HL Deb 09 February 1955 vol 190 cc1065-126

2.47 p.m.

LORD SILKIN rose to call attention to the Report of the Ministry of Education for 1953 (Cmd. 9155); and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The Report which I am asking your Lordships to consider is set out in a Blue Book entitled Education in 1953. We are to-day in 1955, and I imagine that a good deal of the information in this volume may be somewhat obsolete. However, this is the latest Report of the Ministry, and it looks as if there may not be another until June of this year, so if some of my figures are a little out of date I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, who I am glad to see is going to reply, will understand that I am doing my best on the material that is available to me.

The last time we had a debate on education was about three years ago. Prior to that, we had not had a debate since the passing of the 1944 Act, so I do not think your Lordships will feel I am rushing into this debate without proper justification. It so happens that I myself moved a Motion on Education in 1952 and there was then a very good debate, as I hope there will be this afternoon. The Report which is before your Lord-ships deals with an enormous variety of subjects. It ranges from nursery schools right up to university education, and beyond. It deals with the education of Poles in Great Britain, the proceedings of U.N.E.S.C.O., museums, the Imperial Institute and a great variety of subjects. Your Lordships will not be surprised when I say that I do not propose to cover this very wide field, but to limit myself to certain aspects of the matter. But I have no doubt that other of your Lordships will cover other aspects and that, on the whole, we shall give a fairly good review of our educational system. What I want to discuss is whether our system of education under the Act of 1944 is resulting in our providing for our children an education which brings out the best that is in them from the point of view of character, capability and social purpose.

When I raised this matter three years ago, I defined what I regarded as education and I stressed, as I should like to stress this afternoon, the fact that education does not consist solely of intellectual attainment. After all, there are many intellectual people who use their intellect for a purpose which is anti-social, selfish, intolerant and for a variety of other purposes which are not in the public interest. Education, to be effective and to justify the enormous effort that we are putting into it, should have regard to every aspect of the improvement of the human mind, body and character. We are today spending out of public money (it is a little difficult to ascertain the exact figure) more than £500 million a year. In addition to that figure, there is the considerable figure which is being spent out of private endowments and out of the pockets of private individuals who pay for their children's education without recourse to public funds at all; and I should imagine that if I said that of our national resources we were spending annually on education a total of £550 million I should not be far out. Therefore, it is very proper to ask whether we are providing for our young people the right kind of education and what sort of young people we are turning out.

It would be wholly wrong if one approached this matter from a political point of view. I may be controversial, but I understand that all people interested in education are controversial. No two educationists agree and, therefore, one cannot possibly approach this question without in some degree being controversial. I want to look at the matter from the point of view, broadly, of the three different types of education that we are providing—primary, secondary and the university. I should very much have liked, and I am very tempted to deal with our public schools, nursery schools and schools for handicapped children, but I feel that it is perhaps wiser to limit the scope of this debate. It may be that on some future occasion it will be possible to have a separate debate especially for the purpose of dealing with public schools: I think it would be profitable.

Looking first at our primary schools, are we really getting good value for the effort that is being put into them? If one judges by the test of the number of children per class, one finds very large scope for pessimism. We have, I think, established the fact by agreement that it is not possible for a teacher to teach effectively more than forty children per class. Even forty is high. Forty children in a class under the control of one teacher does not give that teacher a proper opportunity of getting to know the children, and particularly those children who most need a teacher's influence, the backward children. We are losing a great deal by having too many children per class.

It is unfortunate that according to the Report we are discussing, this trend of having too many children per class is increasing. It had become worse by the date of this Report than it had been previously. According to the Report in the primary schools the number of classes with more than forty pupils had gone up from 35,000 to 40,000. The Report points out that nearly half the pupils in the maintained primary and secondary schools were being taught in classes of over forty for primary schools and over thirty—which is regarded as the appropriate maximum—in secondary schools. I should like to ask the noble Viscount who is to reply whether, since this Report was published in June, 1954, the position has improved, and what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to improve the position and reduce the size of classes.

I want to couple with that aspect the question of the unsatisfactory buildings that existed at the date of this Report. There were then something of the order of 600 schools which had been blacklisted before the war and which, at the date of this Report, had not been dealt with. I imagine that since 1939 there must be an additional number of schools which qualify for the black list and which have not received attention. I do not want to overstress the importance of unsatisfactory schools. A school which qualifies for the black list is obviously unsatisfactory, but I believe that in the education of our children good teaching and small classes are more important factors even than school buildings. Nevertheless, school buildings are important; and especially when one considers the sanitary arrangements, the inadequate number of classes, and the consequent need, to teach several classes in one room or to aggregate children of a very wide age group, so that one has to teach either to meet the needs of the older children or to meet the needs of the younger children—one cannot teach to meet the needs of all of them.

Then I want to say one word about the rural schools, which I was glad to note the Minister of Education realised were not wholly satisfactory. These are largely schools with small buildings and an inadequate number of classes but which, nevertheless, have to cater for a wide range of children, from the age of five right up to the ages of eleven and twelve. Because of these conditions these children are not getting the best type of education that is available in the towns—with very unsatisfactory results. Is it surprising that we have still under our educational system a considerable number of children who leave school unable to read, who have no idea of the proper use of leisure and who constitute in large measure the increasing number of children who become juvenile delinquents.

When we last discussed this subject I mentioned this very point. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to quote briefly from what I said then, because I want to ask the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, who is going to reply, whether any action has been taken since then to remedy this state of affairs. In 1952 I said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 175, col. 796): Judging by a recent Government publication entitled Reading Ability, illiteracy has certainly not diminished.…Indeed, there is rather more illiteracy to-day than there was in the years before the war. Child delinquency is as great as ever, and moral standards show no sign of improvement. Only physically is there any obvious sign of beneficial results from what is being done in our schools. I ask the noble Viscount, what is the position to-day?

Now I turn from that to secondary education. I ought to point out that, out of an expenditure of £500 million of public money, a large proportion is spent, not unnaturally, on primary education, and what is taught in our primary schools really constitutes the basic education which most of our children receive. At the age of eleven-plus children are selected for various types of secondary education—grammar, modern or technical. The selection is by examination. The best children are sent to the grammar school; those that are regarded as suitable for technical education are sent to a technical school, and the remainder go to a modern school. At present many of the modern schools are nothing more than the old elementary schools touched up a bit. They have perhaps a slightly different type of furniture, but, certainly in the towns, they are really the old elementary schools under a different name. Nevertheless, I should not complain if at these schools the pupils received the right type of education.

I want to say a word about the method of selection, because selection for one or other of these schools is of the greatest importance to the child; it determines, at the age of eleven-plus, the whole future of a child. Admittedly, there is a possibility, I believe at the age of thirteen, of a child being transferred from one type of school to another. I wonder whether the noble Viscount could give me particulars of the extent of that transfer. My information is that it is very slight indeed: virtually there is little or no transfer once the selection has been made. So that if a boy goes to a grammar school the chances are that he will go in for a professional or managerial career; if he goes into a technical school he may become a foreman in a works, and if he goes to a modern school—well, he may become anything.

The method of selection is, as I have said, by examination. Inevitably, there is a very narrow difference dividing those who are at the bottom of the successful list of pupils from those who are at the top of the unsuccessful ones. It is so slight that the margin of error must be enormous, and I feel that there is scope for far more research into methods of ascertaining the capabilities of children. And there is certainly a need for far more flexibility in the transfer of children from one type of school to another, not merely at the age of thirteen, but at all ages. I see no magic in the age of thirteen. Chicken may be late developers. A child may have had toothache on the day of the examination and, because of that, he is irrevocably doomed to attend a type of school that may be inconsistent with his particular type of ability.

I should like to illustrate that point by mentioning an experiment which was recently tried by the Director of Education in Southampton. He took seventy-four children who were then attending the secondary modern school but who had failed six years earlier to qualify for admission to a grammar school. They had been attending the secondary modern school for six years; they were then just over seventeen years of age, and they were allowed to take the examination for the General Certificate of Education, which is not normally taken by children attending modern schools but is reserved for children who go to the grammar schools. In the result, these children passed in 273 papers—an average of nearly four per pupil, which would have been quite a good average even for a grammar school; only one failed. Following their success, twenty-three of them have now been admitted to the sixth form of the local grammar school. This was due entirely to the enterprise and initiative of the Director of Education in Southampton. The facts were reported in the Schoolmaster a week or two ago. But this sort of initiative and enterprise is not normally exercised. It gives a clear indication that a considerable number of children who would have benefited by a grammar school education do not obtain admission, and it is quite fortuitous that these children got a second chance.

One answer to this problem of selection—I admit it is a problem—is the comprehensive school, where the three types of school are provided within one curtilage under the headship of an individual who is able to survey the whole field, and where transfers from one type of school to another are considerably facilitated. I know that there are possible theoretical or even practical objections to the comprehensive school. It is stated that these schools are too large. The largest of those that have been set up has about 1,500 pupils. I understand that that number does not differ very greatly from the number in some of our large public schools. I believe that Dulwich College, which is a school of which I was once a Governor and of which the noble Lord who sits opposite me was Chairman, has nearly 1,500 pupils to-day. That is an interesting point. That is the size of a comprehensive school. Nevertheless, it is large, and there may be too many pupils in a school of that kind for one person to have the knowledge to enable him to go into the merits and demerits of each individual child. That is possibly largely due to the fact that the head of a school of that kind is required to carry out a good deal of administrative work. We have had the same problem in our hospitals, where the medical superintendent was required to be more of an administrator than a medical man. The modern trend in hospitals is to provide a lay administrator and to leave the medical superintendent to head the medical department. I see no reason why one could not meet the criticism I have mentioned by having, as some schools have, a lay headmaster or clerk, thus leaving the headmaster free for the work of supervision and teaching and to get to know the children.

This is largely a matter of administration. I am not being dogmatic about the value of comprehensive schools: I feel that they are worth trying, particularly in those areas where they stand the best chance of success—namely, in thickly-populated urban areas. These schools should be tried on a sufficiently large scale and with sufficient encouragement to enable us to say whether they are the right method of dealing with the problem. Perhaps there is too little experiment in education. We are much too rigid. There is, after all, room for diversity and for different ideas. It is worth while trying these different ideas so long as we do not do so recklessly. I have been a little disappointed by the attitude of Ministers of Education, particularly that of the previous Minister, Miss Horsbrugh, who, definitely and unquestionably, threw cold water on the whole idea of comprehensive schools and actively discouraged them. I have been disappointed in the present Minister who, to say the least, is damning these schools with faint praise. We ought to try out this idea properly and seriously, to see whether or not it is the answer to our problem.

I have referred to the difficulty of selecting children for our grammar schools. Are we, broadly speaking, getting the ablest pupils into the grammar schools? Necessarily, the numbers have to be limited, but one of the tests I would suggest is whether or not children complete their course at a grammar school. How many of them drop by the wayside? The Minister of Education was no doubt somewhat disturbed over this point, because some time ago he set up the Central Advisory Council for Education to go into this question of early leaving from grammar schools. That Committee have just issued their report, which shows quite clearly that there is some ground for apprehension. A substantial—though admittedly declining—number of children are leaving the grammar schools before completing their course. That is wasteful in a variety of ways. It is wasteful for the children who leave before their time, because a half-educated person is almost worse than a wholly uneducated person; it is wasteful, also, because, while those children occupy grammar school places, other children who might have been equally, or more, capable of benefiting are deprived of the opportunity. It is important, therefore, to inquire into the reasons why so many children leave grammar schools before their time.

The report brings out quite clearly the importance of home conditions. It divides the children into three categories, according to home conditions: those whose parents belong to the professional and managerial class; those whose parents are of the class of the skilled type of worker, and the children of unskilled workers. Perhaps it is not surprising to find that the smallest number of premature school-leavers comes from the professional and managerial class, and the largest number from the unskilled class of worker. The report went a stage further, and attributed the large number of premature leavers to the conditions in the home, to the type of house that the unskilled worker is living in, to general conditions in the home, and to the fact that in the home of the unskilled worker there are generally no facilities for doing homework. Such a home is generally rather more fully occupied than the homes of other classes; consequently there are the counter-attractions, wireless, television, and so on, which one can more easily escape in a more spacious home.

