HL Deb 12 July 1955 vol 193 cc607-64

3.20 p.m.

LORD SILKIN rose to draw attention to the need for fresh consideration of the character of the education provided in primary schools, and to the conditions prevailing in such schools; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is ten years since the Education Act, 1944, came into operation. Children who started school on the appointed day are now, at the age of fifteen, about to leave, and they will have spent the whole of their educational life with the benefits of the 1944 Act. As noble Lords who took part in its passage will remember, this Act was passed with high hopes and in a spirit of idealism. It was passed during the war; it was itself an act of faith, and everyone who participated in it believed that it marked the introduction of a new era in education—it was even described as a revolution in education and one of the great landmarks in the history of education comparable with the Acts of 1870 and 1902. I think, therefore, that the time has come when we might inquire how it has worked out, to what extent the visions and the ideals that were felt at the time have been realised, and what is there still left to do.

To deal with this problem completely is impossible in the course of a debate such as ours, and it was for that reason that, in putting down this Motion, I decided to confine myself, broadly speaking, to primary education. We did, in fact, have a debate some months ago—I think it was a good debate—on higher education. But there is another reason for restricting the debate to primary education: namely, that the ages of five to eleven are, in the opinion of most people, the most important in a child's educational life—they are described as the formative years. It is therefore important in considering primary education to make up our minds as to its purpose. Here I am prepared to accept the language which was used in the White Paper on Educational Reconstruction which was published in 1943 and was a prelude to the Bill itself. This is what it said: Our aim should be the fostering of the potentialities of children at an age when their minds are nimble and receptive, their curiosity strong, their imagination fertile and their spirits high. I think that that is an excellent definition of what should be our purpose. But, greatly daring, I would venture to put this same language in my own words and say that it is to lay the foundations for equipping a child to lead a happy and useful life, both as an individual and as a member of society, bringing out to the fullest extent particular talents, capabilities and personality; and to instil in him the idea of consideration for others, and tolerance. I do not think that the two definitions are very different in substance although they are in form.

I should like to consider what progress we have made towards this ideal under two main headings: first, from the point of view of what I may describe as the ordinary stock-in-trade of education, such as school buildings, teachers, equipment and so on—all the paraphernalia attached to education which seems, unfortunately, to arouse far more controversy than the content of education itself, which I think is a great pity. Then I should like to deal with the more intangible questions, such as the effect of the examination at the age of eleven; the democratisation of our schools; and the relationship of the public primary schools to the independent school. Finally, I should like to discuss how far our children are being prepared to face the kind of world in which they will be living in the next generation and thereafter.

Now let me say a word about school buildings. May I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, who is to reply, that I do not propose to draw any comparison with the number of schools which were built by one Party as against the number built by another; I hope we can keep this debate on a somewhat higher level than that. I am prepared to concede that a great many fine school buildings have been built since the war by both Parties, and I do not know by which in particular. Going round the country and seeing these new primary schools, we find that the majority of them are schools of which we can be really proud. One could hope that some of them would be a little less permanent in character. I remember a school I used to visit for the purpose of distributing prizes. It was, I was told, a show place in the year 1889, to which visitors from abroad were constantly taken in order to show them the progress of education; but to-day it is one of the 500 schools on the black list. I think that is a fate which we ought to try to avoid for some of our modern schools. By and large, I have no criticism to make of the new schools which have been erected since the war; I think we can feel proud of them. But there are still a large number of schools where education cannot properly be carried out. I do not want to exaggerate the importance of buildings as such; I am prepared to concede that good education can be carried on in bad buildings. Some noble Lords who are present this afternoon may say that they were educated in extremely bad buildings and have survived. I would only say that their education might, if possible, have been better if it had been undertaken in better buildings. I do not think that that is an argument for bad buildings.

Recently, in the Daily Express of June 27 and 28, there were articles in which these bad buildings were discussed. In one heading they were called: Schools! Call them Scandals. Then, as a sub-heading, there appeared these words: I have seen children in places that were a disgrace even when their fathers were young. Well, coming from the Daily Express (which is always most accurate), I would say that that is a fair criticism of a great many of the schools that are still in existence to-day. But I realise that there are difficulties about pulling down schools at the present time, one of which is that in the years 1944–48 there was a steep rise in the birth rate, with the result that children are to-day attending primary schools in far greater numbers than could have been contemplated. Those children are gradually passing through those schools. The child born in 1944 is only eleven or eleven-plus, and is about to enter the secondary school, thus creating a problem there; but the children born after 1948 are still going through the primary schools. I do not know the exact number, but on account of the higher birth rate in those years there are some 700,000 to 1 million more children at the schools than we should otherwise have. It is a problem which any Government would have had to face, and I am not criticising this Government for having been unable to face the problem of the "bulge." In five years' time it will be solving itself in the primary schools; but then there will be the further problem of the secondary schools. Nevertheless, I beg of the noble Viscount to notify his right honourable friend that the existence of the schools still on the black list, and many others, is a disgrace to our educational system, and they should, so far as possible, be removed as quickly as possible.

An even greater difficulty is the size of classes. I could put up with a very bad building if classes were sufficiently numerous and of a size to enable small groups to be formed; but half the children attending primary schools in this country are being taught in classes of more than forty. There is nothing sacrosanct about that number, and in my view forty children is too great a number for one class. Yet that is the standard which the Ministry of Education has set for itself as something at which we ought to aim for the time being. In secondary schools the figure is thirty. I should have thought it more appropriate to have smaller numbers in primary schools than in secondary schools; but we have not even reached the objective which the Ministry has set itself, forty children to a class, for half of our children are still being educated in classes of more than fifty.

I believe that there has been an improvement in the number of teachers. I should like to be quite satisfied that there has been an equal improvement in their quality, but I do not know. I cannot think that two years' training is adequate. The education authorities are themselves anxious that the training period should be increased to three years, and, if that were possible, I should certainly think that it would be most desirable. There is a further difficulty of which the noble Viscount may not know although the Minister certainly does: when teachers have been trained there is great reluctance on their part to go to certain parts of the country, particularly areas like the Black Country.

In 1946 the Ministry of Health had to face the problem that doctors were not prepared to go to certain unpopular areas. Every doctor was willing to go to practise in Bournemouth, but few were willing to go to Stepney. The problem of the doctors was solved by virtually licensing them and taking powers not to permit them to practise in certain areas which were already over-provided. Whether such a scheme is possible with teachers I do not know. The teachers' organisations have suggested that there should be special regional grants for teachers who have to teach in these undesirable areas. I am not necessarily advocating that proposal, but we cannot just ignore the problem. Children in the Black Country, or any other area of that kind, are just as much in need of efficient education as children in any other area and they ought not to be penalised twice over, once by having to live in an area which is not desirable, and secondly, by not getting equal educational opportunities with other children.

Turning next to equipment, furniture and books, I do not know whether any noble Lords have ever tried to sit in a classroom at the desks which children have to use. A big child, let alone a big Peer, cannot even get comfortably into the desks, some of which are now fifty, sixty or seventy years old; and we have to remember that the average child of to-day is much bigger, taller and heavier than the child of the time when the desks were first made, and therefore requires more space. Yet in many cases there has been no attempt to cater for the bigger child, with the result that very often children are being taught in conditions of considerable discomfort, as I remember in my own case. This question of furniture is important. Then, every teacher will tell you that they are short of textbooks. It is a question of money; but it is difficult to teach without adequate textbooks, stationery and other things. I hope that we shall not allow considerations of economy to prevent children from getting the necessary supply of textbooks.

Under our educational system I suppose it is inevitable that standards of education should be extremely uneven, for they depend upon the enthusiasm and skill of the local education authority; but they also depend even more on its wealth, and it seems wrong that a child living in an area where the rateable value is low should be penalised as against the child living in a wealthier area. The opportunities that are open to a child living in London, Surrey or Middlesex are incomparably better than those open to children living in some poorer counties. I do not want to mention any particular county, but it is a fact that there is far more variety in the type of schools and better education as between different areas. Under the Burnham Award, teachers are better-paid in London, though, admittedly, the cost of living is higher. Not only is the pay better, but there is higher status for teachers teaching in London and the large towns than in some other places. The result is that we are getting extreme unevenness in the quality of our education.

I do not want to impose uniformity upon our educational system, for that would be quite wrong. A system lives as a result of experiment and variety, which vitalise it. Nevertheless, there ought to be at least a minimum standard of education, and in some cases, I regret to say, that does not exist. I have no ready answer to the problem. It may lie in providing more money for the local education authorities who are poor and have not the necessary money available out of their own resources. It may, perhaps, mean that education should be national, just as health has become national. We would not attempt to penalise our population in the poorer areas by providing them with inferior medical services simply because they are poor. Nobody would dream of going back to those days. A solution to this problem may lie in providing education nationally and of an even standard, making provision, of course, for variety, experiment and all the things which help to keep education going. Or it may be that generally we are not spending enough money. We are to-day spending very little more proportionately, than we were before the war. The share of public expenditure on education is in about the same proportion of the national income as it was before the war. It may be that we ought to afford a little more.

I admit there is a good deal of private expenditure on education, and so there was before the war. One of the things that many of us had hoped for as an outcome of the 1944 Act was that our education would be democratised. We pride ourselves on being a democracy—a model for the whole world—and yet from the very beginning of the education of our children, those children are divided into two classes, a class for the poor and a class for the better off. It is true that to some extent, to a very gradually increasing extent, possibly due to financial stringency, some parents are now sending their children to the public primary schools who formerly used to send them to private schools. But it is, nevertheless, a fact that there are two streams of education one starting at the primary school and going to the secondary modern or even to the grammar school, and the other starting at the private independent school and going up to the public school. Eventually, perhaps, the streams meet at the university. Even so—and I do not want to widen the scope of the discussion—the bulk of the well-to-do tend to go to Oxford and Cambridge, while the other universities are to a much greater degree universities for the less well-off. I do not want to develop that point, but the fact is that we are one of the few countries which has this "two-stream" education. In America it is taken for granted that the child of the millionaire and the child of the ordinary worker will attend the same school, if they are living in the same area. The noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, shakes his head. I can shake mine.


I have taught in America at a private school.


I do not suggest that there are no private schools. But it is a fact—I am sure if 'the noble Earl has taught in a private school he will know that what I am saying has a good deal of truth in it.


There is a measure of truth in what the noble Lord says.


Once the noble Earl concedes that, I am content. We will not argue about the exact measure. I do not think that the American child of wealthy parents is any the worse as the result of attending a school with other children who are less well-off. And socially, what a good thing it is that children should have the opportunity of learning to understand one another; that children of all classes should have contact with one another from the earliest possible age! I recognise that this segregation which exists at the present time is, perhaps, understandable. Every parent wants to do his best for his Child, and until we have brought our primary education up to such a level that a parent will fed content to let his child go to a primary school, I suppose we must accept that private education will continue. But I hope that questions of snobbery will be entirely eliminated. It is not a bad thing, it is a good thing, that children of all classes should mix together and get to understand one another. We are having a debate to-morrow on a totally different subject—that of industrial strife. I am not going to take part in that debate, but I believe that a good deal of industrial strife arises because of this segregation of the classes, because people do riot really understand one another and do not appreciate each other's point of view. I think that matters would be helped enormously if children could be induced to go to the same school and get the same kind of education. But the education must be of the best. Until the education given at the primary school is as good as that given at the best independent school we are not likely to achieve this.

