HL Deb 29 April 1964 vol 257 cc968-1040

2.51 p.m.

LORD SILKIN rose to call attention to the education of children up to the age of 11-plus; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the debate to-day is the third in a series of educational debates which have taken place in this House in the last few months. The first, as your Lordships will remember, was on a Motion introduced by my noble friend Lord Taylor on the Robbins Report. That debate aroused a tremendous amount of interest, and there were a very large number of speakers. After that we had the debate on the Newsom Report, which dealt with the education of children of average or below-average ability over the age of 13. That debate aroused a lesser amount of interest, but still a considerable amount. To-day we are having a debate on primary education and, judging by the number of speakers, it appears to have aroused less interest than the other two, although, as I hope to show, I regard primary education as far more important than either higher or secondary education.

In one respect, perhaps I should correct what I said, because I am glad to see a strong array of Bishops here and that two of them are to take part in the debate. I feel that this subject is one on which they are especially qualified to express views. It may be that we have been discussing education in the wrong order; that we should have started with primary education and worked our way up. The reason we have gone in the way we have is that the Robbins Report was at the time very topical, and, as I have said, a large number of noble Lords wished to take part in that debate. But I regard our educational system as one. Although we are having three debates, we have, in fact, to consider education as a whole; and primary education, I would submit, constitutes the base of a pyramid. Upon the soundness and firmness of this base depends the soundness of the whole superstructure, and it is essential, therefore, that we should see to it that we are building on the soundest foundations. I want to ask, therefore, whether our system of primary education is really firmly based.

To answer this question we must first ask ourselves: what is the purpose of education? We all have our views as to what is meant by education and what is its objective, but I would say there are three main purposes. The first, and I suppose the most popular, is to equip the child eventually to earn its living, having regard to its aptitude and ability; to give it the most appropriate background, knowledge and skill, and to give it, so far as possible, an equal chance with all other children of the same aptitude and ability. The second purpose is to enable the child to play its full part in adult life as a good and intelligent member of the community, and as a good citizen and family man or woman. The third purpose is so to develop the child's character, personality and abilities that it may lead a full life, spiritually, morally and intellectually[...] and get the best out of the great cultural heritage which is available to all of us capable of enjoying and appreciating it. If we accept these as the true aims, or what should be the aims, of education, there arises the question: how far and to what extent, after nearly twenty years since the passing of the 1944 Education Act, have we proceeded and what are the prospects in the foreseeable future?

I should like first to say a few words about the physical conditions under which children in primary schools are being taught, and I need hardly emphasise that the physical conditions do play a vital part. According to the National Union of Teachers' Survey, The State of Our Schools, there were in 1963 55 per cent. of our primary schools which were built before 1900, and a further 16 per cent. which were built between 1900 and 1914. So that 71 per cent. of our primary schools to-day—that is to say, seven out of every ten—were built before the First World War. Then 60 per cent. of our schools have no separate dining room where children can have their school dinners; 43 per cent. of our primary schools have outside lavatories only; half of them have no playing fields, half have no assembly hall, and 40 per cent. have no staff room where teachers may meet.

I need hardly stress the handicap under which young children taught in these conditions must suffer. It is true that much has been done, and I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, when he comes to reply, will devote the greater part of his speech to telling us how much this Government have done. But I am pointing out how much still remains to be done, and the effect of the deficiencies on the children of this generation and of the next generation.

Now I want to say a word about the building conditions. They would have been far better if the Government had not from time to time held back school building and cut down programmes submitted to them by the local authorities, even as regards schools which have been condemned by Her Majesty's Inspectors as being unfit for education. For instance, for 1964–65 they have cut back the value of plans submitted from £188 million to £50 million. On three occasions—in 1952, 1957 and 1961—they have even cut back on the level of expenditure already approved. So that it was not merely a matter of not approving plans: even when the local authorities had approved their plans, the Government stepped in and ordered them to cut down.