The Committee made a number of suggestions on the provision of facilities (outside the home, in the schools, public libraries, and similar places, for children to do their homework. Those recommendations are worth the serious attention of Her Majesty's Government, and I should be grateful if the noble Viscount could give me some assurance that they will be examined and that some action will be taken. I was gratified to find that the Committee did not recommend any change in the method of selection whereby home conditions should be taken into account. They did not feel it would be fair to penalise a child merely because it might not get the same facilities at home as other children; but they do strongly urge that conditions should be made available for such children in other ways.

One cause of premature leaving was found to be the economic factor. It is pointed out that there are no family allowances for children over the age of fifteen years—a fact which is rather surprising. If a parent is keeping a child at school beyond that age, it seems fair and reasonable that the parent should continue to receive the benefit of family allowance. In certain cases, under some local authorities, there is provision for grants, although the position varies greatly as between one authority and another. These grants are very small, and much depends on whether a parent lives in the area of a generous or ungenerous authority. I have known people move deliberately from the area of one educational authority to that of another because of the more generous treatment available to their children in their new area. I should like to see more uniformity: education and grants of this kind ought to be reasonably even everywhere. I attach great importance to this question of giving children who attend grammar schools the best facilities for staying on to finish their course, for every child who leaves prematurely is a waste to the nation.

Finally , I will deal with university education, though on that subject I do not propose to say very much, because my noble friend Lend Chorley, who is much better qualified to talk on it than I am, will have something to say. When the 1944 Act was under consideration in another place, I raised the question as to whether, under this Act, it would be possible for every child capable of benefiting by a university education to get that education, regardless of the parents' means. I know that we may have to draw a line, and possibly limit the number of young people attending universities. But that limit should be based not upon the means of the parents but upon the ability of the young people to benefit. I was assured at that time that that would be the criterion; but it is not the sole criterion.

Recently, a very well-informed and reasoned article on this very subject by a special correspondent was published in The Times. I noted with some interest that he referred to the speech which I made in 1947. It is not often that one's speeches made all that time ago are remembered—indeed, it is not often that they are remembered for more than a day or two. The writer of the article had evidently refreshed his memory, and he mentioned that I had raised this particular point. I am glad to raise it again this afternoon. The fact is that many parents of the middle class, small professional people and managers, who are not in the top flight of income, are unable to send their children to the university, because, even though those children get an open scholarship or a State scholarship, the parents are assessed on the basis of their incomes and are required to make contributions which they really cannot afford. This is particularly hard in the case of parents with several children whom they are seeking to educate. Some parents prefer to send their children to public schools and independent schools, partially at their own expense. It is very hard for a parent, even one with a gross income of £2,000 a year, to live up to the standards required of him and to educate a number of children at the same time.

Following the publication of that article in The Times, there has been very considerable correspondence from parents who find that they just cannot send their children to the university, even when those children have obtained an award. That state of affairs is utterly wrong. We ought not to deprive promising, capable children of the opportunity of a university education. There were two types of case which rather saddened me in this correspondence. One was that described by several parents who said that they had a brilliant son and a brilliant daughter, but could not send both of them to the university. They had to make a choice, and the noble Viscount will guess where the choice was. It is rough luck on a brilliant daughter that she should be deprived of the opportunity of getting a university education. The other type of case was that instanced by a gentleman who wrote that his son had been awarded a State scholarship, but that he (the parent who wrote the letter) was a professional man with a not very large income, and was unable to afford the contribution to which he had been assessed. Therefore, his son would not be able to go to the university. He felt this all the more because he himself, some thirty years ago, had been put in the same position and had been deprived of a university education.

I feel that this is a matter to which the Government ought to give considerable attention. No child ought to be deprived of the opportunity of going to a university merely because of lack of means. I admit that the position in this connection is very much better than it was. Here, I should like to assure the noble Viscount that I am not making any party political point on this at all.


I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord.


This is something with which we ought to deal. It is wasteful and cruel to bring children up to the point of being within sight of "the promised land," the university, up to the age of nineteen, perhaps, and then for them to find that they are not able to go. They have done everything that is required of them. They have all the intellectual attainments that are called for, but because of circumstances over which they have no control they are not able to go to the university.

I conclude by saying that the education of our children is a partnership between the home and the teacher. The home is something which we are all trying to improve, though I sometimes feel that, with regard to the smaller type of home, we are not giving great encouragement to the child who needs a little space to carry on his or her studies. We do not make adequate provision for that kind of thing. Accommodation is still strictly rationed, and there may be good reasons for it—that is a matter into which I do not wish to enter. The teacher, of course, is a very important factor in our educational system. So many of us remember with affection and gratitude some of the teachers who helped us in our young days. Many of us will remember those teachers for the whole of our lives. Many of the teachers have had a lasting influence on the young people who have passed through their hands.

The teaching profession, however, is not a very well paid one, compared with other professions, and people who enter it do so largely from a sense of vocation, from a desire to dedicate themselves to this type of work. Our duty is to see that they are adequately rewarded, and that the best type of people are attracted to the teaching profession. I believe that, from a vocational point of view, we are doing so, but I think that there is still scope for improvement. I believe that if we were a little more generous to our teachers we should attract a far better type of teacher even than we are getting to-day. We have the talent in this country; we have the abilities; we have the quality; and this constitutes the true wealth of our people. If our young people are fully and substantially developed, we need have no fear as to our future ability to maintain our place in the world and to give to the whole of our people a decent standard of living and a decent life. I beg to move for Papers.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for having introduced this debate, and for the highly interesting and informative way in which he has introduced his Motion. Listening to the noble Lord discourse on education is in itself a liberal education by which I hope that I have benefited this afternoon. I do not propose to follow the noble Lord into the many technical details with which he has dealt—indeed, I should like, if possible, to keep the debate on the broad street of generalisation. I have no intention whatever of being controversial, any more than the noble Lord was controversial. In any case controversy is not my trade.

I propose to deal with the matter on an entirely higher level, and at the out-set I should like to say that I am a wholehearted supporter of the 1944 and 1945 Acts. I do not feel the same pessimism as the noble Lord appears to feel with regard to the results, so far, of those Acts. After all, it is only ten years since they were passed, and we cannot expect a new system of education to have its full effect in the country in such a short period as ten years. But I believe that we are already seeing very marked effects of the 1944 and 1945 Acts. I believe that the increased emphasis on moral and spiritual values, the new place given to the teaching of religion and to acts of worship, is already having its effect. Though we have not yet got rid of juvenile delinquency, I believe it is true to say that already there are signs on the horizon that this great evil in our social life is beginning to disappear. If that is so, I think it is largely because of the benefits conferred upon us by these Education Acts.

I was extremely interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, had to say about comprehensive schools. I was glad to note that he took up what I might call a somewhat dubious position with regard to these schools. I myself should feel in the same kind of position. I should not like to say that here was something that ought not to be tried, but I feel strongly that we ought not to plunge into this method of teaching, binding together great masses of schools into large schools, with vast populations, without trying out the experiment very carefully and cautiously indeed. Whilst I should not definitely say that I was thoroughly against the method, I should want to put a very big query in the margin, and try to go slowly.

It seems to me that the basic issue in question of comprehensive schools is whether one believes it right to swim with the stream or against the stream. If one thinks that, in this highly collectivised age, when the individual has become an economic unit and life becomes more and more mechanised, it is a good thing to collect as many people together as possible and so condition them as to find life in this highly collectivised age not unduly difficult, then that is an argument in favour of comprehensive schools. If, on the other hand, one thinks that, because this age tends towards collectivisation, which seems to be the case at the moment, it is better for us to make sure that we produce as many highly individualised personalities as possible, then I think we should not give way to the comprehensive school. Of course, what is important is that we should see that we have as many teachers as are needed to ensure that the individual child is given the greatest possible attention. I am sure that the noble Lord will agree with me that the real aim of education is not to mass-produce a whole body of people as like each other as peas in a pod; the aim of education is to train the individual characteristics, the genius, of the separate personality, and that all our efforts in education should be directed towards that end.

May I venture to follow the noble Lord a step further and say a word about rural schools? Your Lordships may be a little amused at the idea that the Bishop of London should have anything to say about village schools, but for a time I was working in Somerset and saw a good deal of the village schools there, and I believe they are extremely important to the whole social and educational future of this country. If it is true that the whole of our economy is based on our agriculture, I venture to say it is also true that ultimately our social and cultural life is based on the village school. What has happened to the village in recent years in our own lifetime? One after another the cultural elements in the village have been withdrawn. The village has lost its squire. The home in which the squire used to live is now, in all probability, the home of an institution which has no relation at all to the life of the village. In many instances, unfortunately, the village has lost its parson. We had to group villages together and put one clergyman in charge, simply because of lack of manpower. The village has lost its squire and its parson and it is now to lose its teacher; almost the last element of what I might call intellectual culture is being lost to the village. I plead most strongly that we should do our utmost to preserve the village schools. I am not, of course, pleading for the retention of the vast number of schools that are entirely inadequate to our purpose, but I am pleading that every assistance should be given to those who are doing their utmost to build up village schools and make them worthy of their history. In that, of course, the Church has a large part to play.

If your Lordships will allow me, I should like to take this opportunity of saying a word about the Church and its attitude to the whole educational question. That is really the reason why I am speaking this afternoon. I have been perturbed to hear from time to time rumours from various quarters that in this year of Grace the Church, for some reason or another, has lost its interest in education. We have to remember that a century ago we were the leaders in this field: we blazed the trail for the State and made it possible for the State to take over the education of the nation as a whole. It has been said in various quarters that now the Church has given up that task it is no longer interested in education. I should like to assure your Lordships that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, those rumours are entirely unjustified. I do not believe there is a single sound basis for them. In so far as we are not doing so much for education as we did a century ago, the reason is, not that we have lost interest—our interest is as great as ever it was; it is lack of means that makes it impossible for us to do as much proportionately as we did for education a century ago.

It may interest your Lordships to cast your minds back to the situation as it existed when the 1944 and 1945 Acts were originally passed. They caught the Church in a very difficult situation. Owing to various economic changes we had lost about a round million of our annual income. At the same time, owing to inflation and the consequent fall in the value of money, our clergy were finding it more and more difficult to live, and we had to do our utmost to try to raise their stipends. At the same time, in spite of the great help given by the War Damage Commission, we were having to find a very large amount of money to supplement Exchequer grants and rebuild our demolished or half-ruined churches. All of these things came upon us at the same time, just as we were given the splendid opportunity of revising our whole educational scheme and supporting the splendid measures laid down in those Acts. We had to make up our minds what to do.

We were anxious to do as much as we possibly could, in co-operation with the State, for the education of the people. There were two divisions of our educational work: one the training colleges and the other the schools. We had to decide which should be given the priority. Rightly or wrongly, it became the authoritative policy of the Church to make sure that the training colleges were in good order; and they were given the priority. I do not want it to be understood that I say that I myself agreed, then or now, with that policy. If one thinks the teacher is far more important than the building and the total atmosphere which can be created in a school, then one would agree that the policy we adopted was the right policy. The fact remains that the policy was to make sure of the training colleges; and that, I am glad to say, we have done. At the present time the training colleges are in a little more advantageous position than they have been for many years. So far as I can see, there is no reason whatever why we cannot go forward from that, side by side with the State, in producing an adequate number of teachers, fully equipped to take their part in the educational system of the country.