One of the evils that flow from segregation is the extreme competition that takes place for children from the primary school to get into the grammar school. So we have the evil of the eleven-plus examination. That is a matter which has been discussed in this House before, and I do riot wish to enlarge upon it to-day. But I think that every noble Lord is conscious of the undesirability of having such an examination. I should like on this question to quote once more from the White Paper of 1943 on Educational Reconstruction. This is what is there stated: There is nothing to be said in favour of a system which subjects children at the age of eleven to the strain of a competitive examination on which, not only their future schooling, but their future careers may depend. That is put in language which we can all accept, and those are the words of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and of my right honourable friend Mr. Chuter Ede. Unfortunately, nothing has been done in these tell years to deal with this problem. I am not going to pretend that it is an easy problem with which to deal. When one contemplates the different types of schools, one admits that there must be some method of selection. What I deplore is that a child should be induced to believe that its whole fate, its whole future, depends upon this selection. If a child fails in this examination it is doomed for all time.


Not quite.


It is, unless it gets another chance at a later age. This is one of the questions which I had put down to ask the noble Viscount. How many children actually switch over at a later stage from one type of school to another? I should like to ask the noble Viscount whether it is two-way traffic or whether it is one-way traffic. That is to say after a child is found unsuitable for grammar school education at the age of thirteen, in how many cases does such a child get a transfer to a secondary modern or technical school? I think the real solution is what was contemplated by the framers of the Bill: that there should be what was called at that time "parity of esteem" between different streams of education. We were not to regard grammar school education as necessarily for all purposes superior to any other. Technical education was to be regarded as equally important; so was the secondary modern school. Unfortunately, we have not created that psychology, and at the present time the grammar school is regarded as the Mecca of all children, and if they fail to get there there is great danger of their regarding themselves as inferior beings who have failed in life. I hope it will be possible to encourage this parity of esteem as between different types of education.

One of the methods of securing this was the comprehensive school. I am not going to develop arguments in favour of the comprehensive school to-day, but it was a genuine attempt to solve this particular problem of the eleven-plus examination. But it is in the experimental stage, and, moreover, it is not suitable for all areas. Furthermore, there are recognised difficulties and objections. I should like to see how the thing works. The comprehensive school is not the only method of solving this problem—for a problem it is. There may be other ways, and I should like the Government and everyone concerned with education to see whether they cannot get over this awful business of the eleven-plus examination. All our efforts, sacrifices and heavy expenditure on education will be largely wasted unless we have a clear vision of our objective. Is it merely to teach children to read and write—and that not very effectively, as we know from the experience of recruits for military service? Is it merely to teach children to take part in the eleven-plus examination? Surely education must be something wider and broader than that. I have given my own general view at the beginning of my remarks. The type of education we provide for our children must be conditioned by the kind of world in which our children and grandchildren will be living. I should like to devote the remainder of my speech to trying to visualise that kind of world and to seeing how we can provide the right kind of education to fit them into that kind of world.

First of all, I assume that we shall be at peace—if not, all my remarks will be, unhappily, irrelevant. But, assuming that, I would ask the House to travel ahead with me. The first thing that stands out is that the normal expectation of life will be longer. I think we can see that before our eyes. All sorts of things have happened to prevent and to arrest disease, and to make life longer. In the field of science we have arrived at what is known as automation, a word which will become more and more commonplace in our vocabulary, and nuclear energy. There have been a great many articles in the Press on these subjects recently, and the developments which are forecast in the very near future are stupendous. In last Sunday's Sunday Times there was an article by Sir George Thomson, the Master of Corpus Christi, Cambridge. Among the things which he regards as reasonably imminent is that we shall be able to travel to America in an hour—about the time one has to allow to get from here to Liverpool Street Station by car at the present time—I gather that the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, doubts that. I must leave him to argue that out with Sir George Thomson.


I merely said that I did not want to travel to America in an hour.


The noble Viscount will want to: if he has a choice between a plane to New York that takes four hours and one that takes one hour, he will take the plane that takes one hour; and so will everybody else. It will be some comfort to the noble Viscount that Sir George Thomson does not contemplate that we should be able to travel faster than one hour; he thinks that is about the limit. But that is only an example. We are rapidly entering what I may describe as a new scientific revolution. There will be vast increases in the production of wealth, and consequently higher incomes, which I very much hope will be not for the few but will appear as a higher standard of living generally. There will be much greater facilities for travel. Already people are travelling abroad more and more, but with the inevitable reduction in fares brought about by the development of nuclear energy, there is no doubt that the world as a whole will become the recreation ground of the ordinary people of this country. We shall have more international contacts, and I hope that we shall become more internationally minded.

Above all—and perhaps this is the greatest problem we shall have to face—the world's work will be carried out in far less time. A great many people will become redundant, according to normal standards, and I imagine that a four-day week and a six-hour day will become the accepted thing. In the days before the Industrial Revolution it was just as difficult to visualise a five or a five and a half day week of forty-four hours as the normal thing as it is for us to-day to visualise what will be coming in the new scientific era. There is no doubt that there will be a great saving of time and a greater amount of leisure. Finally, the general public will require a much higher skill, The adoption of automation will necessitate much higher skill than is required for merely minding machines. The question is: how we can prepare our children for the new conditions in which they are going to live? Ought not our education to be directed to this question above all?

I consider that one of the most important things to which we ought to direct ourselves is instilling in our children a greater interest in cultural activities, and a greater desire to take part in them. For over thirty years we have had concerts, given originally by Sir Robert and Lady Mayer, at which young children were taught musical appreciation. They have done an immense amount of good. These concerts, which began in the Central Hall, Westminster (some are now taking place at the Royal Festival Hall, on the South Bank) are being taken up by local authorities all over the coun- try; but, unfortunately, even now there are not enough of them and they are not followed up. I do not know whether your Lordships' House is a musical Chamber, but most people say about music, "I do not understand music, but I know what I like"—by which they mean that they do not know why they like it. The teaching of musical appreciation is essential for the understanding of music. It is the same thing with painting and the arts and literature. In my view, it is most important for our children to appreciate the vast heritage of culture which we possess, not only in this country but all over the world, and which will be open to them. We must not encourage children to use their leisure merely in letting life pass by on the television or in any other place where they can watch other people doing things. We must inspire our children to do things for themselves.

My Lords, I have indulged in a little fancy, but I think it is essential that we should all do this in order to be clear what should be the purpose of our education to-day. We have a great opportunity and a great responsibility. If we fail to rise to that opportunity and responsibility we shall have nobody to blame but ourselves; but if we succeed we shall be the privileged nation to have done more to introduce the Golden Age than any previous generation in the world's history. I beg to move for Papers.

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, we shall all recognise the immense importance of the matters which the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, has put before the House to-day. It so happens that I have had the good fortune for the last seventeen years or so to spend a good deal of my time in close touch with the teaching profession, with those who train members of the teaching profession, and latterly, in the last few years, with the local education authority. The noble Lord expressed some doubt and anxiety as to whether, in the years that have intervened since the Education Act became law, we have fulfilled all the expectations even as far as we might. I thought it worth while to take a little evidence as to what actually had been done in this sphere of primary education in the area with which I am naturally best acquainted. We are greatly favoured in Bristol with a lively and progressive authority, and certainly with first-rate schools. It is interesting to note in actual fact what has been achieved in these last nine years.

The total number of children of primary school age has advanced from just over 33,000 to well over 44,000, an increase of 33 per cent.; and there has been a large movement of population from old, slum or mixed areas to our new housing estate. In spite of that increase, the authority have succeeded in reducing the size of classes in primary schools, on the average, from 41 to 36. We are not yet down to 30, but we are well below 40. They have introduced over 650 new primary classes, which is an increase of 52 per cent. on the numbers existing in 1946. In the matter of buildings, they have built 31 new primary departments, housing over 10,000 children, and they hope in the next two years to add another 14, housing another 4,400. Alongside that progress there has been considerable development in secondary and further education. I submit that that is a notable record; and it indicates that, where the authorities are really alive to their responsibilities, and to the possibilities of the situation, considerable advance can be made and is being made.

I would now turn for a moment to some of the more general points made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. On the question of the size of classes, I imagine that all of us who know anything about the internal working of a school would agree with him in saying that the size of classes is almost the most significant point of all. I well remember about ten years ago speaking on the same platform as the then President of the National Union of Teachers. I took my courage in both hands and asked him to say whether, if the teaching profession had been offered on one plate a reduction of classes to 30 and, on the other, all the advantages that were offered them in the 1944 Act, which he thought they would have chosen. I think, for reasons of policy, he felt unable to give a direct reply to the question, but the smile on his face indicated clearly which way his mind was working. There is no shadow of doubt that the noble Lord is right in saying that that is the thing which teachers themselves would most greatly desire; and everything that makes it possible for reform in that direction to proceed, and to proceed quickly, will be welcomed—and, may I say, by no one more cordially than the Church.

On the question of buildings, I suppose that some of us who contemplate the palatial structures which we see arising around us in every new housing estate must wonder a little whether they are sometimes just a shade out of scale with the homes from which the children come and the homes in which they are going to spend the rest of their lives. I confess that some of those being built in our part of the world, mostly apparently of glass or aluminium, do not look like outlasting their time as some of the barracks in South London one used to know have outlasted theirs. But anyone who knows the inside of them must rejoice that children can spend these years in surroundings so delightful and healthy, and so encouraging to an adventurous and active spirit.

Again, on one of the points made by the noble Lord (and I have noticed this particularly in infants' schools, rather than in primary schools), all the old furniture is being swept away, and attractive little chairs and tables, with play space, are being provided. I know full well that on this matter of buildings the Church must stand in a white sheet. Many of the schools on the black list are our schools, and your Lordships know that the task of the Church in meeting this demand for the provision of really new and up-to-date schools is a difficult one. Until recently it was due to one particular problem, which was well-expressed in an editorial in Education of July last year. Here is the situation as described there: A new school is included in the Development Plan. The Church authorities have the money and the site, but because they have an old building which still serves as a school they cannot go ahead. In the meantime, the children are expected to live, move and have their being in premises which no civilised nation should tolerate … either good money is spent on bad buildings: or else the schools are allowed to rot and decay … the dilemma of the voluntary schools is easy to understand. Their resources are limited: they are reluctant to follow a blatantly uneconomic policy with their property just because there has been a limit fixed to school building. Now that that difficulty has been removed by the Minister's new expansion and development in country schools, the Church finds itself faced with a different problem: that of finding in something like seven years, instead of forty, the sum of £5 million for putting into order all those country schools. We are tackling this problem as well as we can; the Church Commissioners, the Central Board of Finance and the Schools Council are seeing how we can face that. But we from our side would again cordially reinforce what the noble Lord has said: that if we are to give our children the kind of education that they should have, they must be housed in proper quarters.

