of Ayr suffer from this handicap of large classes of more than forty pupils, and Ayrshire is essentially very largely an agricultural county with many small schools. The figures for classes of more than forty pupils must be higher for the rest of Scotland and I suggest that even forty is too many.

I could expand my remarks by speaking on the increase of juvenile delinquency in Scotland. I think, as a matter of fact, that it is better than it was, that it is not so bad as it was, but still it is a very serious problem. For instance, I could tell your Lordships how money has continually to be found by the ratepayers of a large city to replace thousands of panes of glass broken in the schools, how young offenders in another town carried out the anti-social act of breaking all the windows in a new housing scheme, and how the lieges are imperilled by the throwing fire bombs. These acts, and many others of a more criminal and immoral nature, are perpetrated by lads who have lately left school and it is admitted that large numbers of them have gone through their school lives in large classes where, due to lack of individual attention, they have received no moral training whatsoever.

In a statement issued so late as September 28, Mr. Fraser, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, said that conditions prevailing in schools at the outset of this long-overdue reform (meaning the raising of the age) may not reach the standards which all educationists would desire, and he went on to say that to wait for these standards to be attained would necessitate the postponement for several years of an important educational advancement. It is my contention that this educational advancement can wait until proper standards have been attained in the primary schools. It is a wrong and cruel policy which turns out into the, world thousands of children who are unable to face life properly owing to their neglect at school, and this state of affairs is to continue not for two or three years, but for a long period of years, for that is the result of the present education policy. I shall he told, of course, that the Government is committed to the raising of the school-leaving age, which was to have been in April next year but has been postponed until April, 1947. This is a new Government. Must it follow exactly every issue of its predecessors? Must it follow exactly in the footsteps of its predecessors? Its members have, in the days of their relative obscurity, shown a deep interest in the real welfare of the children. Now that the sun shines on them, should they not tell the people of Scotland, and of England also, if necessary, that in the interests of the children they refuse to put the cart before the horse and that a reduction in the size of classes must come before the raising of the school-leaving age? They could say that they believe in that too, but there must be a further postponement as they cannot allow this poisonous sore in our education system to go on festering over a period of years.

I realize that it would cost a great deal of money and would require a large number of extra teachers, but since we are going to spend millions of money on educational reform anyway, let us begin spending on a sound basis, and when the work is done and the foundations are made secure let us then go forward with the superstructure. I know that a solitary Motion, a Resolution in your Lordships' House, is not likely to change Government policy, but it is possible for a Resolution to be a reflection of public opinion. If the Minister in London is unable to change the precedence (for that is all it is) of the Government education policy for England and Wales, could he not give Scotland a free hand? The Secretary of State for Scotland and his departmental officials are loyal to every ukase issued from London but they are men of shrewd common sense and devoted to the interests of Scotland. I am not in their confidence, but I say this: Give them a free hand and what may not be considered feasible in England for 42,000,000 people they may think possible in Scotland for 5,000,000. If the Scottish Education Department were to instruct the people on this question there would be nothing impolitic —and that is a word which is surely well understood by politicians —in postponing the date of the raising of the school-leaving age in order to allow large classes to be reduced to manageable dimensions.

We in Scotland are bound to carry out the policies which are laid down by the Government in London, but in a matter of this kind, which would not be a long-term departure from general Government policy, I see no reason why the Scottish authorities should not be permitted to take a line of their own and earn the blessings of the whole country. After all, in times past Scottish education was famous. Men from humble homes, from the crofts, from the farms, and from industry who had the luck to attend school and receive individual education and instruction from the dominies, distinguished themselves. They impressed the world by their industry, their perseverance and their integrity. I should like to see all Scottish children again given that personal instruction so that they will have the chance of emulating their forefathers. To have to wait over a long period of years for this badly needed reform is entirely unsatisfactory and not to be endured. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in Scotland the reduction in the size of the classes in the primary and infant divisions of the schools shall have priority over other prospective educational reforms and that a Code Regulation laying down the maximum size of classes in the primary schools be issued under the Education (Scotland) Act —(The Earl of Glasgow.)