What is happening about schools in the meantime? While we were giving priority to training colleges, we still had to try to maintain our schools as much as we possibly could. Some of your Lordships may remember the position at the time the 1944 Bill was brought before the country. There was a highly interesting, informative and authoritative article in The Times, in which the writer said that if the new Bill became law, it would mean that the Church of England would lose no less than 99 per cent. of its schools. That, in his view, would be the effect of the Bill if it came into law. I am happy to say that his gloomy prognostications have not been fulfilled. In spite of the fact that we were compelled to give priority to training colleges, we were still able to do something for the ordinary schools. It is my proud boast that in this particular diocese of London we have not lost one of our schools that was worth preserving; and every one is an aided school, not a controlled school. If my colleagues, the right reverend Prelates the Lord Bishops of Southwark and Blackburn, were here, I am sure they would say exactly the same for their dioceses. But in some ways we are in a dangerous position, at any rate as regards many of the rural dioceses. They were not able to do anything like so much. The position at the present time is that we have 3,500 of these schools that have aided status. But that is not nearly so good as it looks, because 1,000 of those, mostly in villages, are due for ultimate closure, unless they are brought up to standard. Those schools have aided status only for the intervening period.

It is on top of that that the new drive initiated by the Minister of Education has come. I personally should like to congratulate the Minister of Education upon the zeal and energy he is displaying in regard to this particular question. Even if we lose some of our schools, I think he is quite right to make this drive. But the position, so far as the Church is concerned, is that we have to find £5,250,000 in order to put these schools right and to get the aided status made permanent. We had expected to have between thirty and forty years in which to find that money, but, owing to the increased pace induced by the Minister's drive, we shall now have to do it in from five to six years. So it is a heavy strain on our resources, just at a time when we are trying to keep pace with all the other demands which are being made upon us. Yet I should like to assure your Lordships that we of the Church are determined to do everything we possibly can to meet what we regard as a new challenge. We are happy that it should be made, and we are determined to do our utmost to meet it. I would only plead that the Ministry should give us all the help they possibly can, realising the stringency of our position I hope that they will view our efforts with favour and realise that we are doing our utmost to co-operate with them.

I should like to take this opportunity of expressing, as officially as I can, our thanks to the Ministry, and to both the late Minister of Education and the present Minister, for the great sympathy they have shown us and the great help they have given us. I am afraid that in the case of the late Minister my thanks are a little belated; nevertheless, they are thoroughly sincere. I give them on behalf of the Church, as well as on my own behalf, and I hope she will realise that we appreciate the sympathy she showed us and the help she gave us. If we can continue to receive the same kind of help and support, then I feel certain that we shall be able to rise to the challenge that has been thrown out to us, and we shall still prove that we are not altogether unworthy of our forbears who showed such a tremendous interest in the education of the country.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in the tribute which the right reverend Prelate paid to the noble Lord who opened this discussion for giving us the opportunity this afternoon to debate this intensely interesting and important subject, and for having opened it with such an admirable speech. As one who has spent the best part of his working life in education, I am perhaps a little biased as to its importance; but I must say that I think anybody who has made an objective study of education in the great civilised communities would be forced to confess that it is in accordance with the amount of energy and economic resources that a nation is prepared to put into its education that it reaches a standard of living and prestige in the modern world. From one point of view, of course, the object of education is to make life rich and broadly-based for the individual. But from another point of view, the progress of a nation, particularly in the modern world, depends directly and entirely on the educational facilities which exist in the country in question.

I well remember just after the war one of my colleagues in the University of London, in an article in which he discussed the problems with which this country was faced in the difficult coming years of the peace, remarking that we have in this country two great assets—namely, coal and ourselves. It is a little ironic that we should have been living during recent years under shortages both in respect of coal and manpower. But when he referred to "ourselves," I think Professor Robson obviously had in mind the quality of our people, which is as high or higher than that of any other country in the world. But the quality of a tool, while of great importance, is not everything. If the tool is to do its job really well, it must be finely tempered and finely fashioned, and it is this tempering and fashioning which education enables us to carry out. Therefore, I suggest that this is really a matter of outstanding importance.

I feel that our nation has real cause for taking pride in the decision which it came to in the darkest hours of the war, through its political leaders of that time—political leaders of all Parties—when they decided to go ahead with the great, and indeed, revolutionary, legislation of the Education Act, 1944–a really great Statute. I was glad to hear the right reverend Prelate speak so well of that Act. Of course, it had to be put into operation at a particularly difficult time, when the nation was worn out with the great efforts of the war and when material resources had to be called upon for all sorts of national efforts. It was a great temptation at that time, and the Minister was strongly advised by many people in the country, to drop for the time being some of the most important parts of that great Statute. I think this country owes a great debt of gratitude to the late Miss Ellen Wilkinson for the courageous way in which she stood her ground under that pressure, especially in regard to raising the school leaving age to fifteen. That, I am convinced—and here I believe I have the support of the right reverend Prelate—is already making itself felt in greatly improved educational standards; and I think many of the leaders of industry and commerce would say that already it is beginning to be evident in the general working resources of the country.

There are a number of blemishes in the Act—it would be impossible to get an Act of Parliament which was perfect in all respects, and even if one did, it would be impossible to get it perfectly administered. There are a number of respects in which the Education Act, 1944, is perhaps not quite perfect, but even more respects in which it has not been, and is not being, perfectly administered. If, in the remainder of my speech, I draw attention to some of these matters, I hope I have made it clear at the outset that I believe the Act to be one of the finest pieces of legislation on our Statute Book, because it contains within it the possibility of a real educational advance.

Now I should like to refer to a number of the important matters which are brought out in the Minister's Report to which my noble friend's Motion refers. To some extent it will mean going over ground which he himself has traversed, but these points are of such importance that I think it is worth while dwelling upon them. The supply of teachers is obviously a fundamental matter to the whole question of education in this country, and it is gratifying to find that the supply has been remarkably well maintained over the last years. It is also gratifying to find that the proportion of married women who are now teaching in the schools is higher than it has ever been. It seems to me that a married woman has a distinctive contribution to make in the field of education. Not only has she a distinctive contribution to make but I think, in these days of small families, the handling of other children in schools can help the married woman a good deal in the training up of her own small family. Therefore, I think it is an important aspect and one which is very useful.

Despite the fact that there has been this gratifying recruitment to the profession, it has been more than offset, as my noble friend pointed out, by the still increasing number of children in the schools. There is what has sometimes been called "the bulge," which means that the classes in 1953, which are dealt with in this particular Report, were larger than ever. But it seems that we are now reaching the stage when "the bulge" will go out of the educational field—if that is not rather a mixed metaphor—and be found in the field of commerce and industry, where I am quite sure it will be much more welcome, because additional hands and brains there are clearly wanted. That situation having been reached, we shall, of course, as the then Minister indicates in her Report, be within measurable distance of getting much smaller classes; and—what I think is agreed to be the worst of all the difficulties in the educational field at the moment—the excessive size of the classes will, at any rate to a considerable degree, be mitigated.

The Report goes on to refer to the recruitment of science teachers. At the present moment, and over the next years, that will undoubtedly be one of the most important problems with which this country will be confronted. I am sorry that, on this particular matter, the Minister's Report is not at all satisfactory and not very constructive. I hope that the noble Viscount who is to reply will be able to tell us that more constructive steps are to be taken in respect of this matter. This is really an aspect of the general problem of teachers in secondary schools, which is a matter that is not brought out in this Report at all, and a matter to which. I suggest the Minister should give careful attention.

There is undoubtedly a feeling among the teachers in the secondary schools that they are being unjustly treated at the present time; that the extra amount of time for training, the extra amount of money which has to be put into their training, and the higher degrees which they have obtained, are not being adequately recognised in higher pay. They have not adequate representation on the Burnham Committee, and I am afraid that, as a result of these factors, the differentiation between teachers in primary schools and secondary schools is so slight that there is little incentive for anyone to become a teacher in a secondary school. Of course, in a perfect world one would not wish to have these differentiations at all.

In one way, teaching is just as important in a primary school as it is in a secondary school; but so long as we have differences in our social life, and so long as we have commissioned officers, as opposed to non-commissioned officers, in the Army, and in all other parts of our life, then we have to realise that a man who is doing what is regarded as a more difficult job, demanding higher qualifications, ought to receive adequate compensation. So long, as the secondary schools are served by men who have a feeling that they are not being fairly treated, and by a profession which I think is tending to shrink, there will obviously be grave danger from the point of view of getting that higher equipment which is so essential if this country is to maintain its position in the world.

The problem of the science teachers is just one aspect of this general problem of the teacher in the secondary schools. In the case of the science teacher, the schools are suffering from the intense competition from industry which has developed since the war. It is natural that industry should wish to have the advantage of the services of large numbers of scientists—indeed, if it does not have that advantage, it cannot hold its own with the other great industrial nations of the world. We surely have to adjust ourselves to that position, and see to it that arrangements are made by which the teaching of science in the schools is kept up to a sufficiently high standard, otherwise, obviously, in a very few years industry itself will be deprived of those very scientists. Because we cannot teach science properly in our schools, there will be no scientists to go into industry.

I was interested to observe in the interesting Report which Sir Samuel Gurney Dixon and his Committee have presented to the Minister, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred, that they discovered that, over the last years, some 4,000 to 5,000 boys and girls who are intellectually well qualified to take science and mathematics to a reasonably high sixth form standard in the schools are leaving before they reach the sixth form and before their scientific education has become really fruitful. If we could keep those 4,000 to 5,000 boys and girls at school, and see to it that a reasonable proportion go on afterwards to the university, surely we should be well on the way towards solving this difficult problem.

I was also interested in what the noble Lord said about the importance of the prestige of the teaching profession. I feel that there has been a quite remarkable increase in the prestige which the nation attaches to the teaching profession. I have felt that particularly as a university teacher. The Government themselves recognise that fact by sending certain outstanding teachers, particularly on the science side, to become Members of your Lordships' House, and I am sure that we shall all look forward to welcoming Professor Adrian among ourselves in a short time.

But this recognition, I am afraid, has so far been almost confined to the universities. I took particular pains to read the last New Year's Honours List fairly carefully, and although I found a good deal of recognition of the services provided to the nation by the universities in the conferment of honours upon prominent university teachers and administrators, I noticed that, coming down to the schools, the work which is done there, and which in its own way is just as important and fruitful, was hardly recognised at all. If the noble Viscount, when he replies, can point out to me what headmasters of our great schools have received in the recent Honours List knighthoods, or any other honours commensurate with the great value of the work which they do, I shall be greatly obliged to him; but I think he will not be able to find many. I would suggest to him that in future the Government should look at this aspect of the matter because the prestige of the profession is extremely important. I think that, if it stood higher, then the dribbling away of scientists from the universities, and from the schools, into business, which is so serious at the present time, might be checked, if not in fact reversed.

I move on a little from what I have been saying to the question of the technical colleges, which is dealt with in this Report. It is gratifying to find there that the very considerable financial resources which the Labour Government put into the building of new technical colleges, and into equipping them (which is referred to, I think, in Chapter 3 of this Report), is now at last beginning to come to fruition. The Minister generously draws attention to that fact. I do not wish to be polemic about it. I think it is rather a pity that the late Minister did not keep up that record, or possibly it was a decision of the Government as a whole. However that may be, in the long run it may be more to the nation's interest to put its resources in bricks and mortar into building technical colleges and schools generally than to put them into housing, although I quite appreciate that, from the point of view of winning an Election, housing may be a more valuable gambit.

It is therefore gratifying to find that the amount of building and equipment of technical colleges in the great cities represents a very substantial figure. From what I hear, that is already beginning to pay a dividend. On the other hand, it appears that there are still a considerable number of technical colleges in different parts of the country which have been unsuccessful in their applications for the additional grant which the Minister makes, simply because their equipment and buildings are not yet up to the standard required. That equipment and that standard can be reached only by placing at the disposal of those municipalities the further resources which I suggest the Government should provide, because, as the recent debate on technology in your Lordships' House made clear to all of us, this is a matter of outstanding importance from the point of view of the future industrial development of this country.