But there is one further point, if I may detain your Lordships for a moment more, and that is the question of teachers. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, did refer to them, but he did not say perhaps quite so much about them as I might have expected. He said he knew that the quantity was increasing, and he hoped that the quality was improving. From my own personal knowledge, as I have been for the last seventeen years in charge of the Council which governs our twenty-four Church training colleges, which send out every year into the schools of the nation some 2,000 men and women, I should say without hesitation that I think the quality of the recruits is improving. I well recall a story told by a friend who was lecturing at a course for youth leaders, to which a number of young people had come from various sources. During an interval after one of his lectures, he turned:o a girl and said, "What are you doing?" "Well," she said, "as a matter of fact I am a teacher, but I am so glad you did not notice it." When members of an ancient and honourable profession are glad not to be recognised as what they are, there is something radically wrong with the esteem in which public opinion holds that profession. Nothing is more needed than is, I think, happening—the steadily increasing recognition of what we owe to the teaching profession and to the quality of people whom we must seek to recruit.

Again, if I may speak for a moment for the Church, here we have really tried to tackle our responsibility. I suppose that by the end of another two years we shall have found, with the help of the State, of course, £:3 million for putting our twenty-four Church training colleges into order. I think anyone who knows them—and I see sitting near me some- one who knows them well—will feel that they now rank worthily alongside any institutions for the training of teachers. We realise that it is not simply a question of the buildings in which the teachers-to-be are housed, but the spirit in which they are being trained.

I should like to add one comment about the closing remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, as to the kind of world into which our children are going, and the kind of training which they must have if they are to be able to face that world. He painted what is, to those of us who are rapidly reaching the age of senility, a terrifying picture of reaching America in an hour, and all the other wonders of civilisation which will then threaten us. Surely, what children need, if they are to keep their feet and their heads in the kind of world in which we shall have to live, or they will have to live, is some kind of stabilising influence which will give them a real grasp of moral principle, some real interior reasons, and something to set against this world of speed. It is because I believe that an increasing number of our teachers are themselves becoming much more conscious of that aspect of their responsibility in the training of children that I, so far as my limited experience goes, look forward with a good deal of optimism and faith to the next stage of development of our educational system.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, may I try to earn a good mark from the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, by telling him that every one of my own four children attended village schools for a term or two, at any rate, and that I should have been delighted to keep them there longer had those schools been of a better quality and higher educational standard. I do not think that the most democratic man in the world would blame me for giving my children the best education I could afford, even at the expense of a truly democratic educational system. With regard to America, I think the noble Lord has chosen the wrong example. There was an old tradition that all American citizens went to the little red school-house. I think it does apply in the Middle West, but on the eastern coast of America there is a tendency for private schools to increase and for the richer children to be sent to them. If the noble Lord wants to give an example, may I provide him with a better—one that of Switzerland. There, children, I believe with very few exceptions, go to the cantonal schools, which are very good indeed; and there they have a really democratic educational system which the noble Lord might do well to study.

I am glad that the noble Lord has made such an interesting contribution and has dealt not merely with the finance of education, which is a rather wearying subject, but with its content. There is certainly little reason for complacency, as the noble Lord has said. As I came up in the train, I read in The Times an account of how the Army is now teaching simple addition and subtraction to its recruits by means of drill. I have no doubt that it is a good idea and that it is necessary. I sometimes wonder whether the Secretary of State for War has rung up the Minister of Education and asked how much longer he is going to do the Minister of Education's work for him. There is something seriously wrong when we find young men, who have had all the advantages of the 1944 Act, still coming into the Army unable to add and subtract. As for their literacy, while I do not want to go into any statistics about that, I know how difficult it was in the Army to find men who could read and write fast enough to make a signaller. A good many of them could read and write, but very slowly.

Then there is another subject—moral education and formation of character. I also read this in the Daily Mail in the train: A sixteen-year old girl told Brentford Juvenile Court yesterday that she was often drunk, came home in the early hours of the morning and that most of her friends were in prison. I think the Home Secretary might perhaps ring up the Minister of Education and ask him whether this girl, with her friends who have spent so long under the influence of our educational system, did not represent something of a failure of that system.

As regards the material conditions in primary schools, let me say at once that I am very conscious that the Catholic schools are among the worst of the blacklisted ones. Unlike the right reverend Prelate, I stand in no sort of white sheet about it. Those schools were built with the pennies of the poor in the slums, at a time when a penny meant a very big sacrifice indeed. I realise that they have to come down. When the rubble and the dust flies, I think anybody who knows anything about the building of those schools will take off his hat as a gesture of respect to those who built them. Come down they must. We are most anxious, and could not be more anxious, to rebuild them and rebuild the best schools that we can. We are longing for the opportunities to do so. Until recently, even minor school building projects were restricted to the sum of £7,500. Now we are allowed to build what are called minor projects up to the value of £10,000. That has been a help.

The 1953 Act, though it did not give us what we thought we were entitled to, has nevertheless been a substantial help. I am anxious to pay tribute to the cordial way in which the Ministry of Education have worked with Catholics so far as the Act allows. We are now very anxious for some local education authorities to show a little more liberality in making room for us in their programmes, especially in new housing estates. We have a great need to build our schools there and we hope for a more liberal treatment in that respect from some local education authorities. Many are still inclined to think in terms of "our schools" and "their schools." Those are not terms really applicable to the situation. There is great pressure on Catholic schools at the moment, as a result of the immigration into this country of something like 750,000 Irish men and women since the end of the war. There has also been the Polish community whom we have taken into this country.

When I told a friend that I was going to mention that immigration as one of the factors affecting our educational position relevant to this debate, I was told: "Their Lordships will not see any reason for educating Irish immigrants." I believe that to be untrue. This country needed more labour than our own people could provide. Our full employment, to which we owe our comparatively good economic position to-day, demanded more labour. Where should we get that labour from, if not from Ireland? Who have staffed our hospitals but Irish girls, who have been the most devoted nurses? Naturally that has increased the pressure on Catholic schools and will continue increasing that pressure more and more in future. It is, therefore, getting more urgent that we should rebuild better and bigger schools for the larger number of children for whom we are bound to cater and for whom we alone can cater. Let us remember that if these children, who have not got hereditary roots in this country, are to be made into good citizens, then we, who have a common background of faith, should have the best chance of success. Therefore we ask for sympathetic consideration by your Lordships of the problems with which we are faced. I am quite sure that we shall receive it.

Also I ask for some consideration to be given to our financial achievement since the war. We are not a rich community and we ate not a numerous community. In the last ten years we have spent £11 million on schools. That is something in which we can take a modest pride, but it is nothing to the task that faces us. We have to find something like £66 million, not reckoning the interest on the money which we shall have to borrow for our schools programme. Taking interest into consideration, my community is thinking in terms of making itself responsible in the long run for £100 million, How we are going to do it I do not know. I should have felt rather more comfortable a few years ago about the fulfilment of that programme, but there have been certain restrictions on one of our sources of income. I hardly dare mention it, but we did run football pools, and most unfortunately these pools have met with the disapproval of our separated brethren and we are not allowed to run them on quite such a large scale as we did. Consequently we find ourselves in greater difficulties than ever; but we face that problem and we face it with courage, if not with full confidence. We believe that by struggling on as we are at present we shall at least receive that degree of sympathy which the British public have never withheld from a courageous, and I might say a sporting, effort to play our part in the community's affairs.

As regards both the buildings and the content of education, I believe that we shall come in time to play our part, a great and important part, in the national system of education of which we are very proud indeed. We believe that our teachers, who are as well trained in our training colleges as is any body of teachers, will not be behind others in improving their methods of approach. Therefore I regard the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin with the greatest sympathy on every ground, and I am grateful to him for having introduced it.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I very much hope that your Lordships' House will riot think me too tiresome if I again raise the matter about which I spoke at the last debate on February 9. Since then, I have been trying to elucidate certain facts. I have had a correspondence wit h the noble Viscount, Lord Wool-ton, and with the Minister of Education. All through this correspondence I have not been able to have the points that I had in mind, and which I think I clearly designated, elucidated. This correspondence has gone on from February 9 until my final letter, in which I said that I was not satisfied and should have to raise the matter again, on May 3—that is, nearly three months later. If the noble Viscount or the Minister had done as I had asked, I. should not have been compelled to make this speech this afternoon. I very much regret it.

The point that I raised on February 9 was the fact that, according to the Report on Education, there were a number of educable, physically handicapped children who apparently were riot provided for in the educational system. I con-lined myself to the blind mainly because I did not want any confusion in these figures. I know that the Ministry are often quite capable of lumping together the blind children and the partially blind children, two categories which have to be treated entirely differently. I had that admission from the noble Viscount some time later—I think it was on February 21, that is to say, nearly a fortnight after the debate. I had the assurance from the noble Viscount that the Minister of Education was in full harmony with my own views on that subject. What has bedevilled this whole correspondence is that I could not get the Ministry to discriminate between these two categories. I know very well that the noble Viscount, the Minister and the officials at the Ministry are all most anxious that no doubt should remain in the minds of the public as to what is happening. I know that there is no complacency. They assure me that they are not complacent, and I believe them. But the ordinary person looking through this correspondence would inevitably, if he did not know the men behind this matter, come to the conclusion that they are deliberately throwing sand in my eyes and drawing red herrings across my path. I much regret having to say that, because I know that it would be unjust to make those assumptions.

The only figure given by the noble Viscount on February 9 which he said was specifically in relation to the blind was that a new building was going up to house 168 blind children—that this was new work. But in the end, after some correspondence upon the matter, I got the admission from the Ministry that this is not a new provision but that it is, in fact, a replacement of a building, at the Royal Normal College, at which the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, holds an honoured position. It is a replacement, and there are no new places provided for the blind. After exhaustive inquiries on my part, I have failed to find any project, any item in the 1954–55 programme, which will supply new places for blind children. There is a need for those children. I need mention only one instance, as I want to be as brief as possible. Condover Hall, which is a school provided by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, for blind children with multiple defects, made provision originally for four children who are not only blind but deaf, but now has provision for five children. On going through the files, I find that there are at least fifteen more children who are both deaf and blind. I will not say that room will have to be provided for all of them, because some of them are, I believe, mentally subnormal and ineducable; but anyway a number of these blind-deaf children are not provided for; they are awaiting admission.