Then there is the question of the size of classes. One-fifth of the classes in our primary schools have over 40 children in a class. It is generally accepted—certainly in educational circles—that no children should be taught in classes of more than 30; that is the standard we have laid down in our secondary schools, and that should be our immediate objective. After all, children are curious and anxious to learn if their interest is stimulated, and they are practical and like making things. The quality and success of their learning depend on their being stimulated to explore, to find out and to ask questions. The classroom should be a playroom and a work-room, and the children must come to look on their teachers as friends to whom they can go whenever they are faced with difficulties or problems. How can one achieve this in classes where one teacher is supposed to be teaching 40 or more children, or even between 30 and 40? But all these desirable, essential, aspects of education have got to be completely ruled out.

In passing, I might say that various suggestions have been made for tiding over the difficult period of over-large classes. There is the use of television and broadcasts, and there are various mechanical aids. Perhaps the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, could tell us whether anything is being done, and, if so, what, as regards these mechanical aids to help us over the intervening period, after which we hope that we may be able substantially to reduce the size of classes. In the meantime, apart altogether from teaching, it is even impossible to maintain order and discipline in classes of 40 or more. I regard a reduction in the size of classes to a maximum of 30 as perhaps the most important of the objectives that should be carried out. At present, two-thirds of the primary classes in this country have more than 30 children per class. I would submit to the House that we are really wasting time, money and effort in endeavouring to teach children in such large classes and in such bad conditions as those in which, to a large extent, our children are being taught to-day.

Coupled with that there is, of course, the question of the supply of teachers. I recognise that the Government have done something in the last two or three years (the noble Lord, Lord Newton, may say they have done a good deal) to increase the number of teachers; but the numbers are still hopelessly inadequate. I can summarise these deficiencies by quoting an article by a Mr. John Vaisey, of the London Institute of Education, in the Observer of January 6, 1963—and the position is as true to-day as it was over a year ago. He said, speaking of this type of school: Their teachers are often a transient group of half-trained supply teachers; their buildings old and inefficient; their classes are big; and their playing fields, if any, are long bus rides away. Speaking of teachers, I would ask whether we are satisfied that our teachers really are of the right quality. I believe that, as a profession, they are under-paid and lacking in status; and in most walks of life one gets what one pays for. The teaching profession should not be the Cinderella of the professions. Its status should be the equal of other professions, or of the higher branches of the Civil Service; and if we aimed at that we could get it. But even with the increased facilities for training there is no hope of achieving the general maximum of 30 per class for eighteen to twenty years unless we raise the status of our teachers and attract far more young people, men and women, into the profession. So much for the physical conditions under which our children are being taught. I do not want to exaggerate the picture. I recognise that there have been built in the last years a good many very fine new schools which contain the amenities that are necessary and desirable in providing education for the majority of children, who are still being taught under the conditions that I have described.

Next, I propose to discuss how far we are progressing in carrying out the three objectives of education that I put forward. Basically, as I have said, our purpose should be to bring out to the full all the potentialities of the child; to discover and encourage its latent abilities; and to give it an interest in what is going on around it, both at home and abroad. We should also ensure that these opportunities are available to all our children, whatever their background or home conditions.

Are we succeeding in this? In other words, are we making the most of the human material presented to us? I am afraid, my Lords, that the answer must be, broadly, in the negative. There are far too many of our children who leave school who are inarticulate, unable to express themselves on the simplest matters; who are lacking in understanding of the simplest of ideas; who are unable to concentrate; who have not acquired the habit of reading for pleasure and information, or of writing; whose interests are limited; who are even lacking in a desire to understand; and who are (though I would not put this too high) incapable of filling in a simple form or answering simple questions intelligibly. Of course, this does not apply to all our children; not even, necessarily, to the majority of them: but even if it applies to only one-third, I say that we are wasting an enormous amount of human material and are not doing justice to these children. Nor am I suggesting that our children are incapable of benefiting from education if it is properly conceived and if they are given the opportunity. On the contrary, they are as potentially able as any children in the world; but we are largely wasting our children's talents.

Undoubtedly, the home background plays an important part. For instance, research took place recently among a group of 5,000 children from all parts of the country. At 8 years of age the average ability mark gained by the middle-class children was higher than that among the working-class children. As time went on, the gap widened, more particularly in areas where education is bad. The parents of the middle class could to a considerable extent shield their children from the effects of bad schooling and bad teaching: the working class suffer the full effect.