The next matter on which I should like to say a word or two—not many, because it has already been well discussed by my noble friend Lord Silkin and by the right reverend Prelate—is this question of comprehensive schools, a subject which is dealt with in rather a gingerly way in the Minister's Report. It is obviously a matter of importance. I think that, on the whole, the late Minister was undoubtedly right in saying that it should be a matter of experimentation—the noble Lord and the right reverend Prelate agreed with that point of view. Legitimate experimentation is more or less what Miss Horsbrugh says, although elsewhere she rather gave the impression that she did not want to see any comprehensive schools at all. I should have preferred to see a welcome for experimentation in the matter of these schools—with the accent on the word "experimentation." The matter is one of considerable difficulty, and it seems to me rather unfortunate that it has already showed signs of passing out of the field of reasonable argument into that of ideological warfare.

There are many people who feel that, if we are to have equality in education, the comprehensive school is essential. I can well understand, and indeed, I greatly sympathise with, the view that there should be more equality in our education than exists at the present time; but, on the other hand, egalitarianism is a very unruly horse to ride, and it may well be that, if we mount this horse, we shall not reach the objective towards which we are riding. Or, to change the metaphor, egalitarianism is a very heady wine which heats the blood a little and makes cool and calm discussion of the kind which is so essential in regard to a matter of this kind very difficult, if not impossible.

I am sorry to find that comprehensive schools seem to have become rather more than a matter of experimentation in London, because, out of twenty-seven such schools which, when this Report was issued, were either built or projected, no fewer than fifteen were built or projected for London, which is rather more, I think, than conducting an experiment. One ought not, perhaps, to put all one's money in this boat until one is rather more satisfied by the results of the experiment that it is going to be successful. I did not quite agree with the right reverend Prelate, when he spoke of the object as being to dragoon large numbers of children into a similarity of thought, and that sort of thing. I do not think that is at all the object of comprehensive schools, but a Very large institution always has its dangers, and I think principally in education. In a school of the size of these comprehensive schools it is quite impossible—at least, so it appears to me—for any headmaster to exercise the real functions of a headmaster in teaching and knowing his children.

I was interested in the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the difficulty might be overcome by having a headmaster concerned with the purely educational side and an administrative officer to look after what has undoubtedly become a very onerous administration in the larger schools. Many headmasters have complained to me for the last few years that they are ceasing to become headmasters and are becoming clerks. It may be that the suggestion made by my noble friend is a valuable one and might he explored. But, of course, one of the difficulties in the present set-up to which my noble friend referred is the fact that the headmaster has to try to discover, at about the age of eleven, whether a child ought to go to a grammar school or to a modern school. It is quite impossible for him to do it at all satisfactorily in regard to a substantial number of these children. When children once get into their modern school, it is difficult to get them back. It is true that there are certain numbers of children who are brought back from the modern schools to the grammar schools, but the Gurney Dixon Report makes A quite clear that they do not settle down half so well under this sort of process. It is disturbing for a child, having spent two or three years in a modern school, to be transferred to a grammar school, and vice versa. There is a great deal to be said for the view that, if all the children are brought together in one school, the transfers from one part of the school to another can be carried out much more easily. That, obviously, is a great argument in favour of the comprehensive school.

There are many more arguments that could be advanced, if one had time to go into the matter more thoroughly, and it would be interesting to do so. I hope that what I have said supports the views already put forward this afternoon: that the provision of comprehensive schools should be a matter of experiment over the coming years, and that we should not put all our money on the comprehensive schools until we are very much more satisfied that they are the right type of comprehensive school.

On the question of the universities, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, if I may say so, covered the ground very satisfactorily, and brought out the real difficulty of the present situation. Of course, the Minister of Education has very little to do with the universities. It is only in one particular matter that the Minister of Education is specially interested—the matter of the maintenance of scholars who go from the schools to the universities. Undoubtedly, we have made substantial progress since the war in regard to this matter. The number of students in the universities is now about double the figure it stood at before the war. It now stands at about 80,000; before the war I think it was slightly over 40,000. On the whole, I think that most university teachers would agree that that has not meant any marked lowering in the standards, which is proof, I consider, that there were a large number of boys and girls in the country in the years before the war who were well fitted intellectually to be at universities but were unable to get there. However, the State and local authorities have made a considerable contribution by providing funds on which a substantial proportion of the 80,000 students who are now at universities are enabled to attend there.

But, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, pointed out, it is altogether insufficient. In my view—and I think it is the official view of the Association of University Teachers, of which I have the honour to be an officer—everybody who is intellectually equipped to benefit from university education ought to be enabled to get to a university. At the present time, out of the 80,000 who are there, only about 10,000, or even fewer, are provided for financially by the various authorities. If one takes partial maintenance grants, of course a larger number are concerned—perhaps 15,000. However, if one takes the figure of 10,000 or 11,000, one finds that most of them are provided for by the local authorities, and not by the Minister at all.

Two points are involved here. There is the point which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, emphasised, one about which I hope the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, will be able to give us some encouragement. It is a ridiculous situation that if your income is only a little over £1,000 a year your child should not be able to benefit through a State scholarship, and if your income is £2,000 a year (which in 1955 is not a very large income, as the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, will agree), you are, in effect, ruled out altogether. £2,000 now is worth hardly more than £350 or £400 was before the First World War, in 1914, and it would have been regarded then as rather remarkable if a father with an income of £350 or £400 a year was able, or was expected, to keep two or three children at a university. Often it seems to me that the people who lay down these financial criteria are people who are still living in 1914. It is difficult to realise that an income of £2,000, which in those days was a very large income indeed, is nowadays quite small; and it is absurd to expect a man with an income of this kind to be able to keep two or three children at a university. The figure ought to be looked at again, and I hope the noble Viscount will be able to tell us that he will do something to redress this undoubted grievance.

The other point is in regard to local authorities. In this Report, the Minister refers to the circular which, in 1953, was addressed to the local authorities on this difficult problem. I am afraid that the circular itself is not altogether satisfactory, and, so far as it goes, it has not been satisfactorily implemented by the local authorities. The grants made by different local authorities up and down the country vary greatly. In some counties where, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, educational policy is generous, all the children who are equipped to go to the university are looked after, perhaps not generously but at any rate adequately. But there are many other counties where only a small proportion of the children are provided for. There are counties in which the students are driven to work during almost the whole of their vacations, because the amount of their grant is so small that they cannot keep themselves at the university; nor can they keep themselves at home during the vacation period, which, as everybody ought to know, is just as important from the point of view of reading and studying as the time actually spent in the university listening to the lectures and attending tutorials. I hope that the noble Viscount will impress upon his right honourable friend the great importance of looking more carefully into this matter of maintenance grants from the local authorities, and of doing something to help them.

I am satisfied that, on the whole, the local authorities are doing a good job of work in this matter. The interest which a local education committee can take in the boys and girls who are going up to university from their area is of considerable psychological value. But the situation is not at all satisfactory at the present time, and if the boys and girls in our country who are intellectually equipped to benefit from university education are to be enabled to go there and, when they get there, to do their work effectively, this matter must be looked into and put right. I hope that what I have said has enabled the noble Viscount to realise that there is at present among students in the universities a feeling that they are not being properly looked after in respect of this matter, and that he will be able to give us some assurance that a remedy will be forthcoming.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I have not previously addressed your Lordships on a matter of this sort, and I therefore do so with considerable diffidence; in fact, I do so only because I believe that the matter of education is of basic, fundamental and far-reaching importance. I do not pose in any way as an expert in educational matters, except that in so far as being the father of what is now looked upon as a fairly large family I am directly and indirectly concerned with the question, day by day, of education. To that extent I am interested in it, but I do not pose as an expert, and therefore I have no intention of taking up the time of your Lordships' House by going too deeply into the Report and the technical aspects of it. On the other hand, I feel that if it is accepted by your Lordships that the subject of education is of basic importance—and I believe it is—then it is surprising that there should be such a meagre attendance in your Lordships' House on a day like this, when a subject of comparative (I use the word advisedly) unimportance such as sponsored television would produce a record attendance. However, that is a matter of opinion. My own view is quite clear on the subject.

First may I draw your Lordships' attention to the part of the Report which deals with U.N.E.S.C.O. Since 1947 the United Kingdom contribution has dwindled from 14 per cent. of the assessed budget to 11 per cent.—that is on page 56 of the Report. It has dwindled by about 1 per cent. per annum. U.N.E.S.C.O. has always had what is known, I believe, as a "bad Press." I do not quite know the reason for that, but I believe it to be so. It is not an organisation which produces "news stories" or sensations; therefore, it seems that the Press are perhaps not very keen on it, and this may to some extent have antagonised public opinion in this country against U.N.E.S.C.O. From time to time one has heard stories of extravagance and high living in Paris, where the headquarters of the organisation are situated—stories which have been put about by its critics. I have had some personal knowledge over the last five or six years of the work of U.N.E.S.C.O. and I am in no doubt at all that the great majority of the people who work there are hardworking enthusiasts who are by no means overpaid when one considers the highly specialised nature of their work and the fabulous cost of living in Paris, which at the moment is very much higher than in London. Allowances are paid to combat this disadvantage but they are certainly no more than adequate. In these days, when so much depends upon the breaking down of distrust and suspicion between races and nations, U.N.E.S.C.O. seems to have much to offer, and I hope that the Minister will not allow our present proportionately rather modest contribution to drop any further.

May I turn to another part of the Report? It is clear from the figures given in Table 3 on pages 74 and 75 that the Catholic voluntary schools have, in relation to their numbers, a higher proportion of children in overlarge classes as compared with other voluntary and county schools. The figures are: county schools, 27 children per teacher; Church of England schools, 28; Catholic schools, 30, and other schools, 20. The Catholic authorities in this country are not happy about this situation. Up to the present it has been difficult to relieve the overcrowding in Catholic voluntary schools either by building necessary extensions to existing schools or by building new—chiefly secondary—schools, owing to building restrictions and to the necessity for competing with local education authorities in the annual building programmes which have to be approved by the Minister of Education. The situation may be somewhat easier in the future owing to the relaxation of some of these restrictions, but the problem of raising the necessary money for the work of modernising existing schools and establishing new schools will then become even more serious.

Except in the case of Special Agreement schools, which are limited in number, the most which Catholics may expect by way of grants out of public funds for this work is 50 per cent. of the cost, and in some cases they have to bear a larger proportion, or even the whole cost. This constitutes a very heavy burden on the Catholic minority in England and Wales, for at the moment the amount to be found is in the neighbourhood of £53 million and is rising steadily. The late Sir Michael Sadler said that education is not something unhealthy which merits a fine, but something which contributes to the health and soundness of the nation and which, therefore, surely ought to be encouraged. As the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of London, has already said, the Christian Churches have had long experience in the field of education and have therefore something vital to contribute front the purely educational point of view, as well as, of course, from other points of view. It is in the voluntary schools that the recommendations of great numbers of responsible persons and bodies, including, indeed, the Ministry of Education, are most faithfully and completely carried out; and yet it is precisely these schools which do not receive full support from public funds but whose supporters are penalised by having to contribute towards State education by way of rates and taxes in the same way as everybody else, and then, in addition, have to find the money necessary to provide their share of the cost of building and maintaining voluntary schools. This year, 1955, a period of rapidly increasing numbers starts, culminating in the peak year of 1961, or so we are informed by statisticians whom I have no reason to doubt. It is difficult to see how the Catholic community in England and Wales can continue to carry this burden indefinitely, and I would ask the Minister to review the situation sympathetically and as a matter of urgency.

Finally, in the last day or two considerable press publicity has been given to the case of Watt v. Kesteven County Council. Yesterday the Daily Telegraph gave the case their biggest top headline and the proceedings of the Court of Appeal were fully reported in The Times. Since this matter may still be referred to your Lordships' House for decision, it is perhaps inadvisable to pursue it at any length at the moment; but it appears to be a test case to determine to what extent the State is prepared to defend the rights of parents to decide where and by whom their children should be educated, and also whether the existence of a type of "Means Test" is or is not within the spirit of Section 76 of the Education Act, 1944. This case is arousing great public interest and the final outcome is awaited most anxiously by thousands of parents of all denominations up and down the country. At the moment it would be as well to say no more, but it is a case which has been fully reported and which looks like a test case, and I would assure the noble Viscount who will reply that there will be many people who will be most keenly interested in the eventual upshot of the case of Watt v. Kesteven County Council.