I do not want to work on the feelings of this House; I want to work on the idea of social justice, of fairness and, if your Lordships like to put it down to the lowest level, of good business. It is good business to train blind children to become useful and independent citizens, and therefore happy citizens. Speakers have pointed out with regard to normal people that it is most important not only to teach them the three R's, but also to give them an appreciation of the graces of life—things such as art—and to encourage them to be active themselves, instead of being passive listeners and viewers. That applies still more to the blind. I hope very much that the Ministry will pull themselves together and do something about the children referred to in the 1953 Report under discussion as not being provided for. I did not get a reply until April 27 to my first approach on February 9. The figures must have been in the office of the Ministry, so that they could have given me an answer easily within a couple of days. However, when I went into this matter with the Minister and with the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, the upshot was that the figures given in the Report are not accurate. Why on earth does the Report not say so? Why does the Report mislead us? The Minister himself wrote to me and admitted that the figures as given are, or might be, misleading. They definitely are misleading. The excuse is made that local education authorities have been known to inflate these figures, possibly in order to make sure that they can get a child into one or other school. Well, the Ministry must know that, and must know the circumstances. If they do not know, then they are not doing their job properly. They could find out from the local aducation authorities exactly what they have in mind.

The point that I want to make here is this. I know very well that the education of the physically handicapped is very expensive: I know that public money has to be spent. But I also maintain, as I have already said, that this money will be well spent. If you train children to grow into men who are independent and can provide their own livelihood, the whole community will profit financially. The other point I want to make on this matter is that if there are fewer children requiring education than is stated in the Report, surely it makes it all the more easy to make provision for them. I agree that it may be difficult to send blind children from the south up to schools in the north where there are free places. I know that parents may not like to be parted from their children. We have to make up our minds which is the lesser of the two evils. We must make up our minds about alternative methods of education which are quite obvious but which may, perhaps, be a little more expensive, although efficacious for these children.

Again, I make an appeal to the noble Viscount. I have given him ample warning of what I was going to say to-day, and I hope that he has come armed with the information that I require about the true state of affairs. If the figures given in the Report are incorrect, what are the correct figures? If the statement that the Ministry, or somebody, is putting up a new school to make new provision for these children, is erroneous—as is admitted by the Minister—what is the true state of affairs? Are any new schools going up, or will the Minister take second-best methods which, though certainly not satisfactory, are better than no education at all? I appeal to the noble Viscount, who I know is a most sympathetic person, to give us an answer After all, we who are dealing with these problems outside the Ministry are doing the Ministry's work for them, and they s could be grateful to us and should not hesitate to give us the information we require.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, of all the social services, the service of education is probably the most tempting and possibly the most easy to criticise. Everybody has been to school and therefore has had some experience of education, and there are many with children now at school who can regain that experience at second hand. Moreover, as the late Lord Crewe wrote, I think in his life of Lord Rosebery: There are no such gladiators as the educational theorists. But the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who moved this Motion, has displayed, with his gladiatorial prowess, such charming tolerance and humanity that it is a positive pleasure to meet him in the same arena.

In his Motion, the noble Lord drew attention to two aspects of primary education: the character of education and the conditions prevailing in the schools. Like the noble Lord, I will first say a word about the second aspect. I entirely agree with him in his tribute to the character of many of the modern schools which are now being built. They are an asset to this country and naturally a tremendous benefit to teachers and children. I think that he is also probably correct in deprecating here and there certain somewhat more permanent buildings, for things change so rapidly that we may later on have the experience we have had of Victorian schools which were, in many cases, absolutely frightful and equally indestructible. The noble Lord has rightly drawn attention to the great problem presented to educationists by the very large classes. That has been the bugbear of education for years. I remember nearly a quarter of a century ago, when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the then Board of Education, how much perturbed we were by that problem. It was complicated then by financial difficulties and subsequently by drifts of population from the North to the South consequent upon industrial schemes and industrial progress developing in the South of England.

But somewhere about 1934 we could see daylight, because we calculated that by 1944 or 1945 the number of children to be catered for would drop by 1 million. But we did not foresee the war, and the same problem arose again and, as the noble Lord has said, in the years immediately succeeding upon the war an extra 1 million children have had to be provided with places. That has caused for local authorities and Ministries of both political complexions a grave problem which is now gradually being overcome. As the noble Lord pointed out, the peak years will be passed in about three years' time. Having passed the infants, the peak at present falls upon the 7 to 8 age group and will, let us hope, fade out in another three years. I think that the Government and the teachers have grappled most manfully with what has been an extremely difficult and awkward problem. The noble Lord said that something like 50 per cent. of the children at present at primary schools are in classes of over 40. I believe that that figure is a little high. My own information is that it is nearer 40 per cent. than 50 per cent., but I entirely agree that it is far too large. If I were a teacher, no class could be small enough for me, and it is certainly a problem to consider how even a class of 40 children can be taught. But if the size of classes goes as is expected when the peak has passed, I understand that there is a reasonable chance of eventually getting classes down to about 30 pupils by 1960. That would be a much more manageable proposition.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, also referred, quite rightly, to the question of teachers, for, as I believe he said, teachers are more important than buildings. I think most of us would sooner be taught in a barn by a good teacher than in a palace by a bad one; but, whether in a palace or a barn, a class of 50 or 60 will neutralise the efforts of the best teacher. I was rather disquieted to hear (I do not know how far the situation can be verified), that the noble Lord was struck by the unevenness of standards prevailing in various schools, which means that the standard of teachers is uneven. That is naturally to be expected, for there are uneven standards in every profession—in medicine, law, science, mechanics and others; but I hope that the unevenness is not so widespread as to affect anything like an appreciable quantity of teachers and children, because, if that is so, it is serious. From the little I know, however, I do not think that the Ministry of Education are unduly perturbed on that score; and, of course, the Ministry of Education, through its 500 or more inspectors, keep in close touch with progress made by various schools. If the unevenness of standards was on any appreciable scale I think it is highly probable that the Ministry of Education would take action to bring about a better level.

The supply of teachers now looks like being very satisfactory. Without an adequate supply of teachers the buildings might as well not exist, but I understand that this year recruitment is about 6,000, which is quite adequate. The total may be more, because there were something over 7,000 last year, which means that the pupil teacher ratio will fairly soon be considerably reduced. The prospects for keeping this number of teachers up are equally good. In the training colleges last June there were 10,700 applications for 7,200 places in the women's colleges and something like a similar proportion of surplus for the 2,500 places in men's colleges, and both are full in the coming session, opening in September. That is very satisfactory and seems to indicate that the profession is attractive. The surplus of applications will provide competition and should enable us, every year, to get a higher standard of attainment in the young men and women who take up that occupation. The profession has certainly become more attractive. The equal pay for women, by various instalments since last May, the substantial increases given by local authorities to trainees at training colleges and the grant of £10,000 per school to which the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, referred, will certainly enable more to be done for teachers' quarters, staff rooms and other amenities in order to make their life more attractive.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, may be right in his view that teachers prefer to live in towns rather than in the country. I think that this has always been the case, but I am by no means certain that it is due to financial reasons. Life in the towns is more attractive; there is more social friendship and meetings; and I regret to say that certainly my own experience some time ago was the same as that which the noble Lord indicated. What the remedy is I do not know. The country school can and should offer a great field for a good teacher. He becomes not only the school teacher but a leader of the community, and such an opportunity for doing good—in many cases in much nicer surroundings—may lead teachers to gravitate more rapidly and easily to the country than they appear to have done. With regard to the Black Country, there again it is up to the local authorities, with the help now given, to make conditions as attractive as possible for teachers. I believe that local authorities have been requested by the Minister to take steps, if they can, to secure better homes for teachers and to approach housing authorities for that purpose if necessary.

The noble Lord referred to the question of democratising education. I will not follow him very far into that, because he has no remedy (or I did not discover it), and neither have I. If the preference, to which he referred, of certain sections of the populace is for public schools (that is for children over eleven), one of the reasons may well be that they are boarding schools, and, of course, it is very difficult for the State to provide boarding accommodation on such a scale. Parents rightly or wrongly think that the education given at a boarding school has certain merits; not for the reason that Dr. Johnson gave—namely, that they were "designed for the conjugal quiet of the parents"—but because of the discipline, responsibility and, perhaps, the better supervision which it is possible to exercise.

As regards the problem of the private school as compared with the primary school, I do not know what the remedy is. I have no authority for anything I say now, but I should be surprised to learn that a large percentage of the preparatory schools are as good as good council schools. I do not know whether the Minister of Education has power—I think not—to inspect on request all preparatory private schools in this country, but I should be interested to know what the result of such an inspection would be. I hope that parents in due course may come to the conclusion that children will be better educated in the council school than in the preparatory school. How to induce them to take that view, the noble Lord was unable to say. Nor am I able to say.

Then the question arose as regarded the eleven-plus examination—the difficulty of selecting children for the three streams of secondary schools. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, rightly drew attention to the strain inevitably placed upon the child, a strain which all examinations place on children, but eleven-plus is an early age at which to undergo that strain. He said that a child is led to believe that his fate depends upon the result of the examination. That may be so, but who leads the child to believe that? Not the teacher, unless he is a very indifferent teacher. It must be the parent or some prospective employer. Again, how to correct that I do not know. I can remember at school hearing various addresses on Speech Days from successful and prosperous gentlemen. I cannot remember a word they said except that the theme of their remarks was very often that they had never won a prize when at school, or passed an examination. That may or may not have been their qualification for making the addresses, but it certainly would indicate beyond all doubt that the passing of an examination did not settle one's fate, because in this case the gentlemen's fate would have been very different if examination had settled it.

Whether the Minister of Education will think it worth while to send round a few propagandists of that kind to the schools in order to convince children that passing examinations has nothing to do with success later in life, I do not know, but something of the sort might, I think, be done to try to impress upon the children that to pass the eleven-plus examination is not the be-all and end-all of their existence. Indeed, examinations, in themselves, though in many ways inevitable to prevent favouritism and provide some sort of a yardstick, are very unreliable guides. We all remember the well-known dictum of T. H. Huxley, referring to the examinees for a Science degree. He said that the entrants work to pass and not to know, and outraged Science has her revenge, for they do pass and they do not know. The problem of the examination is a complicated and difficult one. I do not profess to give any solution, nor does the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. The latter part of his speech dealt with the question of the purpose of education and he gave us some attractive definitions, one of which was his own. We have all heard a great many definitions of the purpose of education, varying from: To make the child fit to live and fit to live with", to one which a teacher gave me and which I thought rather attractive: To prevent the child being humbugged by the newspapers. But whatever the purpose of education is, I am certain that teachers are manfully striving to turn out the best type of boy and girl they possibly can. We owe an enormous debt to the teachers for what they have done during the last ten very difficult years. Their self-sacrifice and hard work is beyond praise. I like to think that in the course of a few years they will find their task considerably simplified, and see a reduction in the size of classes, with better buildings, and, I hope, better amenities available for themselves.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, we have had an interesting discussion on education. I do not propose to touch on the various points that have arisen during the course of the debate but shall confine myself almost entirely to country education. I am concerned with rural schools, rural children and rural education. The noble Viscount who has just sat down rightly said that of course we can criticise education in various ways. I do not propose to do that, nor to paint too dismal a picture of what happens in the countryside. At the same time, I am afraid that I cannot hold out a very pretty picture. There are a great many difficulties which we have not so far been able to overcome.