The moral is, of course, that we must improve teaching and conditions, especially in areas where they are particularly bad. I feel that something much more fundamental is needed. We must do very much more study, research and clear thinking about the real purpose of education. If we agree that the aim is broadly as I have stated, to bring out all the potentialities of the child, we must always have that purpose fully in mind and work out, as has not yet been done, the best way of achieving all this. Much more research is needed. I realise that there is a Committee sitting, the Plowden Committee, but I am not sure whether the terms of reference are wide enough to enable as thorough an investigation to take place as I have in mind. But I would hope, at any rate, that we could widen the terms if necessary.

We must find a more satisfactory and fairer way of deciding the future education of our children than the 11-plus examination. At present, this largely accentuates the disadvantages of humble origin. It creates unfairness between those children living in one local authority area and those in another. A child may have a one-in-three chance of attending a grammar school in one area, and the same child will have a one-in-ten chance in another area. The proportion of the age group entering higher education varies from 25 per cent. in Cardiganshire to 1.7 per cent. in West Ham. This illustrates the waste of talent at present inherent in our educational system. This percentage discrepancy certainly cannot be justified by the quality of the children in those areas. Further, we have to make up our minds as to whether the 11-plus age is necessarily the right age to make a break.

I believe that research will discover that our present methods of teaching need fundamental change. I want to say at this stage that I am certainly not criticising the teaching profession. I think they are doing their best with the material they have to hand and with the standard we are at present paying for. But what we need is a far more generous outlook on education. This cannot be achieved unless we are prepared to spend more money on education, to devote a higher percentage of our national income to it.

It is true that this expenditure has been increased from 3.5 per cent. of our national production in 1951 to 4.9 per cent. in 1963, and the noble Lord opposite can claim credit for this very substantial increase in the percentage. But he has to take into account that this covers the increased expenditure which has been forced on the Government by the rising birth rate. There are more children to educate; and there are more children staying on voluntarily at school after the age of fifteen. In fact, the school population has increased by 20 per cent., by 1,200,000, in the last twelve years; but the individual child has benefited very little by the increased expenditure from 3.5 to 4.9 per cent. It may well be that so long as the local education authorities have to bear so large a proportion of the cost of education, these anomalies and differences between one area and another are inevitable.

I think that serious consideration should be given to the question of the Government assuming a far greater proportion of the cost of education than they do to-day. In other words, education should be made, to a very large extent, a national charge. In that way we should iron out the inequalities between one area and another, and a child would not be penalised for living in a particularly unfortunate area.

To summarise what I have said, what I am proposing is that we should proceed much more rapidly with the programme of building new schools, so as to eliminate at the earliest moment schools which are 60 years old or more. Above all, we should provide, particularly in the poorer and more congested areas, adequate playing fields available out of schools hours and at weekends; and, of course, these playing fields must be serviced. Then we should train far more teachers and make the profession more attractive by better pay and higher status. Both proposals will involve a larger share of expenditure of the total national resources and, as I have said, I think the greater part of that cost should be transferred to the Exchequer from the local education authorities.

Then we should do far more to attract our best teachers to the poorer districts, where they are most needed. If necessary, we should do so by special pay and allowances, if these teachers are prepared to go to these areas on a fairly long-term contract. One of the difficulties in these poor areas is that there is a far greater rate of loss of teachers than in other areas. Teachers come for a short time and then go; there is a constant movement of teachers and very little continuity. I would suggest that it should he possible to get some kind of continuity if we were to employ teachers on contract over a period and grant them special pay and allowances for it.

Then we must give much more thought, study and research to the whole question of the purpose of education. We must be prepared courageously for drastic changes in the character, outlook and even the content of education. We must particularly have in mind the need for an outlet for the spirit of adventure and the desire to break new ground that is latent in every child and which should be encouraged. It should he encouraged in the direction where it will be of social rather than of anti-social value. We must put an end to the classification and virtual segregation of children at the age of 11-plus and we must work out some fairer system of education accord- ing to ability either through comprehensive schools or in some other way. I would not wish to be dogmatic, but we must put an end to the 11-plus system. I believe that if these objectives were accepted and energetically pursued we should, and could, within a few years find a solution to the restlessness and sense of insecurity from which the young suffer to-day, and we should have created what I know we can create: a well-educated, purposeful society, the equal of any in the world. I beg to move for Papers.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, we are beholden to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for giving us yet another opportunity of discussing an aspect of education. The series of debates which your Lordships have had and the great attention your Lordships have given to education have made, I am confidently assured, a great impression in the education world. And I believe that this is a well-chosen moment to follow up our earlier discussions with a debate on primary education.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, opened our discussion, as we expected, with a speech full of knowledge and sympathy. I cannot follow him in all his points, but I will try to say a word about buildings, 11-plus and the supply of teachers. I felt that he gave a rather too gloomy view of the primary schools as they are to-day. Since the passing of the Act of 1944 these schools have had a better chance than the secondary schools to settle down and go ahead. They have not been pulled about in different directions, as the secondary schools have; and, by and large, the teachers have taken their opportunities to make striking progress. I find that they have earned a great reputation for themselves, here at home and also abroad.