The noble Lord will forgive me if I say that he cannot expect me to reply while the case is before the courts.


I most willingly accede to the noble Viscount's request. My Lords, today there is an increasing tendency in some circles to decry the religious conception of education and to look upon it as outmoded by mechanical and scientific development (an angle specifically mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley), and especially by psychological techniques. I ask your Lordships' permission to quote a few words from that very well-known American writer on this subject, Mr. Walter Lippman. He says: The real reasons why nowadays men tend to reject the religious and classical heritage in education, are, firstly, because to master it requires more effort than we are prepared to compel ourselves to make; and secondly, because it creates issues too deep and too contentious to be faced with equanimity. So we have abolished the old basis because we are afraid of it—afraid to face in a modern democratic society the discipline and the deep and disconcerting issues of the nature of the Universe; of man's place in it; and of his destiny. Those words were written by a non-Catholic, but nevertheless they represent the general Catholic view regarding the tendency to discriminate to some extent against the voluntary schools—albeit to a gratifyingly less extent than unhappily was the case at one time.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, before dealing with one or two points which I wish to put to the noble Viscount who is to reply, I should like to say that I think the Report which is the subject of our debate shows in a marked degree that we are progressing fairly rapidly in the educational field. Here, in this Report, perhaps somewhat out of date at the moment, as the noble Lord who opened the discussion suggested, are items of very great interest to those of us who concern ourselves with education. And they are items which, I think, show progress. May I suggest, however, that in the future a Report of this sort might be easier to read if it did not contain—as this Report does—such masses of figures. There are, in all, 100 tables, covering over 100 pages. Whilst I congratulate those good people who have compiled them for our interest and enlightenment, I think it would greatly simplify matters if in future Reports some of these tables were curtailed.

Having had the very pleasant experience during the last year of visiting many schools, by reason of an occupation which I was at that time enjoying, I want to pay tribute to the atmosphere of the schools at the present time. I went into many of the modern schools and I found there happy, well-dressed, well-groomed children of Britain. I feel that a tribute should be paid to those responsible for the education and the care of those children in the schools on the fact that the general tone, particularly of the new schools, is remarkably high.

A matter with which I wish primarily to deal to-day is that of village schools. They are of especial importance to me as a resident in the country. The right reverend Prelate has already referred to the village school, and I want to endorse what he said, to the effect that, so far as one can see at the present time, a good deal of the basis of our social and economic life rests on the foundation of the village school. I hope, therefore, that the Government are paying particular attention to the improvement and the rebuilding of the schools in the countryside. I note that it is stated on page 2 of the Report that in 1953 £4,500,000 was spent on "minor works" in various schools. I should have found it interesting if another table had been introduced into the Report for my benefit to show how that expenditure was broken up as between village schools and city and town schools.

Part of the money, I noted, was spent not only on additional accommodation but also on improvements for sanitary and lighting purposes, and I should like to tell your Lordships of two instances which have come to my notice where improvement is certainly called for. One relates to lighting and one to sanitary matters, and I feel that these examples may interest the House as showing that there has been some lack of effort in dealing with these particular points. In the case of one village school that I know, although there is electricity in the village (and actually in the schoolmaster's house adjoining the school) the system of lighting in the village school itself dates back to the "year Nod." There is no electricity in the school. Whether or not the children are sent home on dark winter afternoons. I do not know. At any rate, it seems to me that certainly something is lacking with regard to the lighting of that establishment. At another school, in which I am particularly interested, although main water is in the village, the sanitary arrangements at the school are just as they were, probably, in the days when the great-grandparents of the children who now go to the school ware attending it as pupils. I therefore want to urge upon the Government that, in order that the village children may obtain the full benefits of what we can give them in regard to education, every possible amenity should be provided for them with respect to these very important matters.

I should like the nobles Viscount who is going to reply for the Government to deal especially with paragraphs 17 and 18 of the Report, which refer to the closing of village schools. In paragraph 17 at the top of page 9, I see it is stated that during that particular year there were fifty-five proposals for the closing of rural schools: nine related to schools which were being replaced, and thirty of the other propsals were approved, though in ten cases objections were received. I am wondering whether in any of those ten cases, or any of those thirty cases, the old schools have now been replaced by new schools, or whether the schools in those particular villages are now non-existent and the children have to go to other villages for their education. I am also wondering whether in 1954 there were again fifty-five proposals for closing schools, or whether only a lesser number were affected. I think it is important that, if we are closing rural schools at the rate of about fifty a year, we should be informed that, wherever it is possible to do so, new buildings are being erected in the neighbourhood. As the right reverend Prelate has said, it is important that part of the life of the village should be built up around the village school and the village teacher.

I wish to take up briefly two or three points with the noble Viscount. The first concerns the transport of the village child to school. It is my opinion that, for a child, a walk of two miles along a country road, backwards and forwards to and from school, is too much. If a child does not happen to reside more than two miles from the village school, then he or she—and this applies whatever the child's age, so far as I know—is not conveyed. I should like the Government to consider the question of reducing the limit of two miles. I know that it means further expense but it will be well worth while. In my view, in these days of heavy road traffic, a mile is sufficient for any village child to have to walk to school.

I notice from the Report that the price of school meals has increased from 7d. to 9d., and I believe that they cost more than that in some schools. I am perturbed somewhat by Table 88, on page l77, which shows that only 45 per cent. of children attending school stay for meals, whereas 84 per cent. enjoy the benefit of free milk. I can imagine that many of those who might otherwise have school dinner live close enough to the school to go home, and that does not apply to milk because the children are still in school when they receive it; but I wonder whether the 45 per cent. has any relation to the inability of parents to pay 9d. a day for their children's midday meals, particularly when there is more than one child in the family. I may be told that the meals might become cheaper through the operation of a means test. I am all against a means test in this matter, and I hope that some means of scaling down the cost to parents can be found.

One point which has been brought to my attention on one or two occasions—and it applies in the case of some of my own grandchildren—is the difficulty of sending children to a school of one's choice in another county. The school in the next county to which the child wishes to go may not be able to accept the child because the authority in the county in which the child lives may not be prepared to pay the cost to the other county authority. If that difficulty could be made easier, particularly in regard to boarding accommodation, it would be of great benefit to many parents who, for some special reason, desire to send their children to a school in another county. The school at which I was educated, and at which my own son was also educated, is in another county. How I can send my grandchildren to that school at the present moment I do not know. The regulations seem to be far too rigid; perhaps county authorities are too much concerned with the transfer of money from one authority to another. I notice from a circular which is referred to in paragraph 49, on page 15 of the Report, that in certain instances counties pool their expenditure, but I am not quite sure whether that is done in the case which I have in mind. This is a matter which has been brought to my attention on one or two occasions by other parents.

I am interested in a grammar school, of which I am a governor, which was taken over by the county authority some eight years ago. To some extent we lost our status as a grammar school. We had an endowment income, and we have been waiting for eight years for a new scheme under which we could operate that income. I make this point because eight years is a long time to wait for a scheme which I think might well have been produced in half the time. If the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, wishes to have any information privately about this school, I shall be glad to pass it on to him. I think it is time that we should be able to operate a new scheme for our endowments. I want to finish as I started, by saying that I think the education of our country is making progress. I hope that the time will come when we can give every child a good primary education, a good secondary or grammar school education and a good university education.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, I almost feel that I should apologise for raising a matter, about which I hope to detain your Lordships for only a few moments, but I am not apologetic. The matter is so poignant that I think it should be considered by Her Majesty's Government. From the report under consideration, we find that there are 182 blind children who are waiting for places in the primary schools. That sounds a very small number, compared with the number of places which are filled by ordinary children, but those of us who concern ourselves with the handicapped child, particularly those of us who are interested in blind welfare work, find that this problem is fraught with tragedy. It is a curious problem and one which I think the Government should consider very carefully.

During the few years before the outbreak of war in 1939, we were happy to find that a number of elementary schools for the blind became redundant, thanks to the methods which were used for preventing ophthalmia neonatorium. Many schools were closed, some in London and some in the Provinces, so that by the time the war broke out the blind school population more or less coincided with the provision made for those children. Then suddenly, in 1942, a new disease was discovered—retrolental fibroplasia. I am happy to say that the ophthalmologist research workers, who have given such devoted and self-sacrificing service to the problems of blindness, have succeeded in defeating this disease. Only to-day I was assured that this disease has been practically wiped out.

But although the disease has had a very short run, it has created quite a worry amongst the educationists for the blind. There is now not only a "bulge" in the education system of this country among ordinary primary school population, but also among the school population of the blind; and a "bulge" which is calculated to exercise our minds for the next eight years. This "bulge" has nothing whatever to do with the other problem, but is one peculiar to itself. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me for a few moments so that I may make this matter clear to the noble Viscount who is to reply. I am sure that the Minister of Education and the Minister of Health are fully aware of the circumstances.

I, as a man, cannot conceive how women can go on having miscarriages, year after year, and not go out of their minds—it is a tribute to their tenacity and strength that they are able to bear this. Then it was suddenly discovered by medical science, through investigation and research work, that many of the premature and under-weight babies could be kept alive by the liberal administration of strong doses of oxygen. What has happened? By a cruel irony and paradox, this administration of oxygen to these under-weight, premature babies, which should have brought such joy to the mothers, suddenly turns against them: it was found that a high proportion of these children became blind through this new disease, retrolental fibroplasia. I have been interested for many years in the statistics, and it was found that the incidence of blindness among the newly-born went up to seven times or eight times as many as before the invention of the latest research in medicine. That is a cruel irony. Now we have, in the Sunshine Homes, which are so admirably run, by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, over 53 per cent. of the children suffering from this disease. But that is not the whole story, because a large number of blind children do not go to Sunshine Homes. What I wish to know is whether the Ministry are giving this matter sufficient thought so as to facilitate entrance to the primary schools.

It may well be that this matter is considered unimportant, but I take the view that no case of human suffering is unimportant. I also strongly take the view that any handicapped child who can be, should be made independent and put into a position to earn its own livelihood and take its share in the life of the country. Every help to these children is a great advantage both to the country and to those generous people who are prepared quite freely to contribute grants and pensions to the handicapped; but what is still more important is that these children will become happier men and women if they are properly educated. I am concerned with the fact that probably a number of these children will not be able to find access to education and so become, so far as possible, fully grown, happy men and women, able to contribute their quota to the general pool and effort of this country. I should be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, if he could give us some assurance on this point; that none of these children will be neglected, and that they will receive the education which is commensurate with their needs.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London covered the ground which, had he not spoken, I should, very feebly, have tried to cover. I want to join with him in paying tribute to the Minister of Education and the county and other authorities for the co-operation and help which they have given to the Church at every point. It has been a remarkable thing in the last five or six years to see in a country district of Warwickshire the closest cooperation, at every point in the care of these schools, between the Church authorities and the county authorities, working side by side. I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Wise, on one point. We did not know whether we should be able to keep any of these schools or not; but we have now had an indication of what we can keep and have received from the Minister the word "Go." In my diocese we got an architect straight away; we have a list of the schools, and by March we shall have produced a scheme. On that point we shall co-operate with the Minister in his new drive. I should also like to say that nothing has aroused more popular feeling in the whole countryside in Warwickshire than the new interest shown by the Minister in the village schools: it touches the heart of the village people.

As to village schools, I would ask one question, which is a personal point, before I come to the wider issues rightly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I will take an illustration of one school in a small country hamlet which was designed by Gilbert Scott. It is in the churchyard. I go into that school, and it is the most beautiful school that I have seen, in perfect surroundings and setting. They tell me that it is to be closed and that the authorities are to build a school half a mile up the road. They also say that the village must produce £10,000 or lose the school. I then say that the vicar will offer an acre of the vicarage for nothing. But still the answer is that the school is going to be moved. Fortunately, the Minister intervenes, and we keep the school.