I want to make a plea to the Government that they will seriously consider the position of education as we find it at present in our country districts. Rightly or wrongly, I hold the view—perhaps some people may object to it, but it was clearly understood by the noble Lord who opened this discussion—that there should be parity of treatment and conditions as between the town child and the country child. In present circumstances, there is not that parity of treatment. In my view, children, whether born in the country, cities or towns, are of the same importance in the State; and they are all, I hope, in later life able to take a position of importance in one way or another within the State. It therefore behoves us, whether we come from the country or from the town, to encourage so far as possible the intelligence and the mental activity of all children. Education presents a very fine field in which we can carry out what we often talk about—the ensuring of equal opportunity to every child. In present conditions that is not available.

The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Bristol spoke of the magnificent schools which have been erected in his particular city. They made my mouth water, because of an experience which I had during the General Election. It was in a county adjoining my own. I addressed a meeting in a new secondary school, the finest of its sort that I have ever entered. After that meeting I went to another village of the same size and importance and addressed a meeting in the original primary school. The difference between these two schools was tremendous. I understand that many school buildings in rural areas have already been condemned or put on the black list. Perhaps in his reply the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, will be able to give me some indication of how many primary schools in rural areas have been closed during the last three years, and how many of these were in Norfolk and Suffolk, in which I am particularly interested; and how many new primary schools have been built or are in course of erection in rural areas.

We are anxious that our rural schools should have not only improved buildings but also improved equipment. We want the conditions under which rural children learn and teachers teach to march with the times and not to remain the same as they were in our fathers' generation, as has been said. I would go further than that, and say that some of the desks used in our country schools at the present time might have been occupied by the grandfathers of the children now sitting there. I think that the education of children in country areas has a great bearing on the drift of the menfolk from the land. Apart from the higher wages that the menfolk may earn in town, parents have to consider the education of the children.

I think that our primary schools are the finest stepping-stone for children into the conditions of life. I would go further than the noble Viscount who has just spoken, and than my noble friend Lord Silkin, in regard to the mixing of children. I hold the view that, so far as rural communities are concerned, every boy and girl in the village, whatever the position of his or her parents, should go for a period to the village school. It is the finest training these children can have. When they go into life, they are good mixers and are not concerned simply with what benefits their own section of society. My four children went to the village school—I am not ashamed of it—and they are no worse citizens because of that. I am certain that the same would have applied to scores of our younger people, now growing up, if in their early life they had mixed with the boys and girls of their own villages.

It has been suggested that primary schools might introduce subjects which would fit children for taking positions later on. In my view, however, it is important to remember that the basis of all education in early life should be a thorough groundwork in the elementary subjects which children are likely to need. We talk of educating technicians and scientists, but unless we give our children a thorough groundwork in the early stages of life we may find that the technicians and scientists are not forthcoming in the numbers required. We are spending a great deal of money on technical education, but I prefer to look at the matter from the opposite end: we want to build up from the bottom, rather than build at the top and leave the framework below insecure and unsteady.

There are one or two practical difficulties to which I want to refer, and one or two questions which I want to put to the noble Viscount. The last speaker mentioned the question of teaching staff in rural areas as against teaching staff in cities and towns. Conditions in the country are very different from those which prevail in the larger schools. The pay is less, and there are many drawbacks in regard to buildings, sanitation and equipment. In country schools we are suffering from the fact that children are being taught by unqualified teachers. I think it is important that we should do whatever we can to improve the conditions of the men and women who are responsible for starting a child in life. I understand that there are special salary rewards for teachers of technical and higher subjects in the towns and in secondary schools, but these rewards cannot be obtained by teachers in primary schools. I think that that is a matter which should be locked into.

On the question of equipment, I understand that for the provision of books, stationery and materials for handicrafts the amount allowed per head in the secondary schools is nearly double the amount allowed per child in the primary schools. If that is so, there cannot be any justification for keeping primary schools short of money, which they can well use in fostering the education of the younger members of society within their ranks. I hope, too, that greater facilities for sports will be provided for our country schools. Generally there is simply a playground round the school; and there may be nowhere else in the village where the children can have physical instruction or play games. I hope that the Government will make a review of the conditions of education in the rural areas in order that we may be certain that the country schools are having fair treatment as compared with town schools.

I want to deal for a moment with the question of transport. It is well within the knowledge of your Lordships that many of our country children have to walk many miles a day to and from school. I understand that any child who is now within three miles of his or her school cannot be transported by public conveyance. I thought the distance originally was two miles; if it has now been extended that has only made matters worse. In times when roads are unsafe for the children, I hope that the question of transport in country areas will be reconsidered, and that any child living over one mile from school will be conveyed to that school at the expense of the authorities.

Another matter that disturbs me is that, in going round the countryside, I see children travelling in what are obviously private vehicles which have been hired by the education authority—quite apart from buses—to take them to and from school. These vehicles are generally full up with children. I wonder, if an accident should happen, where the liability would lie. Is there any inspection by the education authorities of the vehicles in which the children travel? Does the liability, in case of accident, rest with the authority or with the owner of the, vehicle? I have in mind a case where a child was hurt in travelling in a private vehicle hired by the education authority. Liability was not admitted by anyone, although there was a police prosecution against the owner of the vehicle for having defective brakes. But the child was seriously hurt. I think it is important that that matter should be looked into, in order that the children and their parents may be protected.

I now come to a point which is to some extent exercising our minds in the Eastern counties—namely the question of the education of American children in this country. We have heard of the education of Irishmen and Polish nationals, but the Americans are on a different footing altogether. So far as I can gather, a great many of their children are educated in our country schools. They are given the benefit of milk, meals and all our other social services; they have the use of our equipment and our transport and are eligible for our scholarships. For the benefit of those who are perhaps thinking in terms of paying taxes or rates, or perhaps both, in regard to the education of American children, who may be here for many years, I hope the Government will be able to announce that there is an arrangement between the two countries whereby if we educate these children the Americans will provide us with dollars to pay for the cost of that education. It is a problem, because these children do increase the already high numbers in some of our classes. In conclusion, I would just repeat what I have said: the education of our children is vitally important, and it is vital in the education system of this country that our primary schools should be fostered and improved. I want the best in education for all children, whatever their station in life may be and whether they live in town or country.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, there are just two matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in this debate on which I should like to comment. In the first place, he was quite right in confining the subject of his Motion largely to primary schools. The primary school is the foundation of all our national system of education. The emphasis in recent years has been rather on the secondary schools, the county colleges and other departments of education; but if there is something wrong with our primary schools, then the whole system of education in the country is in danger. The observations made this afternoon in this debate by several speakers about the size of the classes have met with the general approval of your Lordships. That is an important point. I would remind your Lordships that in rural schools, to which we have been referred by a noble Lord opposite, generally speaking it is true that the classes are below the national average; classes in the village or rural schools are smaller.

That leads me to put in a plea for the retention of the village school. Rural schools are faced with great difficulties, but the solution of those difficulties is not the closure of village schools: they play far too great a part in the life of this nation for us to wish for their closure. I am not sure that the nation as a whole realises that about forty of such schools have been closed each year for the last few years. We may transport children from villages to some convenient centre to give them education, but if that leads to the abandonment of our village schools the English countryside will be the worse in the days to come. The village school plays an important part in the social structure of our national life, and the picture of an English village, with its parish church and school next door, is something which most of us would not like to see disappear. That does not mean that the problem of the village school is not a pressing and urgent one; it is. But let us deal with the village schools and try and retain them. From what I have seen, there has been a change of policy by Her Majesty's Government with regard to the closure of village schools in the last year or so, and I am hoping that that will continue.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said quite rightly that he was going to concentrate more on the content of education than on the buildings—the structure and the equipment of the schools. There is a danger that we may fall into the fallacy of imagining that if we put all our buildings right and equip them, we shall have put education right. That is by no means the case. By that I do not claim for one moment that we ought to tolerate unworthy and unsatisfactory conditions in our schools. We in the Church of England are facing great difficulties in regard to our buildings. The Church schools were the pioneer schools, many of them built before the first Education Act, 1870. All of them are now waiting to be rebuilt or reconditioned, and this is presenting the Church with a very big problem indeed. It is our intention to see that all that can be done shall be done for our schools, and we will not for one moment agree to continuing schools that are not of adequate size and properly heated and ventilated.

Having said that, I say again that the provision of good buildings and of excellent equipment does not of itself ensure good education. We must pay far more attention to what goes on inside those buildings if we are to ensure good education. Of course, we must prepare our children for the great advance that will come in scientific knowledge, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has reminded us; but our immediate concern and a pressing concern is to see that there is far more co-operation between our schools, the homes of the people and the community in which those schools exist. It is important that the children in our schools should become good citizens in their own community, whether it is a village or an industrial area; and in this matter it is the teachers who are all important. In this matter the Church has been paying considerable attention to and spending a great deal of money upon providing Church training colleges for the provision of good teachers, people who are not only professionally trained but given a Christian view of their vocation. That is what is most necessary if the children are to be given a good education.

The Church seeks to educate all children, and not only children who belong to that particular Church. In the Church training colleges we seek to train teachers who will be prepared to go not only into Church schools but into all schools, wherever they may exist. This matter of education is of tremendous importance for the future of our nation. It is vital and urgent, and we in the Church are anxious to take our part in the national system of education. There is much to be thankful for in what has happened since 1944. There is a great deal more still to be done. That can be done in the best way, and the cause of education served in the best way, if those who have education at heart give their wisdom and their service, not to any sectional claim or Party spirit but far the cause of the education of our children, for the good of the nation and the glory of God.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords. I speak in the debate to-day with particular interest, because I have spent a large part of my life as a school doctor inspecting schools. I am so interested in it that a short time ago—within the last twelve months—I persuaded the London County Council to appoint me as inspector of schools in the London area and carried out inspections in order to bring myself up to date with modern school medical methods. I found that they did not vary greatly from those of the past, and though the children are, on the whole, somewhat better in physique than they used to be, the improvement was not so great as I had hoped. It is some time ago that I ceased doing that work as my normal occupation. At that time they were well looked after. I thought they were reasonably well taught, and they were active and vivacious.

During the course of this debate allegations have been made about the rural schools which I find rather disconcerting. I wonder whether the schools in the rural areas are really efficient in making chil- dren reasonably literate. In the last two or three years there has been such a vast change in the social conditions of this country, including the rural areas, that the conditions of the children will no doubt benefit. In the part of Essex I know well, immediately before the war agricultural labourers were paid a full rate of 30s. a week; and they are now paid something over £7. In one home I happen to know, near to a place where I frequently go in the country, the two children of a man who was earning 30s. a week before the war are now earning as much as he is, so that a very large income, comparatively speaking, is coming into that home every week. I presume that that standard of values will continue for a considerable time.