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, as I was responsible for the Scottish Education Bill when it came to your Lordships' House, I think perhaps that it is only right I should say a few words on this occasion. First of all I should like to remind my noble friend the Earl of Glasgow, when he talks about a new Government coming in and altering what was agreed by the last Government, that the Education Bill itself was drafted by Mr. Thomas Johnston, who is not a member of this Government but is a supporter of it. He was entirely responsible for the wording of the Bill. I remember that when I introduced it here I paid tribute to him and stated that while I agreed with the Bill, the virtue in the Bill was his. That being the case, it is difficult really to argue that the present Government should go back on what, in the Coalition Government, was produced by a Labour member of that Government.

Like the noble Earl, I regret very much indeed the illness of the present Secretary of State for Scotland. I am very glad to know that he is well on the road to recovery and I hope that he will be with us by Christmas-time. In the meantime in your Lordshins' House, of course, we deal with another of the same name, the noble Lord, Lord Westwood, and I should like to take the earliest opportunity of apologizing to him for having called him an Englishman when I was speaking on the Address in reply to the gracious Speech. I ought to have remembered that he really comes from Dundee, but his close association with Northumberland made me think he was a Northumbrian. The ardent support he gave me in the matter of Prestwick and the Forth Bridge might have made me know that he is a Scot.

To go back to the subject of this Motion, I would like to say that I quite agree with the noble Earl that everyone north of the Border, and I should think everyone in Britain, is only too anxious to see a reduction in the size of classes in the schools. We must, however, try to get down to realities before we do what all would like. You must face facts and realize that you cannot reduce the size of clesses in the primary and infant divisions of the schools unless, first, you get enough teachers and, secondly, have enough buildings. As the noble Earl said, it had been intended to raise the school-leaving age in 1946 but for various reasons that has been postponed for another year until 1st April, 1947. If the noble Earl looks -at the Scottish Education Act he will see that the Government is pledged to introduce junior colleges for compulsory part-time education three years after the date of the raising of the school age. That means that it must be not later than 1st April, 1950. Therefore, far from it being an easy thing to reduce the size of these classes you could not possibly do it I think without bringing in another Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Westwood, will probably be able to tell us whether that is so, but as I read the Act it will be impossible under its provisions to postpone the establishment of these junior colleges.

We all want a reduction in the size of the classes and I know that a great many people would like to put that reduction even before the establishment of the junior colleges; but that was the agreement when the Bill passed through your Lordships' House. I am very sorry that the noble Earl was not able to be here on the day the Bill passed. It was an agreed Bill and it had to be hurried through. If it had not been agreed we should have lost the Bill and I think everyone will be with me when I say that we were glad to have this; Bill rather than no Bill at all. One very important point which has to be considered is how we are to get the number of school teachers who will be required The raising of the school age will increase the number of pupils by 50,000. Even now we are short of teachers. I believe we are short of between 6,000 and 7,000 teachers at the present moment. We are going to increase the number of pupils by 50,000, and the noble Earl wants us to reduce the size of classes, but he has not told us how we are going to increase the number of teachers. It will be difficult even to keep down the size of classes to the present number without getting mere teachers. I read the Report of the Advisory Council the other day and I gathered that, instead of the number of pupils in each class being reduced, there will have to be an increase, if only a temporary increase, in the size of classes unless we get additional teachers.

I do not want to say more now, because I realize that others want to speak, but I thought I ought to put my view as I was responsible for the Bill. I should like, however, to mention one point which has not been touched upon. With regard to England the Government made a gesture by providing that the number of children in the classes should be reduced. That gesture was totally useless because of the addition of words —which were not repeated in the Scottish regulation —saying that if the numbers could not be reduced then they could be kept as they were. That may be all right as a gesture, but we in Scotland are supposed to be hardheaded and to put a thing in one line and nullify it in the next seems the height of futility. I do not know why it was put in the English regulation. For the reasons I have given I think the Government could not possibly do at present what the noble Earl wants, although I have the greatest sympathy with all he says.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself very warmly with what the noble Earl said about the present Secretary of State for Scotland and the hope he expressed for his recovery. This is not in any way an attack on His Majesty's present Government, and I am perfectly confident that what I have to say will find an echo in the heart of the noble Lord who will have to reply to this debate. I would like to emphasize what the noble Earl said in moving the Motion and to point out to the Government that noble Lords who are not always able to find seats opposite but who belong there, and those who are on the opposite Benches, may have hopes as well as fears from the present Government coming into office. There is no reason that I can see for maintaining the exact tenor of a measure because it was an agreed measure passed with difficulty and in a hurry. We want to do the best we can for the children and if the Act which was passed does not do that then we should alter it. It is the children who are important and not the Act.