However, the question I want to ask—and it is a serious point—is this. The school now becomes controlled. There it stands, in the actual churchyard, next to a superb mediaeval church. For centuries, the children have gone into the church, quite naturally, and worshipped there once a week. Under the controlled system at the moment, the vicar and the schoolmaster, both devout churchpeople, are not allowed to take their children the twenty yards across to worship in the church. If the Minister could meet that point it would make a great deal of difference to the feeling of the country pastor. The essential point is that in children brought up in the Christian faith in a school there must be this element of loyalty and attachment to the Church.

I would also emphasise that in the controlled schools we get 97 to 100 per cent. of the parents all opting for full Church teaching, the Wesleyans and Nonconformists sharing that request. That is a point which I ask should be specially considered, knowing what a difference it would make to the whole attitude of the country clergy.


What is the question, because I want to answer it if I can?


In a controlled school, the teacher can teach the Christian faith and the parson can go into that school; but he may not take the children across to the church. That hurts people more than anything else, and I would commend it as very important. I am asking whether the Government will consider it.

Next, I wish to pay a tribute to the opening speaker's wise handling and approach to this subject. I would join with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London in what he said about the infant schools. I have been in and out of infant schools, and they are superbly taught. So far as I can see, we have teachers of great ability and we have wide interests of music and the arts running right through the junior schools. The real problem which we have to face is the problem of the secondary modern school, where we are beginning the education from the age of ten to sixteen years, and we have not considered what we are seeking to do. What are we going to do for the children in that ten to sixteen years age group, when there is no examination objective before them? Are we planning our education on a wide liberal basis of culture, English literature and the arts? If so, we should be training a new type of teacher in the new technique of dealing with the senior modern school, and there should be a new approach to education for the great bulk of our children.

The comprehensive school, in a place like Coventry, has the drive for social equality behind it; but as an educationist, and a "hard-bitten" one, I would take up the mover's point about the numbers in a school. He says that Dulwich has 1,500, Manchester Grammar, 2,000, Eton, 1,200 and so on. There are men of immense ability to run those schools: they can demand a large skilled staff, and they can decentralise. But in a comprehensive school the staff have to follow a curriculum, and there is not that kind of genius required to synchronise that; nor can one rely upon the ability of the staff to see it through in the way that Manchester Grammar, which has the ability available, can do.

I want to raise the question of the intelligence test, because I know that all schoolmasters are very troubled about the nature of that test. The intelligence test, as at present formulated, would rule out a large number of leading industrial men of immense ability and drive. It would also rule out all people of artistic ability—the painter, the musician and the sensitive person, as well as the men of vitality. The danger is that all these people are going to be ruled out. We shall have the universities turning out good scientists and civil servants, but the people of personality and sensitiveness will be left out. That, I know, is felt by everybody engaged in education.

Now I want to raise, very seriously, what I regard as the basic problem which we have to consider in this country—and here I would say that I speak with the support of all schoolmasters in Coventry, of all clergy, and of many trade unionists and industrialists. The whole problem is this. You take infinite trouble in these schools over the education of the children until fifteen or sixteen. Then at the age of fifteen or sixteen you suddenly push them into a great factory—a great mass mind of tremendous weight. Within a fortnight, the whole of the school traditions, the love of the teacher and the interest in things intellectual, are all gone—they are absorbed into this mass mind. The problem is: how can this transition be effected so as to make the last years at school of such a nature that they give the child personality or insight? How far is it possible to arrange the last year at school to prepare the child to go into the factory? How far is it possible to co-operate with the big factories to ensure that, when the children go into the factory, they have a month or two months in which they are, so to speak, harnessed into the idea of the factory and looked after daring the transition period? There is no more important thing.

The transition from school to factory is a tremendous moral problem. We see the results of all our teaching gone in a fortnight. In a place like Coventry, these young people go into the factory at 7.30; they are out at 4.30; they are home at 5.30 and a large proportion of them spend four evenings a week in the technical college. That is not fair to the young people. It involves a tremendous strain and a lot of energy and vitality. Under the Fisher Act a local authority was allowed to establish a whole-time school of post-school education. In Rugby they set up a most remarkable school, run by a genius; and there everybody, whether in a factory or domestic service, from Monday to Friday, year after year, for four or five years, can spend a whole day a week in an atmosphere of liberal education. They can take domestic science, mathematics, the arts, or drama; they have a whole day free from the tremendous impact of the factory, and are kept in touch with what they have begun to learn at school. What is more, it adds to the adult education in those vital years between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one, when the person is growing. This matter concerns not just one city but the mass of our people who go into great factories all over the country. We train them, and we see all the results of our efforts disappear.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords, I must express my appreciation to my noble friend Lord Silk in for initiating this debate, and for his wise and informative speech. No one concerned with the future of education can read the report under consideration with an unqualified degree of satisfaction. It recounts many unfortunate features for which the late Minister has been blamed, fairly or unfairly—in my judgment, quite unfairly. The Report places on record proposals in regard to teachers' superannuation, proposals which aroused such deep anger and resentment that the powerful Conservative Back Bench 1922 Committee, we understand, went into action.


I would not know about that.


The Report also mentions an attempt to limit the amount spent on adult education. I understand that the Trades Union Congress General Council protested in regard to that proposal to the Prime Minister, who intervened personally to hold up, at any rate, the proposed cuts.

Running through the Report there seems to be a feeling of complacency and a lack of any sense of urgency. It is difficult, indeed, to understand why so many important provisions of the 1944 Act have not yet been fully implemented. Further, the Ministry of Education witnesses before the Select Committee on Estimates agreed that the problem of old schools throughout the country was so enormous that they could not measure it, nor did they appear to have any up-to-date information, although that information could readily have been obtained from the local authorities. These black-listed schools are still in full use to-day, but, assuming that some of them are situated in rural areas, as I am sure they are, one is bound to welcome the recent circular of the new Minister of Health which will enable local authorities to tackle rural organisation and make a start on the great task of bringing up to date—or if not up to date, at least to a reasonable standard—old and dilapidated school premises. I readily admit that this is an important step forward to the implementation of the 1944 Act. I am bound, however, to mention, as did my noble friend, Lord Wise, the increase in the cost of school meals; and, as the Report makes clear, the number of pupils now taking school meals has fallen by a quarter of a million. Surely it is not too much to suggest that a mid-day meal, taken under decent conditions, quite apart from the nutritive value of the meal itself, is a great educational and civilising influence of the utmost value to the life of the school.

Again, as has already been emphasised, it is a matter of regret that in July, 1953, of the number of pupils in maintained primary and secondary schools, no less than 48.1 per cent. were taught in classes which exceeded the prescribed maxima of thirty and forty per class, an increase, small I agree, over the proportion in the preceding year. No one can be satisfied or complacent when nearly one half of the pupils in these schools are in classes of that character. This, of course, leads us to the problems in connection with the supply of teachers. I have been informed that the shortage of teachers in some areas is so acute that women are engaged to teach who have had no training whatever for the task. The shortage of teaching staff admittedly is a problem of great difficulty, but I would suggest that one of the reasons why that shortage exists is that at the present time the financial assistance available to students who are training as teachers is grossly inadequate, and the variation from one area to another, as my noble friend Lord Wise mentioned, is quite unjustifiable.

Why, therefore, in view of the urgent importance of this problem, is there not a new approach and a scheme put into operation which would secure proper financial assistance for students who are training as teachers, just as there is proper financial assistance for students who are proceeding to the universities to train for other professions? I am advised that a parent with a given income is required to contribute two or three times as much if his son trains as a teacher as he would have to contribute if his son went to a university. I readily admit that substantial advances in the provision of opportunities for boys of ability have been made to enable them to proceed to the universities, but surely it is wrong to treat teachers in training as some kind of poor relation to higher education. Surely the country needs teachers not only adequate in quantity but adequate in quality, and that cannot be secured unless there is proper financial provision and aid available to those who seek to train as teachers, in the same way as there must be available financial help to those who seek to train as doctors or lawyers or for other professions for which the university provides the preliminary training.

To treat those training for teachers in any other way is simply a "hang-over" from the old days when education in the public elementary schools was looked upon as something to be provided as cheaply as possible. Why have we forgotten, or do we appear to have forgotten, the wise words in the McNair Report which I venture to recall to your Lordships' minds? This is what the Report says: It is as important for the teacher to be well educated as it is for the doctor or lawyer. He who would educate must himself be educated. But this does not mean that there is one thing called 'education,' and another and inferior thing called 'training.' It is true that this conception of training held sway during the greater part of the 19th century. The teachers of the 'children of the poor' were not expected to be, and for the most part were not, educated persons. Training was, therefore, regarded as some process which had to be applied to young people so that, by conducting the narrow instruction required of them, they should be able to hold their own in the schools. But practices arising from the social and educational conditions of the 19th century are proving increasingly unsuitable to those of the present time. Training is no longer a matter of giving the intellectually undernourished some 'tricks of the trade'; it is the enlightenment of reasonably cultured young people about the principles underlying their profession which, incidentally, includes much more than teaching. I repeat, why, in the financial and other administrative arrangements, have we apparently neglected those very wise words?

May I now say just a word or two in regard to medical inspection in the schools? This Report, together with the Report of the Chief Medical Officer of Health of the Ministry of Education, just recently made available, reveals a mass of illness, ill-health and suffering among schoolchildren. Looking behind the official statistics, it requires no vivid imagination to see these children reaching adult age, crippled, handicapped and living twisted and stunted lives. No praise is too high for the work which is being done by the school medical authorities, often under most difficult conditions; but I would most urgently recommend the noble Viscount to look at the words in the Report of the Medical Officer on the urgent necessity for bringing about a closer and better working relationship between the local authorities and the regional hospital boards, in particular so far as schoolchildren are concerned.

In this connection the Report of the Chief Medical Officer includes an interesting and practical suggestion made in 1952 by Dr. Cowan, the Medical Officer for Essex. This is what he said: A regional survey of the child health services available jointly between the Regional Hospital Board and local authorities within the Region could be undertaken with advantage. Such a survey would enable an assessment to be made of all resources available in health and disease; would indicate the steps required to make the best possible use of these resources; and assist in the formulation of joint plans for future development. If the preventative and clinical services are to be developed side by side, if the professional staffs engaged in child health at home, in the school and in the hospital are to be used with the maximum regard for economy in manpower, and if the children are to derive the maximum benefit from all phases of the National Health Service, joint assessment of resources and activities is imperative and joint planning is essential. That recommendation was made in 1952, and as it is included in the Report before us, I assume that no action has yet been taken. I would urge Her Majesty's Government to give careful consideration to the recommendation.

My Lords, I hope that I shall be forgiven if, finally, I quote some words written some years ago by that great teacher and philosopher, Professor A. N. Whitehead. He said this: When one considers in its length and in its breadth the importance of this question of the education of a nation's young, the broken lives, the defeated hopes, the national failures, which result from the…inertia with which it is treated, it is difficult to restrain within oneself a savage rage. In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute: the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed. Not all your heroism, not all your social charm, not all your wit, not all your victories on land or at sea, can move back the finger of fate. Though written thirty years ago those words sill have for us a warning. Yesterday we heard a good deal about Oxford, as Matthew Arnold says, the city breathing from its spires the last enchantment of the Middle Ages. Yesterday, however, it did not appear to be the home of lost causes. But, important as Oxford is in our national life, I suggest to your Lordships that it is upon the education and calibre of the boys and girls from our secondary and technical schools that, in the long run, the future of this country will depend.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to take part briefly in this debate, not because I am an educationist as some noble Lords who have spoken—I can make no claim to any such distinction—but because I have been for some little time a governor of one of the five experimental semi-comprehensive schools in London, and I am a member of an educational authority which has a very wide range in educational responsibility. I am sure your Lordships will agree that all the speeches to which we have listened in the course of this debate have been conspicuous for their objective attitude to the problems of educational policy, and for their lack of any sort of political prejudice or preconception. I hope to continue the discussion in the same vein.