I wonder what effect that is having on the schools in the rural areas. I imagine that the illiteracy which has been spoken of to-day comes largely from the rural areas. If that is not so, I hope the Minister will contradict me and tell me where it does come from. Some children, of course, have difficulty in learning, and if the teacher is not particularly energetic those children tend to be shelved. I am not making any general accusation against teachers. I am speaking only- from what I know must be the case when any kind of work is heir g done by people and obstacles are put in the way: they tend to shelve the difficulties. Doctors, I regret to say, sometimes do the same. The importance of the village school is very great, and I hope that it will be maintained; but only on the understanding that it is efficient and gives a good education. I wonder whether the teachers are willing to go to these small schools and undertake the work. I was interested in what the right reverend Prelate was saying just now about schools in rural areas. Anything that can be done to improve those schools, and to give the children a better education and a better understanding of life, as well as a better equipment foil life, is of the greatest possible value.

Another problem about which we have been talking this afternoon is that of the eleven-plus examination. Is the eleven-plus examination one of the sacraments that cannot possibly be changed at any time? Is it not a matter which could be looked at again to see how it could be altered? I am quite sure, from my own knowledge of children. that they vary very much in their capacities and in their response to teachers: some children may have a teacher to whom they do not respond. I believe that we might look at that question again (I hope the Minister will agree with me), in the hope of improving the eleven-plus examination. I agree that it is essential to have some kind of test, because, under present conditions, it is impossible to make the better form of education available to all children without any test at all.

I feel strongly that one thing we should try to do is to reduce the size of classes. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to teach a very large class. I believe that one of the first things we should aim at is a reduction in the size of classes. I understand that in the London area—which is the area in which I used to function as a school doctor—many more teachers are now required, and that the authority, the London County Council, is finding the greatest difficulty in getting them. These teachers are required because of what one might call the birth-rate "bulge" caused by the war. Without extra teachers, it is not possible to reduce the size of classes, either in the primary or in the secondary schools. Also, in the London area more new schools are required. I would put the reduction of classes first, but more new schools are certainly required to provide for the extra children.

Lastly, there is the question of the remodelling of the old schools in the London area, in order to make them fit for modern conditions. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that something along these lines can be done to help education at this present time. When I look back to the time, long ago, when I began to be a school doctor and compare it with the present conditions, I have to admit that the change is a big one, and greatly to the advantage of the children concerned. But we cannot take the measure of the past as a standard for application to the present. We must be sure that we can give the children of this country, in the towns and in the rural areas, an education that will fit them for any occupation in the land.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to my noble friend, Lord Silkin, for initiating this debate. I listened with some pleasure to my noble friend Lord Wise referring to education in village schools. It was my good fortune for a year or so when I was very young to attend a village school, but, so far as I can remember, all that I learned there was how to knit, an accomplishment which I regret to say I have since forgotten. Primary education has long been, and to some extent still is, the Cinderella in our education system. It was hoped that the 1944 Act would open a new era, particularly for the primary schools in their three categories—nursery schools, infant schools and junior schools. I do not for one moment want to underrate or underestimate the advances which have been made since 1944 in the face of many difficulties, but I think that anyone looking at our primary school education in an unbiased and open-minded manner. would agree that unfortunately the position is still far from satisfactory. Unsuitable buildings and black-listed schools are still in use. The overcrowding of classes seems to be getting worse. There is in some areas the ever-constant problem of securing an adequate supply of teachers. It would be wrong to specify the different areas and I believe there is some sort of rationing system in operation so far as the Ministry is concerned.

The 1944 Act aimed at making education a continuous process from the nursery right through life. It stipulated that It shall be the duty of the local education authority for every area, so far as their powers extend, to contribute towards the spiritual, moral, mental and physical development of the community by securing that efficient education throughout these stages shall be available to meet the needs of the population of their area. One has only to state those broad objectives to realise how much there is still to be done before anything approaching that ideal is attained in our educational system. We all remember the generous provisions of the Fisher Act of 1918 and how they were not put into operation. They were frustrated by the slump which followed. If, as some people say—I hope they may prove to be wrong—a slump is on the way in this country, we must see to it that the children in our schools do not suffer, because I have no doubt that there are plenty of people to-day who would be prepared to play the part that Sir Eric Geddes played after the First World War and slash our social services.

I am rather surprised that we have not had any contribution from the Liberal Benches in this debate.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I should like to say that I intend to detain your Lordships for a short while soon.


We are glad to hear that, because I was going to refresh the minds of noble Lords on the Liberal Benches with the efforts which were made by the noted economist and broadcaster, Hubert Phillips, to galvanise the Liberal Party into some sort of activity on the problem of education. He was lecturing at a Liberal summer school and he told his audience that Britain ought to spend a tenth of her net income on education. He listed as the penalties of our not doing so our lack of manners, much below those of the Scandinavian people and the Swiss; our tolerance of unnecessary squalor, unnecessary noise and unnecessary ugliness; our filthy habits in the sale and service of food; and the slaughter on our roads of 6,000 people a year. He said that a large number of these were due to stupidity, callousness and selfishness—all bad qualities which education could do much to eradicate. I will leave out his references to newspapers because I am always polite to newspapers, but he goes on to say that we did not teach our children to speak their own language. He declared: We do not want a nation of B.B.C. announcers, but we do want a nation of people who have some respect for their own tongue and who realise that to speak English properly is part of the business of gracious living. That Hubert Phillips, thirty years after the publication of that Report on the teaching of English in England, in its way a classic, should be able to say such a thing as that, is, I think, a reflection on our educational system.

I want to say a word or two on the problem of medical inspection in our schools, a subject which I do not think has been mentioned very much in the course of this debate. Fortunately, have been able to refresh my mind with a Report of the Central Advisory Cornrnittee for Education in England dealing with this problem. This is what it says: The aim should be to secure a high standard throughout the school service, and in particular to ensure:

  1. (i) more comprehensive supervision of children in the schools,
  2. (ii) more and better facilities for treatment in hospitals and clinics,
  3. (iii) the universal maintenance of adequate and continuous child health records,
  4. (iv) an extension of health supervision on similar lines over the early years of employment,
  5. (v) sound and effective teaching of Health in. and through the schools,
  6. (vi) suitable provision for all handicapped children,
  7. (vii) instruction for teachers of a kind that will enable them to co-operate satisfactorily with the School Health Service.
To sum up, the tendency in the coming years is likely to put the emphasis on 'positive health' rather than on routine inspection and a limited amount of remedial treatment, as in the past. That was written before the coming into operation of the National. Health Service.

Attempts have been made at various times to secure closer co-operation between the schools, the local authorities and the National Health Service. Someone has said that the general practitioner is, so to speak, the foundation of a proper Health Service, This is what is said in the Report for 1952–53 of the medical officer for the Ministry of Education: The free provision of a general practitioner service for every child has had little effect, so far at any rate, on the School Health Service. I omit a number of sentences. The passage goes on: There is no doubt, however, that there could be still closer co-operation in many areas. The best way to secure good co-operation is for school doctors and the general practitioners to know each other: they are all workers in the same health service. I would ask Her Majesty's Government to consider the words in that Report, because if the arrangements are not satisfactory, surely something should be done to ensure that full advantage is taken of the services by those attending our schools.

Two years or so ago there was an alteration in connection with the inspection of school children. Normally the children were medically inspected three times during their school life, but in some regulations issued in August, 1953, the Minister authorised local authorities to waive those three general medical inspections during the period of compulsory school age. Those inspections, however, could only be waived if a scheme providing for experimenting by perhaps closer and perhaps more continuous inspection were submitted to and approved by the Minister. I suggest that that elbow room, so to speak, has to be carefully watched, to see that in view of the shortage in the school medical service the regulations are not made an excuse for breaking down the three examinations. In fact the chief medical officer in his final sentences seems to me to utter a note of warning. He says: It now remains to be seen how the development of the school health service will be affected by these regulations. Changes are characteristic in all living things, and if there is vitality in the school health service it will adapt itself to changing circumstances. The changes in the pattern may be great or small. What is of greater importance is that the ideals of the service should not change in the years to come. It seems to me that there is a note of warning, put in a very guarded and official manner, that the school medical inspection should not break down because of more elasticity in the arrangements.

My noble friend Lord Silkin, in opening this debate, made some references to national standards in education. Of course, I may have completely misunderstood what my noble friend has in mind, but I remember reading or being told of a French Minister of Education who remarked to an English visitor that he knew precisely what lessons were being given at that moment to every child in every State school in France. That seems to me to be an appalling state of affairs and I hope that we shall never get to narrow standards of that kind. Secondly, it seems to me that there is a far better way than the imposing of a cast-iron system of that kind. As I understand the position, the Minister has authority to withhold grants from any local education authority if it does not come up to a standard which should be attainable so far as any particular service is concerned. It seems to me that that is a far better way to ensure that we have a continuous rise in the content of education, rather than an attempt to impose something from the top.

My final word flows rather from what my noble friend has said. One hears in certain quarters suggestions that in view of the success of the new method of administration so far as the hospitals are concerned, with their regional hospital boards and so on, education should be taken out of the hands of local authorities and administered by some similar regional board administration. I think it would be a sorry day for education in this country if anything of that sort happened so far as our education system is concerned. I know that local authorities suffered very much indeed through the loss of hospitals from their service; and if education, with all the opportunities it provides for the development of local patriotism and local service, were taken from the local authorities, I think we should be sounding the death knell of local government in this country. In view of the many rumours that persist in various quarters I hope that nothing like that is in the mind of Her Majesty's Government at the present time. May I again thank my noble friend Lord Silkin for initiating this most interesting debate.

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate. Like Lord Woolton, I have listened to every speech. It is nothing to boast about, but I suppose that I am the only Member of this House who went to no other school than what is called a primary or elementary school—and that for only a very short period. That is why I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Silkin for bringing before the House this Motion on primary schools. During certain interjections and speeches this afternoon I have been sorely tempted to mention the fact that many years ago I served an apprenticeship as a member of an authority which had the advantage of having been created by the late W. E. Foster.

I believe that the new Minister of Education has over-emphasised the danger to grammar schools. I have no doubt that he will read some of these speeches yin Hansard, and I should like him to know that, when I started my apprenticeship, we had a flying start with eleven grammar schools, not counting one instituted by King Charles Il of pious and sacred memory. We also instituted two grammar schools, one for boys and one for girls—the latter the first of its kind in this country. We were rather proud of the fact that the first headmaster of the boys' school was Father Hinsley, who afterwards became Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.

My noble friend Lord Burden, who I see has left the Chamber, mentioned schools for the mentally deficient. The old school board in my area inaugurated all these institutions. We had the privilege of having Miss Margaret Macmillan as a member of our old school board, and I had the unexpected privilege of being chairman of the committee responsible for drawing up the plans for a primary school. I am delighted that we are to have one of the greatest colleges in this country opened in the course of a few months, backed by so gracious a lady as Nancy Viscountess Astor and other similar public-spirited people, again in the interests of primary education. I was responsible for the maintenance in good repair of every provided and non-provided school in my county borough area, and though I could put a coat of whitewash on the toilets outside the schools, I could do nothing to make the toilets more hygienic. I am now repeating a speech which I made in 1929 in another place, so in the few minutes given to me I should now like to speak on county schools, such as those administered by an authority like the West Riding County Council who have 179,000 children attending their primary schools. Those figures were given to me last Friday. In 1948 they had some 22,000 fewer pupils.