I do not want to repeat what I said on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Scottish Bill but I would like to refer to one thing which was said by the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, in replying to me. He suggested that I must come from a very, bad part of Scotland because I pointed to the failure of elementary education in Scotland. Really that is not an answer. It is in the nature of a parachute attack in the enemy's rear to cause him a little embarrassment. The noble Earl who moved this Motion has described the situation in much the same way as I did and if we are to have the same answer then there must be more than one district of the same kind in Scotland. If he will inquire where there is the greatest enthusiasm for local government in Scotland I think he will find the best places for local administration run like a saltire across Scotland from Aberdeen to Ayr. I do not know which council or local administration is the best, but that is the general opinion in Scotland. To reduce the size of the class and to increase the school-leaving age it will be necessary to double the number of teachers and to double the accommodation of the Scottish schools. That is what you are up against, and the noble Earl's proposition is a perfectly simple one. He says it is more important to reduce the size of the class than to increase the school-leaving age. In other words, to reduce the size of the class should have priority over the increasing of the school-leaving age.

The noble Earl has laid emphasis on the difficulty of providing teachers. Every one of your Lordships knows that teachers can be divided into three classes: the born teachers, the good journeymen teachers, and the stopgaps. It is going to be the hardest possible thing to get born teachers, even to put one in every school in Scotland. That is only a private opinion, but I think every one of your Lordships acquainted with education will know that the most we can get is good journeymen teachers who know their job and conscientiously carry it out. It is not going to be easy to provide them, and the proposition is that as and when such teachers become available, and as and when accommodation becomes available, those teachers and that accommodation shall be employed to reduce the size of the classes and not for increasing the school age.

When the Scottish Education Act was before your Lordships I remember the noble Earl turned round and said, "You are not really against the Bill, are you?" He left me in a situation of uncommon embarrassment. I always feel that every education Bill is passed in vacuo and hears very little relation to the real conditions which obtain under which it has to be worked. I expect most of your Lordships know a great deal more about elementary education than I do, but I would like just to give you a sketch of the scene as I see it. If you go into any elementary school and get the headmaster to introduce you into a class, the probability is that he will introduce you into the infant girls' class. I think that is the usual place. You are received by a charming and obviously competent woman, very much up to her job. Looking round, you see eighty little girls round perhaps four tables, twenty at each table, all very quiet, very happy and orderly. When you look at what they are doing you find at one table that they are busy stringing little square wooden beads on strings. It is a charming scene. You find how the dawning capacity of the infant mind is encouraged and interested. When they begin to string their beads into patterns they are moved up to a higher table, and so on. It is a charming scene and you are filled with admiration at the skill of the method until you begin to reflect a bit on it.

The first point about it —and it is familiar to most of your Lordships —is that the size of the class makes any effective attention to any individual practically impossible. Everything is designed so that learning is easy and effortless, and where the classes are large that must be the case throughout the whole curriculum. Where interest is excited, there it is followed on. You cannot stimulate interest, you cannot enforce attention; you engage attention by lures, and that is the keynote of education right through. I have not gone into the point that such a system is subjective and not objective. I think that is a very difficult point to argue, but it is also a very powerful criticism as I understand education. It astonishes me that this system gets as good education as it does. I attribute it only to the entirely selfless and unremitting labour of the people who have to run it —the schoolmasters and the schoolmistresses, for whom I have the most profound admiration. One of the most important points to my mind is one that will be within the experience of most of your Lordships: that just at the age when the young mind is reaching out to every form of knowledge —and we have most of us seen that happen —just at the time when it is alive to the development of every kind of individual capacity, it is subjected to the system of what I might call almost education by machinery. It is just at that time that the young mind most responds to individual attention, and it is just then that individual attention can least be given.