I mention the opinion held overseas, because it is a good thing to try to see ourselves as others see us. Of the large number of educational experts who are always coming here from all over the world, some, I think, go away critical of the later stages in our system, but every single one with whom I have talked has had a good word to say about the way in which small children are taught in the maintained schools. It is not only the teaching they admire; it is also the sympathetic care with which small children are looked after, inside and outside the school. I believe that your Lordships share this good opinion of the teachers in our primary schools. Even the infants (for that is what nearly half of their pupils are called) express themselves nowadays with a freedom and a facility that astonishes anyone who knew these schools before the war. When one comes away from a visit to one of our good primary schools one cannot help feeling that these children, both at work and at play, are a cheerful lot and are certain to give a lively account of themselves when they grow up. Therefore I cannot share the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who said that almost one-third of the children coming out of these schools will not have benefited very much.

I was glad that the noble Lord referred, in passing, to the excellence of the new school buildings. I am afraid that British contemporary architecture is often compared unfavourably with the designs that one sees in, say, Scandinavia or Brazil, but there is one group of buildings for which British architects have won universal praise and carried off the highest international award for design—that is, our post-war schools. And perhaps the flower of that achievement is the primary school of moderate size, which was given the top award at the Milan Triennále. I know that it is one thing to praise excellent buildings, and quite another to say that we have enough of them; and, as the noble Lord showed us once again, the Government and the Opposition will always argue about the size of building programmes. However, the record stands, that the local authorities have never been beaten in providing enough places to match the swiftly rising number of school children.

British children, unlike children in almost every other country, have not had either to go to school in shifts or to stay many months at home after the statutory entry age because there was not places for them. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, quoted the number of schools in use which were built before the war. I think that a more useful figure is the number of places, and it is now true that half of the primary schoolchildren in this country are in new post-war places, which is a much better comparison than the actual number of school buildings. The pressure to build new places is a little easier now, and when all our primary schools are brought up to the standard of the best—and that of course, is the policy of Her Majesty's Government—we shall have the most imaginative, useful and economical set of school buildings anywhere in the world. That will he an achievement of which all Parties can be proud.

I want to turn now to the more difficult subject of how to teach the children inside the fine buildings. On the curriculum and on teaching methods, there are, and there always will be, strong differences of opinion. My own observation led me to believe that primary education had made good progress since the war, judged by the usual educational tests, such as reading and writing ability. No one in the Ministry was satisfied, or ever will be; but at any rate the educational problems of the primary schools were nothing like so obvious or so acute as those of the secondary moderns or the 15 to 18-year-olds. That was the justification for commissioning Crowther and Newsom before asking for a full-scale inquiry into primary education.

Now the time is very well chosen for a thorough and objective review, and to this end Sir Edward Boyle has reconstituted the National Advisory Councils for Education, both for England and for Wales. The Lady Plowden has become the distinguished chairman of the English Council. The Council has begun to work, and I am very much hoping, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, himself said, that when my noble friend comes to reply he will be able to tell us something more than the little we know now about the scope and the methods of the Plowden Council. Just to ask one question: how long shall we have to wait for this Report? Three years, I suppose. It could hardly be much less because of the extent of this inquiry.

But even now I think one could hazard a guess about the impact which this Report is going to have. It will excite much more political controversy that Crowther, Newsom and Robbins all put together; for the Plowden Council is reviewing the procedures for the transfer of children from primary to secondary education. The evidence about selection has still to be gathered, and it could not usefully be gathered until the schools had had a fair trial after the 1944 Act, particularly the secondary moderns and comprehensive schools. No one has yet been in a position to say whether 11 or some other age is the best for the break between primary and secondary education. Up to now we have been guessing. That is why it is particularly important to wait for the recommendations of the Plowden Council, which will have been armed for the first time with adequate school surveys and case studies.