We have passed the days of wrangling over religious matters, and one of the great blessings of getting round a table on an education committee is to find a readiness to co-operate so far as is possible. Living now in the area of the West Riding County Council I realise the great job of work that members of all Parties have done, and are doing, in implementing that great collaborative effort of Mr. Butler and Mr. Ede, the Act of 1944. Unlike the Fisher Act of the Lloyd George Government, that Act is being implemented, so far as possible. I think of the West Riding as a place of rural villages, mining townships and urban districts. All are brought within the ambit in trying to bring education—not simply reading, writing and arithmetic—to 179,000 children from the age of three, in the nursery schools, to the age of eleven-plus. Though some continue in the primary schools we now have the county schools at fifteen-plus, and we shall have an even bigger "bulge."

Nevertheless, I do not look upon the position in any feeling of depression. The West Riding County Council, like the Lancashire County Council—which is equally good—have had altogether new areas brought into being in the south of Yorkshire through the policy of the National Coal Board; and I have found out that, since 1948, seventy temporary buildings have been erected to educate the floating population which has come into the villages. I do not know why, but they call these temporary schools the Hengist Schools—a rather nice name. I think that people with such imagination arid idealism are entitled to our congratulations, rather than any suggestion that they should don sackcloth and ashes. I find that they have erected fifty-seven permanent schools and seventy-eight of these temporary schools, which look so nice that some people want them to be permanent.

If I thought that your Lordships would be interested, I would have shown you photographs of some of what are called "non-council" schools. I could have given details of the deplorable position they were in before, and shown how, since 1945, they have been utterly transformed into lovely little village schools. Again, I think the authorities are entitled to be congratulated. They are concerned, as we all are, at the fact that some of the classes have greater numbers of scholars than they should have. But, again, there has been an increase of teachers to a considerable degree. I am not going to weary your Lordships with many figures, but since 1948 there has been an increase of over 2,000 in the number of teachers. And those teachers to-day are better trained than teachers under the old régime. In saying this, I am well aware that some of the uncertificated teachers I met were imbued with a sense of dedicated devotion that was much better than that of some of the certificated teachers who had all the tools in the bag—and degrees as well—but did not know how to use them.

I wish to thank Lord Silkin for introducing his Motion, and to pay my tribute to the former Minister of Education, Miss Florence Horsbrugh. She inherited from the late Ellen Wilkinson and the late George Tomlinson a great task, the magnitude of which your Lordships will realise if you look at the number of schools opened, and consider the difficulties associated with the whole subject. I should also like to give a warning to Sir David Eccles, the present Minister, that he has yet to win his spurs, though I tender to him my congratulations on what he is trying to do. The noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest, mentioned the certificate business and the question of examinations. I believe that if we go into the Printed Paper Office, we shall find there a White Paper showing that, at any rate, Sir David (as I always knew he would do) has kept an open mind. He has never banged the door on the idea of reconsidering a problem. I hope that he will continue that attitude in this particular case. Some of us, certainly, could not pass an examination for the love of Mike—or, should I say, at any cost. The only prize I ever won—if this is of interest to your Lordships, and I am afraid it is not—was when I was under the age of six. One of your Lordships has mentioned that he never won a prize and that he, like others, goes off to speak at school speech days, and to tell the children stories to which they do not want to listen. I myself went to such an event last Thursday, and had to do some talking.

To sum up, I can only say that I am not too complacent; and I do not want self-complacency. There was one little passage in a report sent to me last Friday with reference to education in the West Riding which I should like to quote to your Lordships. It runs: The problem has … been to keep this fresh breeze in educational ideas blowing through the primary schools in spite of the fact that very large numbers of additional children of statutory age have been working their way through these schools. The "fresh breeze" referred to is, of course, the fresh breeze which was started under the Butler Act. We hope that it will blow and keep on blowing beneficently, in nursery, primary and through schools alike. We hope that it will not simply blow over a progressive area like the North of England abut will also reach institutions in London and the South generally. Indeed, we trust that it will not be always a mere breeze, but that it will become a mighty tornado which will help these people of whom I have spoken to rise up to the standards of the great North of England.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words, but at this late hour I shall not detain your Lordships for long. Certain references have been made in most speeches to the very overcrowded conditions in the primary schools. The Liberal solution to that problem is to raise the school age of entry from five to six as a temporary measure until the whole question can be satisfactorily settled. We believe it is better for a child to postpone his initial education until he is able to be in a class where he can really profit by it.

My second point is a personal one, and I should like to say that I am not necessarily speaking for my noble friends on these Benches. I had not originally intended to speak this afternoon, but I felt I wanted to do so as both the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Viscount, Lord Soulbury, have raised the question of making education more democratic. If I understood both noble Lords aright, they both said that they had no solution to offer. I have long thought of a possible future for the public schools and a way of bringing them into our system of State education, and it is this to which I wish to refer. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, spoke of there being still two nations in this country. I think that is very true. It is brought home to one particularly if one goes to a country like France, where they have a really good system of State education and there is much more equality and understanding between the classes than there is in this country.

I was much interested in what the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, said about the Swiss system. I think we all admire the Swiss for having evolved a really democratic form of society, So far as this country is concerned, I think it is no exaggeration to say that education is still for the most part ruled by the purse. If a boy is the son of wealthy parents he has far more chance than if his parents belong to what we call the lower income groups. In the old days, Radical opinion believed that the public schools should be abolished. But that has evolved, and I think most people now believe that they provide a fine, in fact the highest, form of education, except for perhaps one or two of the grammar schools, and that in some way they should be brought into the general State system so that more young people may obtain their great advantages—that their great advantages should be retained but used for the benefit of the community as a whole and not for boys of a certain class.

I think it would be an exaggeration to say that all public schools are good: some are excellent, some are good and some are bad. I would go so far as to say that even the good ones have certain defects. The other day I was reading a hook by Professor Pear about English social differences, in which he describes very well how public schools set out to train character and how they provide excellent administrators, but by their methods of segregating boys of a certain class in a monastic form of life they somehow fail to ensure that they have an understanding not only of other classes in their own country but also of the people of other nations. I think that has been very evident in the past with some of our administrators who have failed to understand the people over whose countries we have been privileged to govern, and this has done a good deal to cause resentment. It was particularly the case in India.

With regard to the future of public schools, eventually, when the State system of education has been improved and classes have been reduced, I should like to see the public schools taken over by the State. The bad ones should be closed down and their buildings used for grammar or primary schools, whichever is most convenient. The good ones should be retained exactly as they are, but they should be kept as residential schools for the cream of the grammar and comprehensive schools. I should like to see the best public schools used for the fifth and sixth forms from the State schools, who will spend their last year or two there before passing to the universities. In this way they would get the advantage of the best education the country can offer amongst boys drawn from all classes and not only from one rather narrow class, as is the case to-day. This would also ensure that the cleverest boys of the country—the cream, the elite, the aristocracy of brains—would really have the best chance the country had to offer. I believe strongly that it is only by making our educational system truly democratic that: our own way of life can survive. If we can do this, I think we may be one step nearer to the bright dawn of a classless society.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour, as we so often say, but particularly late on this very hot evening, I do not propose to endeavour to hold your Lordships' attention much longer than courtesy demands. On this occasion, as we were last February, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for having introduced this Motion and for the way he has done it. Although he was speaking from the opposite Bench, and I presume, and hope, for his Party (I noticed a slight divergence of view at one stage, but that is very healthy), the noble Lord made it clear that there is no Party feeling in this House on the subject of education. We are all equally anxious for the same end.

Nothing is easier than to condemn, and perhaps those who do not know much about education who listened to this debate might have come to the conclusion that education was in a much more parlous condition than in fact it is. Of course, there are all sorts of things that need to be improved, and in introducing his Motion, the noble Lord was generous and quick to indicate the explanations of many of our present troubles. When one talks of education there is always the danger of running to the police court in order to find terrible illustrations of the way in which the educational system has failed. One might just as well run to the divorce court and come to the con-elusion that marriage is a failure. There is no news in a good marriage, but there is news in a divorce case. I beg noble Lords who have made reference to the failures in education to consider the successes of education. If two of the noble Lords opposite will forgive me, what better testimony could we have for the British system of education than that they should have said that they received their education in a primary school? The noble Lord, Lord Burden, said that that education was principally concerned with knitting; but if one can do as well as he has done in life, and achieve such distinction as he has achieved, by being taught knitting in a primary school, I think it might be worth while to direct the attention of the Present Minister of Education to this, in the hope that more people are taught knitting. The noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest, was generous— not to the Government but to the people concerned—in speaking of the considerable advances that he has seen in the standards that have been attained during his intimate concern with education; and I am glad that he said this.

The essence of our present difficulties, and the major cause of our problem, is what the Americans, in that lurid and rather attractive language they have, call the "baby bulge." As my noble friend Lord Soulbury said, we were going along very well until the war came; now we have this problem of one million extra children. We are doing our best to educate them, not all in the best conditions, it is true, and no-one is satisfied with either buildings or the size of classes. I have a rather long speech, which I am not going to deliver, because I believe your Lordships already know most of the figures, and the facts are simply these: that the number of schools, the number of places, the extension of powers of local authorities to secure improvements in rural areas to the extent of £10,000 (and even in these days one can do quite a lot to improve a small school for £10,000)—all these show that we are actively concerned to secure such improvements as we can.

There is one point on which I am diametrically opposed to one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—though he did not so much say it as indicate it. I believe that the local authorities in this country have done an extremely good job, and I would rather see education in their hands, with all the diversity that the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, indicated is obtained from such an administration, than see it centralised in Whitehall—though I appreciate that the noble Lord was endeavouring to get a better standard throughout the country, which I hope we shall be able to get through the existing arrangements. Buildings and teachers are the two problems. It is gratifying to hear from the right reverend Prelate who spoke of the considerable advance in the standard of education that we are now getting among the teachers. I know a little about this matter, because I was making inquiries on the subject in the University at Manchester only last week. Fortunately, the teachers are coming along at a greater rate than we expected, and this is most encouraging. I am not going to burden your Lordships with the figures of places we have provided.

There has been general interest to-day—almost a prevalent interest—in rural schools. My right honourable friend the Minister of Education is starting a five-year programme for rural areas which should bring benefit to younger children who will stay in the village primary schools. In these schools there will be more room for the children; their teachers will be relieved of the task of coping with large classes of all ages, which must be an extremely difficult thing to do; and I hope that there will be better conditions generally for the teachers. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, has put a series of questions to me: he has, if I may use a vulgarism, rather "put me through it." I have all the answers to his questions, and I hope your Lordships will have patience with me while I go through them, because they were specific and good questions, and they require an answer. I must give the answers in full, as I am advised, and I hope that they will satisfy the noble Lord.