Now this system has another defect, and it is also one that appears to me very important. It makes excusable and quite natural a fault which I think runs, for the main part, through the whole of our educational system. It is a principle which I know to have been recognized in education for over 1800 years, and I strongly suspect it was recognized for at least as long before, and that is that the best teachers should always be given to the most elementary pupils. Some of your Lordships will remember that at Eton the most important master after the Headmaster of Eton is the Lower Master, and rightly so. Some of our Education Acts have recognized that. I do not know whether Scotland had the honour of hating the first Education Act in the British Isles, but the first I know of was dated 1496, if my memory serves me rightly, and in that Act the King of Scotland tried to ensure that the heir of every barony should spend three years at a university and after that should spend one year in teaching the children of the barony. You will realize that I speaking of "barony" as land tenure. That is merely another instance of the persistent policy of the early Stuart Kings for using the barony as a lever to secure the carrying out of their numerous paternal acts for the benefit of the poorer classes of their subjects. The Acts of the early Stuart Kings are a lesson in that regard. But the point I am on to-day is that this original Scottish Education Act does have that principle in view, and I do not see how that principle can be carried out under the educational system as it is today. It is when the mind of the child is beginning to open that the personality of an individual and the close attention given to the child by an individual are most effective, and I do not see how this can be secured under our present system of overcrowding.

Before we pass away from this subject I would like to emphasize this point: that it does not in the least matter what Acts have been passed in the past; what we want to secure, and what His Majesty's Government I know want to secure, is the best education for the children. A very long time ago the Founder of our civilization asked the question: "Which of you having children that ask for bread will give them a stone?", and it sometimes seems to me, on looking back on recent history, that successive British Governments with successive Education Acts have found an answer to the conundrum. I beg to support the Motion.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who moved this Motion asked me to support it, and I am very glad to do so, because I think it is opportune now, when we are on the verge of a very big educational reform, to consider that the element of education which counts is quality and not volume; for if there were to be accompanied with this educational reform a reduction in quality, it would be a calamity of the very first order. I think it is fair to record that in Scotland we have shown a steady decline in the percentage of the number of pupils per teacher for the last thirty years, and what is perhaps most remarkable is that even during the period from 1938 to 1945 a fractional decline is still apparent. That is the highest possible testimony to the manner in which the directors of education have carried out their work in the different districts. I am unable to follow the mover of this Motion to the point at which he says that the raising of the school age must be subordinated to it. That is a vital reform to which we, as a country, as a House and, I am sure, the Government, are committed. It has been envisaged for twenty-five years, has been on the Statute Book for nine years, and cannot now be altered in any circumstances.

I want to raise to-day the question of priorities, particularly the priorities available for the provision of teachers. I recognize that the provision of buildings is very difficult and presents a formidable task, but I am told that the real bottleneck is, in fact, the provision of teachers. Has this really been given the priority it deserves? The point I particularly want to make is in regard to university students. I believe that in Scotland we attach more importance to men graduating than they do in England, but the position is that during the next two years we shall have to accept teachers trained under an emergency system. I am informed that the quality is fair but certainly not up to the standard normally required of Scottish teachers. To-day only a trickle of students are allowed to recommence their studies. That means that in 1948 —the crucial year —there will be virtually no recruitment through the normal channels, and recruitment will only start in 1949 provided the students are allowed to return in the normal way next year. To-day, a student may only go to the university if he is nominated by the university, if he belongs to the release groups 1 to 49, if he has three years' service and is the holder of a bursary. These are rare in Scotland though it may be that they are commoner in England, but it means that the training in arts to-day is very slight indeed.

On that score I would particularly ask the Government to give this matter consideration. For six years now we have starved art faculties at the universities. Even in peace-time our total university population bore no comparison with that of the United States of America where, admittedly, the standard is rather lower, and was notably smaller than that in pre-Hitler Germany. The number of students was very small and, even before the war, the number of teachers was inadequate. If we are really going to give this matter the requisite priority which it should have, I would like to submit that the training of teachers should have a priority second only to that of the building of houses.