However, I wonder whether we shall have the patience to wait for the Plowden Report. It almost looks as though those who are not directly involved in education have already made up their minds on social grounds that any selection is bad. Members of all political Parties, of course, are intensely aware of the social implications of separating children between different types of secondary schools. It is our business as politicians to try to do what we can to improve the texture and harmony of society. But politics is one thing, and education is another. They may be allowed to overlap, but not too much.

As I believe, British education should be first and foremost designed as a service for individual children. If that is so, then it cannot be right to insist upon carrying out a political theory before examining as objectively as we can the full effect of that theory on the education of individual boys and girls. This is my plea for doing nothing drastic to the structure of primary secondary education until the Plowden Report has been received and studied. When it comes, I expect this Report to surprise and confound both the advocates and the opponents of the very large comprehensive schools which are to-day in favour with the Party opposite.


My Lords, is the noble Viscount suggesting that the Plowden Report, or any other report, on the ground of evidence collected, can possibly lay down a scheme of education that will do—I will not say for all time, but even for one generation? Is not this process of trying to get a scheme of education one that is constantly changing? The kind of suggestion made by the noble Viscount is not, I sug- gest, even a partial answer to the problem with which we are faced.


I entirely agree with the noble Lord that education is something which must be continuously improved and built on. But the Minister has asked the Plowden Council to look at this important question of the break between primary and secondary education, which is something that from time to time I feel all noble Lords would like to see objectively studied, so important is it to every child in the country. Of course, one cannot know what the Plowden Report will recommend. But if we want to be just to individual children, then it seems to me that selection will have to stay, although I suspect not at the age of 11. The verdict might very well be that 13 is a better breaking point. If so, then 5 to 13 is too long for a child to remain in the same school, so a second stage in primary education will become essential.

It is going to be most interesting to learn which of the two contending views about this second stage captures the Plowden Council. One side says that primary education to-day is so free and easy—even sloppy—that a child grows right out of it by the age of 9 and should go on to a middle school, where in a disciplined way he may begin to learn formal academic subjects, with examinations, to keep him up to the mark. The other side want the freedom of primary education as we know it to-day to be extended to older children, who, in their view, would benefit if formal subjects and examinations were deferred until 12 or 13. They also would like to see middle schools to which all children went at 9, but in which the teaching methods resemble those in the best primary schools we have to-day: that is, plenty of self-expression, no streaming and no examinations. Which side should we back? To me, the answer should wait upon the results of the studies being made by the Plowden Council.

Recently this House gave a Second Reading to a small Education Bill which allows middle schools to be established. An experiment of modest size would, I think, be valuable in these middle schools, but I should deprecate any very large changeover until we have had the Report and considered all it says. A changeover now would unsettle and upset the teachers, who would think it had been made on insufficient examination.

Your Lordships may have noticed that one interesting result must come out of this controversy about middle schools. Whichever side wins, the problem will be greatly eased for a boy of 12 or 13 wishing to go to a public school who has been to a maintained primary school. That, I think, is a result much to be desired.

The other aspect of primary education to which I would draw attention, and which your Lordships may think the more important, is the supply of teachers. This is a problem to which there is no single solution; nor, so far as I am aware, is there any combination of measures which could give us in the next ten years the number of qualified teachers that the schools should have. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, pointed out, we usually measure the teacher shortage by reference to the number of over-size classes; that is, classes which exceed the prescribed maximum of 30 in the case of primary schools. There is nothing sacred about this figure of 30 and in fact it is a misleading simplification. Some classes ought to be much smaller than 30, and others could be a little larger without doing any serious harm.

Here the infant schools are an excellent example. They cater for children when they first leave home and go to school. The child of 5 suddenly finds himself no longer in the constant care of one person whom he knows and trusts. What is the best way to help that child to settle down? The first and most important act is to place him in a class small enough for the teacher to have time to give all the members of that class a real sense of security. And the same is true of classes for backward children, who for one reason or another need special help. If classes for these backward children can be kept quite small, the skilful and sympathetic teacher achieves very remarkable results. So what really matters is not that all classes should be under 30, but that in each school the teaching staff should be large enough to organise classes appropriate in size to the varying needs of the children.