He mentioned the children of American Service men in East Anglia. My right honourable friend is advised that the duty laid upon education authorities generally by the 1944 Act does extend to these children. Facilities in maintained schools are there for any Americans to take advantage of for their children. No fees are chargeable, either to the parents or to the military authorities, except that there is this alteration: that, as for the children of British Service men, the part of the cost falling on the rates is spread over all the education authorities, and not just those where the bases are located—I believe they call it a pool of expenditure, particularly attributable to the military bases. I understand that for various reasons the parents of many of the younger of these children prefer to send them to private schools, and that for the older ones a number of the larger American bases provide schools on American lines. Where any of these children go into independent or direct grant schools, then the parents pay the fees.

Then the noble Lord, Lord Wise, wanted to know the number of rural primary schools closed during the three years 1952–54 in England and Wales, and also the number applicable to Norfolk and Suffolk. The total for England and Wales is 138, of which 14 were in Norfolk and Suffolk. Then there is the contrary position, of the number of primary schools in rural areas which have been completed, and those which, although not completed, were put under construction during the same period. For England and Wales the figure is 118, and for Norfolk and Suffolk it is 7. I hope my figures are clear to your Lordships, but I am sure they will be clearer in Hansard than they sound.

The noble Lord then asked me how the allowances for equipment compare in primary and in secondary schools. The cost of the initial provision of furniture and equipment of new schools is about £15 a place in primary schools, and about £26 in secondary schools. I know the noble Lord did not quite like the idea that there should be this divergence, but surely in secondary schools, with laboratory equipment and the rest, it must cost a good deal more. I have also some figures as to the average expenditure on books, stationery, materials and other equipment. My right honourable friend the Minister is most anxious to encourage the use of books in schools. Perhaps the noble Lord will not mind if I send him these figures in correspondence, because they are rather detailed and I do not want to occupy the time of the House with them. The next question the noble Lord asked was about transport. The 1944 Act compels local authorities to provide transport for children under eight years of age who have more than two miles to go to school, and for those over eight years of age who have three miles to go. In practice, many authorities are more generous and provide transport beyond one and a half miles for the under-eights, and beyond two miles for those between eight and eleven. I have no more information on this subject than I have given to your Lordships, and I make no comment on it.

Lastly, the noble Lord asked me to deal with the question of liability for injuries to children taken to school in vehicles hired by the authorities. The reply is that the owner of the vehicle has a duty to take all due care and to carry safely, so far as reasonable care and foresight can attain that end. Failure in this duty means liability for any injury to the child passenger. If there is an accident because of some third party's negligence, he is the person responsible. In general, there has been no liability upon the education authorities for accidents to children taken to schools in hired vehicles. I hope the noble Lord feels that that is a satisfactory answer.

I am afraid that I cannot help but regret what the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, said. I went to a considerable amount of trouble myself to endeavour to satisfy him because, as he said, I am indeed in the greatest possible sympathy with the position that he put forward. I wrote to him—I have a copy of the letter here—almost immediately after the last debate.


I think the noble Viscount will find it is February 21.


The letter is dated February 18, but we will not quarrel over the date. I came to the conclusion that there was no great advantage in my endeavouring, in correspondence, to deal with problems that concern Ministries for which I am not personally responsible, and that it would be better if the whole of this correspondence were transferred to the Minister. The noble Lord feels that he has been treated with some discourtesy. I assure him that if he feels like that my right honourable friend, to whom I have spoken this afternoon on the subject, greatly regrets it. There is no desire on his part to be evasive. Why should there be? My right honourable friend asks me to convey to the noble Lord his invitation that they should meet, and he will then do his best verbally to deal with the problems that he has raised this afternoon. I think that would be a much more satisfactory arrangement.


I am most grateful to the noble Viscount for giving me this invitation. I shall certainly avail myself of it. But I feel it is just a little hard that I should be reproached for carrying on a correspondence with the noble Viscount, when the noble Viscount himself first wrote to me. May I say that I have no sense of being badly treated. I cannot understand why it was, for example, that I wrote a letter to the noble Viscount on March 12, and I had to write to him again on April 4 reminding him that I had had no reply, and then I received a letter on April 7 from the Minister. Surely, I am entitled to a little mystification, shall I say? I do not feel hurt about it, because I do know how difficult it is for Ministers of the Crown to attend to so many matters.


I only regret that the noble Lord wrote to me at all on the subject, when quite obviously the proper person to write to was the Minister of Education to whom I had sent the correspondence.


But surely if I get a letter—


May I finish? I had already indicated to the noble Lord that that would be the best way of satisfying him. I make no reproaches to him At all, and nothing that I have said to-day indicates reproach. I only said that I regret he felt he had been treated with discourtesy, and I do feel that regret.

I am sure your Lordships will not take it amiss if I now move to the general and major issue which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, raised in his Motion. I am suspicious of amateur advice on technical subjects, and the teaching of children is in the hands of teachers who are specifically trained for the purpose. It is interesting how many people are always willing to advise on the subject of education. Nobody dreams of giving advice to other technicians. I cannot remember an occasion, for instance, when your Lordships thought it would be a good thing to advise the medical profession how they should do their job, even a part of their job which deals with human problems, such as mental sickness. Of course, it would be grossly improper for us at any time to give advice to the Bishops and the clergy upon how they ought to educate their flock, although this problem, I think, is one of vast importance to the nation and is not unconnected with what one might call the raw material of the teaching profession.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, when he proceeded to the wider aspects of his Motion, raised some most interesting problems. He talked of the new scientific age. I am sure it is coming; perhaps it has already arrived. The problems of that time are going to be extremely difficult, and one of them will be the problem of teaching people how to use leisure. The last time I addressed your Lordships I ventured to say that the prosperity under which we are now living is a very brittle thing. It might easily, at any time, as prosperity has in previous Empires, break away and all our dreams fade. There, I think, is the problem of education. We shall have to teach people how to live in a world of abundance, and I believe it is a difficult thing to do.

The noble Lord spoke of the dangers of the eleven-plus examination. I do not want to deal with that today. It is a big problem, and I do not know that any of us know a great deal about it, if the truth be told. The truth is that we are rather frightened of it because of its classification. But I wonder whether the fears that the noble Lord indicated are justified. Your Lordships remember—I wish I could get the precise words, because they were so good—that when speaking, of the grammar school, the modern school and the technical school, he was anxious lest, as a result of this eleven-plus examination, we should be giving greater social status to the people who went to the grammar school than to the people who went to the technical school at the other end. I think the danger is this: we are moving so rapidly into the age of the technologist that I am not at all sure that the weight of status, and certainly the financial rewards, will not come to the people who have been educated in the technical schools rather than the people who have taken the laborious tasks that some of us have had in learning the classics in the grammar schools.

I should like to finish on this note. People note what we say in this House. The teachers in this country are, I am sure, considering what your Lordships' views are on the subject of education. I think the teachers in the public schools would be horrified at the views that have come from the Liberal Benches this afternoon. But let us think about the teachers in the primary schools, because it is about them that we have been talking. They have had a hard task. They are constantly the subject of criticism. For twenty months I was a teacher. I taught mathematics, and I began in that time to have some vague glimmering of the infinite variety of the problems involved in being a teacher. But they were not the problems of mathematics. Those were not the difficult things. They were the problems of knowing how to understand and how to guide young minds in the very small classes that, fortunately, I had. I left the profession with a great admiration for the people who stay in it doing this work of tremendous national importance, for which I believe that, if one is going to succeed, one must have a vocation.

I think the best thing that this House can do is to try to give teachers encouragement to regard teaching as a vocation. I was delighted to see that in the last Honours List Her Majesty had knighted the Secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Sir Ronald Gould. The character of the education provided in our primary schools is indeed an attempt to carry out the aspirations that were nobly expressed in the 1944 Act, to which noble Lords have referred— to educate each child according to his age, aptitude and ability. That is the job that they have undertaken, and we should give them praise and encouragement in it. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having raised this very good debate in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount concludes, may I. thank him for the replies which he gave to my questions. With his approval, I should like to ask him one more on what he said during the course of his remarks.


I do not think the noble Lord can.


The noble Viscount mentioned in his opening remarks the sum of £10,000 for improvements on schools. Is he able to tell me whether that is a top ceiling of the amount or whether there is any latitude? Can an authority spend more on a certain improvement? I have in mind a sanitary improvement which was curtailed by the fact that the limit of £10,000 was imposed.


I think I must interrupt the noble Lord because he is really quite out of order, I am afraid.


I am sorry.


If I may also be out of order, may I say that £10,000 is the limit for any one school.


Thank you.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, when sometimes the future of this House is considered, it is sought to justify its continued existence by the high level of the debates we sometimes have. I would say that, if anyone tried to make out a case, he could well cite to-day's debate as a good example. I think that every speaker, with the possible exception of the first, has treated this as a proper debate, and we have had as much of a cut-and-thrust debate as it is possible to have in a discussion of this kind. Naturally, there has been no complete agreement, except possibly on the undesirability of teaching in classes of over forty, but I think that that is all to the good. It is no good raising a debate where everybody agrees with every thesis that is put forward. If I have succeeded in stimulating thought, and to a slight degree in stimulating discussion, on educational matters, I feel that the debate will have been well worth while. I did not quite understand the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, when he thought that the job of teaching was for the teachers and that other people should not dictate to them how their job should be done. I do not know whether the noble Viscount was directing his attention to me; I presume he was.


No, I was not.


I think we are entitled to consider what we want to achieve in our education. It is for the educationist to consider the methods of achieving that result. In the same way, when we talk about doctors by analogy, what we want from the doctors is that they should keep us in good health. We more or less leave it to them to decide on their methods. Nobody would deem it right to tell a doctor what he should do, but we do want him to keep us in good health.

There were one or two major questions of policy and principle which arose. I would refer to two of them. One was the question of the democratisation of our education. I do not think any the less of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for having thrown out the idea of nationalising the public schools. I believe that that is something which might well be considered. I do not think that anything ought to be rejected out of hand. Speaking quite impromptu, however, I hardly think that that is necessarily the best solution. The public schools have a great deal to be said in their favour. After all, the best of them are an advance guard of what we want the ordinary grammar school and the modern secondary school to be. Let them take the lead and let them show the way. I should be quite content that they should go on doing so. What I want to achieve—and here we may be in some controversy—is that admission to those schools should be on the basis of those who would most benefit; but I do not want to carry this point any further.

The noble Viscount, Lord Soulbury, and I were brought up in a very strict school, where we always had to keep one eye on Mr. Speaker in the Chair, and we found Mr. Speaker getting a little fidgety if we strayed a little beyond the exact terms of the Motion. I must confess that, even after five years, I still have that feeling occasionally, although I know that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack is kindness itself and would be the last to interfere if one did stray from the strict Rules of Order. It is rather beyond the terms of the Motion itself to discuss what happens to children after their primary school life, but I feel that the future of the public schools, or the democratisation of our educational system, for which I was glad to find a considerable degree of sympathy, is a subject which your Lordships might well discuss by itself. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, for having spoken in such (I took them to be) sympathetic terms about the ideal that we want to achieve. I am grateful to everyone who has taken part in the debate, and I think the greatest service I can now render to the House is not to press for the Papers that are included in the terms of my Motion, but to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at ten minutes before seven o'clock.