To do this —there may be many other solutions —I would suggest that releases be given from the Services to personnel who have served one year at the university, and that if they are acceptable to the university they should be allowed to return and resume their training. If they were made available now they could be trained to the point where they could take part in education in 1948, which, I understand, is the crucial year. If these men are not ready by then, we shall have to make do with fewer men of a lower educational standard who will not be able to attain the high level we had in the past. If I may, I should like to give an example by quoting from history. The standard laid down in the First Book of Discipline in 1560 was that young persons should remain at school until the talents by which they could best serve the country are displayed.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I will only detain you for one or two minutes, but I feel that my noble friend Lord Glasgow has raised, perhaps, one of the most important questions in regard to education. My excuse for speaking on this subject is that I happen to be the Chairman of the National Joint Council of Scotland, which is the equivalent to the Burnham Committee in England. Therefore, all these subjects are of great interest to me. At the beginning of the war which has just finished, I remember one evening in another place sitting next to a Minister who had to deal with recruiting for the Army. There must have been something pretty wrong in what he said because he told me that among the new recruits joining the Army a great many of them could neither read nor write. If we are spending this enormous sum on education it seems to me that there must be something radically wrong if such a state of affairs is possible, and I believe the reason for it is entirely due to the fact that classes are too big. We must, I feel, pay great attention to that question. I have visited schools at various times, and it seems to me that it is impossible for the teacher to deal with so many children. I hope the Government will really seriously consider this question.

With regard to the raising of the school-leaving age, my noble friend who has just sat down said this could not be dealt with. I believe it can be dealt with. It has already been postponed, so why not postpone it a little longer in order that we can get the teachers to deal with the material that requires education now —the present pupils and the pupils that are coming into the educational world in the next two or three years? I beg the Government seriously to consider this matter and, if possible, to do something drastic to reduce the number of children in the classes because, if this is not going to be done, then the value of all the money spent on education will be reduced. I have great pleasure in supporting my noble friend's Motion.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, may I take this opportunity of congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, on his maiden speech in your Lordships' House. It was brief, but excellent, and I hope we shall have many opportunities of again hearing our noble friend the Earl of Selkirk. I would also take this opportunity of saying that I shall have the greatest pleasure in passing on the messages of sympathy to the, Secretary of State for Scotland on his illness and the good wishes for his complete and speedy recovery. He is a good friend of the people who have been advocating education. I do not know any one who is a keener advocate in asking lot the reduction in the size of classes the education policy of Scotland. But one wonders why, when the Bill was debated in your Lordships' House, the opportunity was not taken to discuss this matter before the Bill became an Act. After the Bill has become an Act, the parties who remained silent during the discussion on the Bill now want to raise the question of the school age.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon, but I was quite definite abut that point on the Second Reading.


I was not referring to the noble Lord, but to the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, who moved the Resolution. I want to say frankly that the opportunity was missed. We feel that at that time the opportunity was given to your Lordships to discuss this matter and that it should have been taken then rather than at the present time. However, we do not mind in the least. Your Lordships will have listened with interest and with sympathy, as I have, to what has been said by the noble Earl in support of his Resolution. All those who are interested in education wilt agree that a reduction in the size of over-large classes is desirable in the interests of pupils and teachers alike. The members of the present Government have been pioneers and propagandists in advocating a reduction in the size of classes, and they took that attitude at a time when teachers were available and when builders were available to provide the extra accommodation required. Their advocacy, however, largely fell on deaf ears in another place, and their propaganda was without effect.

We have to recognize, however, that the size of classes depends on three main factors: first, the number of pupils in the school; secondly, the number of teachers available; and, thirdly, the accommodation available. None of the speakers today has informed us of where we are likely to get the extra teachers or the extra accommodation, or what we are to do with the redundant pupils —because pupils do become redundant if the size of classes is reduced. It would be interesting to know how these difficulties are to be overcome.


If the noble Lord will pardon me for interrupting him, my point is that as teachers come in from the training colleges they should be sent to the black spots, to those schools where there are these large classes. Naturally we cannot do everything at once, but I want priority for this. As the teachers become available they should go to these schools, and then, when the time comes, the school-leaving age can be raised.


I think that we can agree with the noble Earl's policy, but the position at the moment is that neither the teachers nor the accommodation are available, and we have to face facts as they are. I would acid that classes ought not to be so small that pupils lose the stimulus which comes from healthy competition and friendly rivalry. It is possible to make the classes too small. I have never had the happy experience recounted by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun; I have never visited a school where I have seen classes of girls stringing beads, and I am afraid that to advocate a reduction in the size of classes of girls stringing beads would not meet with the sympathy which the noble Lord might desire.