The only aspect of educational policy I wish to discuss is the desirability or otherwise of comprehensive schools—a subject which was touched on, although I think fairly lightly, by my noble friends Lord Silkin and Lord Chorley, and by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Coventry. I have often been rather disagreeably surprised by the extent to which this educational innovation has been bedevilled by Party politics. It is a great pity that impartial consideration of this matter should be prejudiced by issues of Party policy, and that such issues are so frequently made dividing lines between the supporters and the opponents of the comprehensive principle. Obviously, the only valid criterion of its worth is the educational criterion—not a political one.

What I think the public have to decide, both in the towns and in the countryside—and of course the position will vary according to the particular circumstances of different districts—is whether a single comprehensive school will give the young a better opportunity than the three types of school, technical, modern and grammar, generally available at secondary level. This political bias prevents an objective answer to this question and turns the comprehensive principle into a sort of dogma or doctrine. This is an extremely harmful attitude of mind. After all, the value of comprehensive schools will depend on their results, and cannot be accurately assessed until they are functioning as schools and we have had an opportunity to see how they work. Dogmatic opposition makes it very difficult for local authorities, in the early stages, to give these schools a fair trial.

We are now in a better position than we hitherto have been to make at any rate a preliminary estimate and a provisional judgment of the value of these schools, due to the excellent survey of fourteen schools of this type made last year by Mr. Pedley, copies of which a number of noble Lords have doubtless already seen. Nevertheless, I do not think we are yet able to form a final judgment: for this we must wait a number of years until more comprehensive schools have been opened in London and other large cities. The evidence of this preliminary survey does, however, show that some of the main objections voiced against these schools are unfounded, and that some of the principal claims of their supporters have already been realised on a small scale.

I will take first the two main objections. It has often been said that comprehensive schools will be too large, and that their size and impersonality will mean a loss of personal contact and personal relationships between the staff, particularly the headmaster or the headmistress, and the children. Of the fourteen comprehensive schools examined by Mr. Pedley, three had 500 pupils or less, and the largest had a school roll of only 1,254; therefore none had reached 1,500-pupil level, which many people appear to regard as the minimum size for a comprehensive school. It is therefore a complete misconception to suppose that comprehensive schools are necessarily larger than the average school which caters at the present time for secondary education. I hesitate to say this when the right reverend Prelate is not here, but noble Lords who were present will agree, I believe, that he made the assumption that comprehensive schools must necessarily be very large organisations.

I do not want to burke the issue. I share the view of educationists that the advantages of the comprehensive school cannot be realised save in large schools of more than 1,000 pupils. I believe that this order of magnitude is essential for the variety of curriculum and teaching which enables children in these schools to follow their natural bent. But, to my mind, the disadvantage of numbers (and clearly there are disadvantages in a school of this size) is more than compensated for by the educational benefits which numbers alone can bring. If I may make a personal reference, I myself attended a secondary school of more than 1,000 pupils which is still regarded as one of the best of its kind, and I am quite sure that I might have become a highly intelligent child had I not been more interested in the pursuit of leather balls of varying shapes and sizes: it was my fault for not taking full advantage of the opportunities I was then given.

A second and more serious objection to comprehensive schools is that the academic standards of grammar and technical schools will be lowered, and that the bright children required for responsible posts in the professions, in business and in industry will in this way be severely penalised. One of the most interesting features of Mr. Pedley's survey is his evidence about academic distinctions obtained by pupils at comprehensive schools. He shows that the number of distinctions obtained, such as university scholarships or school certificates, is just as large, proportionately to the number of children in the school, as the number of distinctions obtained at an average grammar school. From this it obviously follows that the standard of teaching in the sixth form cannot be inferior to the standard of teaching in a grammar school. Mr. Pedley's evidence is borne out by our experience here in London. We have found that academic standards in the five experimental semi-comprehensive schools to which I have referred have not been lowered as a result of the merging of a number of secondary schools into a single comprehensive school.

My noble friend Lord Silkin mentioned the principal arguments in favour of the comprehensive type of school. I believe that the most important is that they offer a better educational opportunity to a very large number of children. At the moment the child's whole future is determined by examination at the age of eleven years. I believe that opponents of comprehensive schools would readily agree that this is grossly unfair, because it is quite impossible to tell at that age what are a child's real aptitudes and capacities. Again, we have, in this survey of the fourteen comprehensive schools, the interesting evidence that there were children in each of these fourteen schools who would not have won a grammar school place at the age of eleven had they entered for examination in the ordinary way but who, at a later stage, did well in academic subjects.

Conversely, it has been estimated that about one-third of the children admitted to grammar schools later on turn out to be not of the bookish class, so that there is this terrible wastage both ways. Children who are not bookish get into the grammar schools because they happen to be good examinees at the age of eleven, and children who later on become bookish fail to get to grammar schools because they have not succeeded in examination at that, age. There are, therefore, thousands of children every year whose future is being entirely stultified because they are not getting the secondary education for which they are fitted. That is a very solemn thought. Surely the primary purpose of the comprehensive school, whether or not it successfully achieves that purpose, is to put an end to premature selection. My noble friend did not touch upon another argument which is well worth considering, that segregation is bad for the character and that children are more likely to make good citizens if they spend their school life in the company of other children representing a comprehensive cross-section of the community. I am convinced that segregation is undesirable, whether it is based on intelligence or on wealth. This argument applies equally to the public schools and to the grammar schools.

On the subject of the public school, I agree with my noble friend Lord Silkin that the topic is of such importance that it should be dealt with quite separately and on another occasion. The time is overdue for all Parties in the State to consider how the public schools can be diluted with a large number of pupils from our local authority schools. If that were done rightly and sensibly, those schools could become part of our system of public education—as they should be—without losing their character or their traditions

Looking to the future, and to the increasing difficulties which parents will have to face in covering the cost of public school education, I believe that change of this kind is essential for the survival of our public schools. It is as essential for their survival as it is for the good moral health of the children who go there. Segregation of clever children from less clever or dull children is just as undesirable as separate schools for the children of the well-to-do. By mixing children of different abilities during these vital years of their school life the comprehensive school is trying to contribute to the lessening of class differences and to the unity of the nation.

The plea that I should like to make to the Government, and to parents and teachers, is to give these schools a fair chance. I entirely agree with Lord Silkin that it is essential that they should be given a fair trial. But they will not get a fair chance, of course, if in every case the neighbouring grammar school decides to stand out. I feel that people should search their consciences and should ask themselves whether, in fact, they have an open mind; whether their approach to the comprehensive school is that of a person with an open mind. So far as the Government are concerned, I should like to know whether they are neutral in this matter, or whether they are willing to support the local authorities. After all, the local authorities deserve to be supported for any effort they may make to improve the present secondary system and to remove the worst of its admitted defects. I shall be most grateful to the noble Viscount if, when he comes to reply, he will tell us what is the attitude of the Government towards this interesting and important new feature of our educational system—whether it is for or against, or merely neutral.

5 42 p.m.


My Lords, not for the first time this House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for having put forward a Motion to draw your Lordships' attention to an important part of public work. In spite of the fact that he chooses to sit on the Benches opposite, he has done it in such a manner that I think no one could for a moment have accused him of having been partisan on a subject which, indeed, ought to be quite free from the divisions of Party politics. Why should I venture to address your Lordships' House upon this? I have but two qualifications. I am the Chancellor of a University and, as your Lordships know, an eleven-plus test is made for that sort of position. I am also chairman of a somewhat distinguished grammar school, whose numbers the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Coventry rather exaggerated—but they are over 1,300, and therefore they do afford some slight experience of a large school. But the real reason I am speaking on this subject has nothing to do with that; the fact is that I am replying for my right honourable friend, the Minister of Education. He has been much interested in this debate beforehand, and has charged me with some appreciation of his views.

It is a very long time, a strangely long time, since this House discussed an educational matter of such tremendous importance. Perhaps that is because in these days it is a subject upon which, politically, we are not as divided as, unfortunately, we were in my younger days. It is a subject which, of course, preeminently should stand above politics. The Report of which the noble Lord spoke is indeed a large and comprehensive document. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Wise, objects to the number of figures which it contains. I must say that in spite of his objection he seemed to me to be using the figures for his own purposes very considerably. Lord Wise has now left the Chamber, and I am afraid I shall not be able to answer all the detailed questions which he put to me about what was happening in his particular district; but I am sure that if he would notify the Minister of the difficulties which he is apparently experiencing, the Minister would be very glad to help him. I can assure the House that my right honourable friend will take much notice, and detailed notice, of what has been said in the House to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Burden, need not have any fear that the Government is suffering from complacency on the subject of education. I do not think for a moment that he ever supposed we were; but that is one of the things one has to say about the Party opposite just to "keep the party going."

I am going to bore your Lordships for a few minutes, if you do not mind, because I must speak a little for the record. The problem of education is not just a problem of having views: as your Lordships know, it is a problem of the most detailed administration covering the whole of the country, and, as several of your Lordships have pointed out, covering village life as well as the lives of the great cities. The authorities which have been concerned with education have had a very practical and a very difficult problem before them during the last few years. The growth of school population since the war has caused them great difficulties, and I am sure your Lordships will agree with me in wishing to pay a tribute to that most important body in our public life, the ladies and gentlemen who give their services as members of education committees and who have been striving to deal with this problem. The school population was 5 million in January, 1947; five years later it was nearly 5¾ million, and it is now near to the 6½ million mark. I have some most interesting charts here. It is a great pity that the practice of this House does not allow the modern form of illustration by graphs, which would make it a little easier to show these things. As I say, the population is now near the 6½ million mark. The peak figure of 6¾ million will be reached by 1958–59. After that, so far as prophetic statistics can be relied upon, the total should drop back to 6 million by 1967. Those are the figures. That is the overall problem that education committees throughout the country and the Ministers here and in Scotland have been confronted with.


Does that include all children attending private schools and public schools?


That is the total.


Are those United Kingdom figures?


Those are the total United Kingdom figures. Within the totals, the figures for secondary schools are only now at the beginning of the long climb which will bring the total from about 2 million a year ago to a peak of 2¾ million by the end of 1960.

The House will want to know how these movements in school population are being matched by new places. From the end of the war up to 1951, 640,000 new places had been provided. By October, 1953, the figure had risen to nearly 1¼ million. By that date 1,350 new primary and 280 new secondary schools had been completed. About 730 new schools were occupied in each of the years 1952 and 1953. From now on the emphasis will have to shift towards the secondary schools, and this is reflected in the figures for secondary school places. Of these, 200,000 were in preparation last October, against 178,000 in the previous year. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for quoting these figures, but I think they are necessary to give some picture of the size of the problem with which education committees and the Ministry have been confronted. Let me add at once that the quoting of statistics is always something at which one looks carefully. These figures give only a general guide to progress and prospects. Distribution—let us face it—has been uneven, and there will not be additional accommodation at every school where more children are admitted.

May I say a word about the size of classes, which is a problem which arises out of this remarkable growth in the size of the school population? I agree with the noble Lords who have spoken on this subject that in the end the size of class must be some index of the competency of the school, or of the class, to give the teaching that is desired. I think I could convince your Lordships that in terms of averages the position is not unsatisfactory. It is well to note these figures. For the primary schools, the average rose slightly from 30.5 in 1950 to 31.6 in 1954; for secondary schools the average dropped slightly in the same period from 21.6 to 20.6. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made a special point of this, and let me say at once that averages do not tell the whole story. It is right that I should make reference to the regrettably large number of classes in which the numbers are much higher than the average. In 1952, classes containing more than 40 children rose from 35,000 to 40,000; but during 1954 the rise was much less rapid, only about 400. The number of classes with more than 50 children is now, I am told, beginning to fall. It is not easy to say what is going to happen during the next two years. Much will depend on the policy of the authorities and how far teachers (if I may use the expression) "move with the bulge"—move from one sort of school to another. But there seems every prospect that the primary school position, at any rate, will considerably improve, and I should like to pass this information on to the primary school teachers, who have had a very difficult task to fulfil during the last half dozen years and who, I think, will be glad to know that the position shows every sign of giving them a better chance of doing their jobs in future.