Since the noble Earl gave notice of his Resolution, the position has been altered, as he has stated, by the recent announcement of the Government's decision to raise the school-leaving age to fifteen on April 1947. Your Lordships will expect from me some statement of the reasons why this decision makes it impossible to hold out any hope of any early reduction in the size of classes, and some indication of the considerations which have led the Govern-to take the view that the one reform was more urgent than the other. But before dealing with these matters I propose to say a few words about the present size of classes in Scotland. The Education (Scotland) Act contains no provisions as to the size of classes, nor are there any provisions of that kind in the Education Act of 1944. In both Scotland and England the practice has been to deal with this subject by code regulation. The regulations now enforce that the number of pupils on the roll of any class shall not normally exceed fifty in the infant or primary division, forty in the first three years of a secondary course, and thirty in the fourth and subsequent years of a secondary course. The maximum of fifty for infant and primary divisions is substantially lower than the number permitted a few years ago. Although good notice was given of the reduction in the maximum, there were immediately before the war 165 primary classes in which the maximum of fifty was exceeded, either because the necessary teachers could not be found or because the additional accommodation could not be provided. Owing to war conditions, the number of over-size classes has now risen to 362. This, however, is not the whole story. There has been a progressive reduction -in the average size of primary classes. In 1892–3 it was as high as sixty-seven; by 1942 it had fallen to thirty-two. I realize that such averages must be viewed with caution, and the figures already given show that the present low average does not preclude the existence of some classes which exceed the maximum. But the fall in the average size of class does show that during the last fifty years there has been a marked and gratifying improvement in the general standard of staffing in primary classes.

I would remind your Lordships that the raising of the school-leaving age has for many years been regarded as one of the most urgently needed reforms in the sphere of education. I agree with the noble Earl that there has been a difference of opinion as to whether the reduction in the size of classes or the raising of the school-leaving age should have first priority. The Government have said in the Act that the raising of the school-leaving age should have first priority. It has been pointed out that young people of the age of fourteen, in the early stages of adolescence, are developing new powers and becoming conscious of new interests. To allow them to leave school at this stage means that they have to cut short their education just when they are becoming able to derive the greatest benefit from it, and that they have to enter the hurly-burly of the workaday world before they are fully equipped and able to deal with its many problems. They have acquired the tools of education, but they have not yet had time to use those tools in the acquisition of the knowledge and skill which would enable them to play their part in the world with the greatest benefit to themselves and to the nation.

It has also been pointed out that much of what has been acquired at school may be quickly lost unless the pupil enters an occupation which will give him an opportunity of developing his abilities and acquiring fresh knowledge and skill. Such opportunities are provided by the recognized systems of apprenticeship or learnership, but there are important industries in which entry into apprenticeship is not possible before the age of sixteen. I should like to emphasize this point, because with the present school-leaving age of fourteen many adolescents between the time of leaving school and the time of entry into apprenticeship enter into what are called blind-alley occupations. The Government feel it to be very important there fore that at least the year following the age of fourteen should be spent at school. For these and other reasons Parliament has recognized the importance of raising the school-leaving age. The Education (Scotland) Act, 1918, provided for a leaving age of fifteen, but this section of the Act never became operative. The same provision in a modified form was included in the Act of 1936, and was to have come into operation on September 1 1939, but had to be postponed owing to the outbreak of war. When the education proposals of the late Coalition Government were debated in Parliament, there was a widespread demand that a definite and early date should be prescribed for the raising of the school-leaving age. As a result, the Education Acts, both for England and for Scotland, passed by the last Parliament, provided that the school-leaving age should be raised to fifteen not later than April 1 1947, and should be further raised to sixteen as soon as practicable thereafter.

This then was the position with which the present Government found themselves faced. If the school-leaving age is to be raised by 1947 —as it must be unless Parliament passes amending legislation —additional teachers and classrooms will be needed. If the size of the classes is to be reduced, we shall require still more teachers and classrooms. The question is, will our resources enable us to introduce there two reforms at the same time? When the leaving age is raised, the num- ber of school pupils in Scotland, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, will be increased by about 50,000. The recruitment of teachers has been greatly restricted during the war, and the arrears; have to be made good. For this purpose and for the raising of the school-leaving age alone, we shall require at least 1,800 new teachers in Scotland, on the assumption that some 2,500 married women and teachers who have reached retiring age will be willing to continue in service.

As regards accommodation, it is unnecessary to dwell upon the difficulties or any extensive scheme of building operations in the next few years, in view of the urgent needs of the housing programme. One might ask oneself: "Which should have the greatest priority —the reduction of classes in the schools or housing?" I am afraid if you put that question to the homeless people in this country there could only be one answer, and that would be that the greatest priority should be housing. I think that the noble Earl will agree with that.


Will the noble Lord pardon me once more? He hay referred to the reduction of classes and has pointed out that reduction of the size of classes would call for increased school accommodation. The raising of the school age also requires increased school accommodation. The Scottish Education Authority are sending along hutments almost every day, but there is nothing else they can do.


The reduction of classes is, I understand, the subject upon which the noble Earl is asking his question. The raising of the school age has been fixed for April 1, 1947, and we are hoping that plenty of houses will be built between now and 1947. We trust that our hopes will be realized. The extra classrooms required for the raising of the school-leaving age, may I say, will have to be found by the use of prefabricated buildings which will be provided and erected by the Ministry of Works. It is estimated that 630 of these buildings, each containing two classrooms, will be needed. A reduction in the size of classes will also make very heavy demands. We are in agreement on that, I think. It is generally considered that the desirable maximum size for a primary class is forty pupils. At present 5,800 primary classes in Scotland contain more than forty pupils each, and it is clear that a very large number of additional teachers and classrooms will be required to reduce all classes to a maximum of forty.

It will be apparent from what I have said, that it is impossible to give these two reforms the equal priority desired by the noble Earl. In these circumstances, the Government had to consider how the most effective use could be made of the resources which will be available in the next few years. They took into account all aspects of the matter, including the arguments, to which I have already referred, in favour of raising the school leaving age and the view indicated in the Motion of which the noble Earl had given Notice. As a result, they reached the conclusion that a reduction in the size of classes, however desirable in itself, could not be given the same priority as the raising of the school-leaving age to fifteen. As the provision of the additional accommodation and teaching staff required for the raising of the leaving age will fully absorb all the resources likely to be available, I regret that I can hold out no hope that it will be possible, at the same time, to achieve the reduction in the size of classes which the noble Earl has so much at heart. But I can assure him, and the other noble Lords who supported him, that the Government fully realize the importance of reducing the size of classes, and that they aim at effecting a reduction as soon as the necessary staff and accommodation can be made available.


My Lords, before the noble Lord resumes his seat, may I ask him one question and make a suggestion? He put the position of the Government in this way. The Government, he said, do not wish to leave children at a loose end between their leaving school at the age of fourteen, and the time when they are ready to go into industry. That is a ground on which the raising of the leaving age is supported. We say that to put the children through an educational system which cannot be effectively applied is a waste of energy and effort. As it is stated that the Government will not reduce the leaving age to less than fifteen we would ask them to consider raising the age at the other end. I mean by that, will they consider leaving the children with their mothers for another year? That will avoid increasing the number of children at school, relieve pressure on the accommodation, and will give us what we want.


The question of raising the school age from fourteen has been very fully and carefully considered. It has been found that boys and girls who go to secondary schools at the age of twelve are in many cases only getting two years of secondary education. The great consideration responsible for the decision to raise the school age was that we did not think that pupils going to secondary schools at the age of twelve were getting sufficient secondary education. It was felt that they should have a secondary course of at least three years. This, it was deemed, would fit them better for the aftermath of life than a course of only two years.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, I have to thank the noble Lord for his courteous and sympathetic reply —I might say his sympathetic but adamant reply. In view of that reply I and my friends really feel that we are up against a stone wall. It is very difficult to know what to say about it now. We cannot, apparently, expect very much with regard to the reduction of the size of classes until the future of these things has been settled, such as the raising of the school age to fifteen, the question of the junior colleges with a date in 1951 and not 1950, and, probably, the raising of the school age to sixteen. That will be a very long time and the children are going to suffer from that handicap in Scotland during that long period of years. Some of your Lordships have seen your way to support this Resolution and as the welfare and the future lives of so many children depend upon this matter, I may ask, if I get further support, the opinion of the House.

On Question, Motion negatived.