I am following the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, rather carefully in my reply, and I now turn to the problem of eleven-plus selection. I am bound to say that probably here we suffer a little from the language. People do not understand what it means—I do not wonder—and they get a little alarmed about it. When those of us who fortunately are old enough not to have been subjected to these tests at an early age look back on ourselves at the age of eleven-plus, we wonder what would have happened to us if we had been so tested. I shudder to think. The problem of trying to select children is not a new one. In the past the main attention was given to trying to find out the brilliant children and seeing that they got a good run and had every opportunity of benefiting by the way in which nature had so happily endowed them. They were sent in for the limited number of scholarship places and they got scholarships and did fairly well. Looking at some of the bright boys of our own childhood, one must admit that they have turned out to be not quite so bright when they moved into the full competition of adult life, although they were very good at passing examinations. But that is not the spirit of the times. Nowadays we are anxious not only to find out where the bright boys are, but to see that all children get the right kind of secondary education. We are trying to find out on this much wider scale what is the best sort of education to give to children.

There is no problem with the extremes of ability. If a boy is obviously not going to take to education, one does not have to worry much about him. If he is a bright boy, it is obvious that he is going on to the university, and one does not have to worry much about him either. But there is a great block of children in between these extremes. In that middle group the imponderables make selection a rather chancy affair. (I am sure that my noble friend Lord Windlesham will forgive me for not going into a question in this connection which may come before the House in its other capacity.) There is a great deal of prejudice in this matter, too. After all, if one's child is not selected at the age of eleven-plus for the higher form of secondary education, one feels it as somewhat of a reflection on oneself, and it is reasonable, therefore, that there should be a certain amount of prejudice. But no one has suggested a better plan. I can tell the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Coventry, that I have been through this. I thought I would try it and see what it was like.


Do I take it that the noble Viscount is saying that the comprehensive principle is not a better plan?


I will deal with the comprehensive principle in a moment, and I must be careful when I deal with it. It is another plan. I am not going to say whether it is a better plan or not because probably, like the noble Earl, I do not know. Perhaps experience is required before one can come to a conclusion about these mental tests. One point I want to make, and which I do not think has been made sufficiently by any noble Lord in this debate, is this. I understand that the education authorities are not, in fact, dependent for their ultimate decision upon this mechanical test; they are combining it with knowledge from the headmaster about the nature of the child. I thought that some of the criticism was a little harsh on that subject.

Then, of course, the child in the modern school who, in the opinion of the headmaster or the teachers, ought to have gone to the grammar school, may have that opportunity at the age of thirteen, fifteen or later. But I am not for a moment attempting to mislead your Lordships on the subject. Your Lordships inquired, and I inquired, to what extent this has happened, and the answer is somewhere between 1 and 3 per cent. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, frowns. It may be that the test is so good that it is only in these rare cases that it is necessary for adjustment to be made; or, of course, there may be another explanation. There I propose to leave it. But about this I am sure, and the Minister agrees: that the remedy before us, from the point of view of administration, is to make sure that no child's course is irrevocably set at this age of eleven-plus. There must be no freezing in administration where children's lives, their future and their education are concerned. On that issue I think your Lordships can rely upon it that the Minister will take every care to encourage education authorities. One of your Lordships—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Wise, but I speak from memory—gave an instance of one education committee that had been doing this, and he seemed to think that it was quite exceptional and praiseworthy. I feel that they were just doing their job, and it seems to me that every education committee might well have done the same thing. The Minister fully accepts the need for more flexible arrangements permitting transfers between types of schools, and his policy is to urge upon all authorities the need to ensure that selection at the age of eleven-plus does not act as a final determination of a child's secondary education. Those are precise words, and I hope that they will satisfy your Lordships.

Let me now turn to the subject of comprehensive schools and assure the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that we are not going to bedevil this subject with politics. I want to be careful, and I am going to read what I have to say here. The words are the words of the Minister. My right honourable friend is making a thorough examination of the whole secondary school problem. He has said that the Government will not allow the existing grammar schools, with their fine tradition and record of service, to be abolished. We cannot calculate the extent of the loss which would be suffered if the grammar schools were absorbed into comprehensive schools. On the other hand, my right honourable friend believes that secondary modern schools will earn for themselves a reputation in their own right, and he is greatly impressed with the work which is already being done in this largely experimental field. And there is clearly an important future for secondary technical schools. Since some three quarters of a million more secondary school places are planned to be built within the next five or six years, there is obviously room for a variety of experiments in the organisation of secondary education, and we look forward to gaining much valuable experience from the different patterns of secondary education which way emerge. Those are the words of the Minister. If I may add my own words, they are: Let experiment proceed.

I do not want to occupy your Lordships' time unduly. There have been interesting discussions on the question of the age at which children leave school, but perhaps I need not go into that now. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, raised the question of juvenile delinquency, as I thought with a somewhat pessimistic reflection on the result of education; and the right reverend Prelate spoke about that, too. I have had this information given to me. The number of boys and girls under seventeen years of age found guilty of indictable offences in 1953 was 38,690. There is no great satisfaction to be had from that figure, but in fact it represents 14 per cent. less than in 1952, and 18 per cent. less than in 1951. There are no figures yet available for 1954, but I am told that there is every indication that that downward trend is continuing. We shall all be very glad if that is so.

I want to take up one or two points made by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, always moves us when he speaks. I wonder whether this information will give him some satisfaction. I can assure him that the Government are deeply concerned about the problems that he raised, and are knowledgeable about them. In all, 376 new places have been provided for blind and partially-sighted children in seven new boarding schools. In January, 1954, there were altogether in England and Wales fifty-two day and boarding schools for such children providing places for 2,888 pupils. A further boarding school for 168 blind children is being constructed under the 1954–55 programme; while a further day school for partially, sighted children, for 75 pupils, is being included in the programme for the following year. I hope that these figures which have been sent to me will assure the noble Lord that we are concerned about this matter.


May I intervene? Whilst I am grateful for the figures that have been given—if the noble Viscount is not aware of this the Ministry certainly are—may I say that the mixing of partially-sighted children and blind children in these schools is much to be deplored, and has been deplored for a great many years. I hope than that will not occur.


I was not aware of that, but I am sure the Minister will take note of what the noble Lord has said. If I may just occupy your Lordships' time for a little longer, there are one or two things I should like to say. First, I was asked a difficult question—I think by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who has sent his apologies for having had to leave to catch a plane—on the subject of religious education. I do not think I had better go into that, unless I may do it in a purely personal capacity and express my own profound belief in such education.

The problem which I put before your Lordships at the beginning of my remarks with regard to the large numbers of new pupils and new schools is, of course, entirety dependent for its success on the fact that we are able to get the teachers for them. There, I think we are fortunate in that at present there is a reasonable balance between the numbers if we look at the picture as a whole. Your Lordships will notice that I have repeatedly recognised that in particular localities there may be certain problems which do not work out according to the average, but the total supply of teachers went up by 6,000 in 1953, and is going up, apparently, the whole time.

There is, however, one problem that is much exercising those of us who are concerned with schools, and that is the problem of getting a sufficient supply of science teachers. This is a matter which is going to be of the greatest importance. When we look at what is going to happen to the life of this country—assuming that the scientists leave us with any life—it is obvious that industry will be dependent more and more upon the application of scientific processes. Your Lordships have given those of us who are particularly concerned in the subject great support by the interest you have shown in technological education.

The Government are pledged to consider development in technological education. What does that mean? It means the education of people in scientific work in the higher reaches. But shall we get the students coming along? We can get students only if we can get the teachers. I think the students will be forthcoming, and there is a happy prospect ahead, both for those who feel they have a vocation for teaching (and it is fortunate for this country that so many people have this high vocation for teaching) and for those who feel that they would like to go into the industrial field. But we shall not be able to develop our technological education—we shall not be able to get the industrial development which this country should look forward to—unless we can get a proper supply of teachers, of men and women of high quality who can take the sixth form in the advanced work that sixth forms in these days practise. The problem is one which I am at liberty to say is engaging the anxious attention of the Government. We must find some means whereby we can, I hope without any detriment to any other branch of learning, persuade people to qualify as teachers of science. That, I think, is one of the problems that is causing deep concern to education committees, to the governors of independent schools and, indeed, to the universities.

I have occupied your Lordships for a long time, as I think was inevitable in a debate of this importance, but there is one question that I have not answered; and I can only say, in the language that is so common to Ministers making replies to questions, that it is occupying the earnest attention of the Government. That is the extraordinary new problem that has arisen of enabling people to go to universities. In the earlier days, all the effort was put into enabling the children of poor parents to go to the universities. Now the position is that we are talking about enabling children of parents with £2,000 or £3,000 a year to go to the universities. That shows what an extraordinary depreciation in the value of money has taken place. That is a problem with which we are much concerned.

The right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of London, drew my attention to the importance of rural schools and village life. Since my right honourable friend took office as Minister of Education he has demonstrated to the country that he, being himself a country man, is profoundly conscious of the importance of rural schools and has every intention of doing what he can to help in their development and their preservation.

I am grateful to Lord Silkin for having raised this issue. I am grateful to noble Lords opposite who have given such sympathetic consideration to the way in which the Government are trying to solve the problem. I hope that any noble Lords to whom I have inadvertently not replied will forgive me for the apparent discourtesy of having neglected them.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the House will not wish to prolong this debate. I think it has been a good debate and we are grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, for his reply. The noble Viscount is so disarming that one feels very happy when one listens to him. Unfortunately, when one goes away and reads what he has said, or what he thinks about the matter, one finds that his reply does not look quite so good as it sounded at the time.


The noble Lord has not read it yet.


But I have had experience. The noble Viscount has given us the usual assurances that certain matters which have been raised here will be considered in all sincerity by the Minister. That is all that we on this side, or any of us who raise any points, can possibly expect. The Minister is not here; he cannot speak for himself. If we are satisfied that, as a result of this debate, some of the really burning problems that we put forward will be given sympathetic consideration, and that we may look forward to an early effort to resolve these difficulties, then we can feel not only that the debate has been justified but that we have achieved something.

I do not want to go into these various problems again, but I have a feeling that the noble Viscount himself recognised them as real problems. It may be possible to prod the noble Viscount within a reasonable time to find out what has been the result of that consideration. He has given us many figures. I confess that I have not digested them yet, but I will have a look at them and see what they mean. I personally am very grateful to him for these charts. I do not know of any way in which these charts can be incorporated in Hansard; probably there is not, but they would be very useful. It is rather interesting to find that, whereas the noble Viscount has forecast what the school population will be right up to 1967–


I did not say "will be."


Yes, on this chart.




On this chart it goes right up to 1967.


I am too good a statistician, if the noble Lord will forgive my saying so, to say "will be" about figures: "might be"—"probably will be."


"Probably will be"—I accept that—in 1967. The last thing I want to do is to score a false point from the noble Viscount. He has only been able to say what the number of new school places will probably be up to 1956. One is as problematic as the other. I wish the noble Viscount could have done the same thing with the new school places as he has done with the child population. Then we should have been able to equate the one with the other; but he has not done that.

There are only two other things I want to say—they are relatively small points. I was not making a big point about child delinquency. I was regretting that it still exists on a substantial scale. I fully accept that the number of indictable offences has declined in the last two or three years. I do not know what is the position about the non-indictable offences (they are far more numerous, but I am perfectly willing to believe that they too, have gone down), but it is a reflection on our system of education that there should be even 30,000 or 40,000 indictable offences among young people every year. It is something to which we have to give attention. The Motion is: To call attention to the Report of the Ministry of Education for 1953. I have done that; therefore, my task has been fulfilled. The Motion added: and to move for Papers. We have even had some papers placed before us. However, in accordance with the usual procedure of this House, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.