If that be accepted, we have to look to the teacher/pupil ratio rather than the size of the classes to see what is happening in the primary schools to-day. I would again take the infant schools and classes as an example, because the teacher shortage is worst there. Last January, rather more than 2.4 million infants went to the maintained schools in England and Wales. This figure was 60,000 higher than a year earlier, and by January, 1971, there will have been a further large increase of something more than 300,000. How is that prospect going to effect the teacher/pupil ratio? To-day these schools have about one teacher for 29 children, with the result that more than one-third of their classes are over 30; and, what is in my view much more important, far too few small classes can be organised for beginners or backward children.

What ought this ratio to be? To take an average of all the schools, big and small, there ought to be one teacher to 20 children if the pattern of the classes is to give both the teachers and the children full scope to do their best. What chance is there of getting down to the ratio of 1 to 20? If by "teachers" we mean qualified teachers, the answer is, no chance at all. To do no more than maintain the 1 to 29 ratio, 13,000 more teachers would have to be in service in the infant schools by 1971.

I will not weary the House with the detailed figures, but assuming the largest possible number of new recruits coming out of the training colleges and universities, and adding to these the married women returners on the most favourable estimates made by Professor Kelsall, then on present rates of wastage the ratio in 1971 is likely to be—I ask the House to take due note of this figure—no better than 1 to 35 children. A ratio of 1 to 35 children is a very serious prospect. With the present trend towards early marriage and an early start to the family, no Government—and it is not a question of pay at all, though I am all for paying the teachers well—can within the lifetime of the next two Parliaments hope to train and to keep the number of women teachers required to prevent a deterioration in the present 1 to 29 ratio. Too many girls will leave teaching too early. Later on, the number of married women returners could substantially increase, but that can happen only slowly.

I fear, too, that we may be overoptimistic about the number of women graduates who will come forward to teach as the universities expand. It is good to know that the universities are to provide thousands more places for women, but many of the girls who will fill these places will be drawn from the same groups who now go to the training colleges precisely because there is no place for them in a university. When these girls get to a university they will find a wider choice of career in front of them. The days are over when teaching and nursing were the only two large professions open to an educated young woman. As we heard in this House this day last week, when the Welfare Services were discussed with so much knowledge, competition is going to grow for the woman graduate, and that is going to make it still harder to get enough women teachers.

What, then, in this very unpromising situation, can be done for the primary schools? A desperate remedy is now being discreetly canvassed, which is to raise the age of entry from 5 to 6. I can hardly believe that any Government would commit themselves to so unpopular a course, unless the primary schools were actually breaking down under the strain. It would indeed be a desperate remedy. None the less, it has its supporters, and as the ratio worsens it may get more. Those who like international comparisons point out that other civilised countries have entry ages higher than 5. I personally should hesitate to change our educational policy in respect of small children on arguments drawn from abroad. Anyway, the British people have become accustomed to the entry age of 5 for nearly a hundred years. The great majority of families organise their lives with that entry in mind, and the mothers who would object most strongly to the age of 6 would be those who could not afford, or could not obtain, any help at home. It would be an odd sort of reform which hit those families hardest.

On the other hand, there are some children—not many; really very few—who have been found too young at 5 to move suddenly and successfully from home to school. But one has to say this about these cases: in nearly all of them the trouble comes, not because a nervous or delicate child has to go to school, but because he has to stay there all day. It is too much for the child, and I would support an option to send a boy or girl between the ages of 5 and 6 for the mornings only, if the parents so wished or if the school recommended it.

No case can be made on educational grounds for raising the age to 6, even if this were compensated by another year at the other end of school life. On the contrary, the experts are telling us that we have not yet appreciated how many children would benefit from preschool classes; that is, from some form of organised care before they are 5—probably not the children or grandchildren of your Lordships, but there are a great many families where these young children really do need a little more looking after than they get. On that view, keeping the age of entry at 5, we ought to be establishing a great many more pre-school classes. But if that age were raised to 6, the pressure for such classes would become overwhelming, and many teachers who are now in the infant schools would have to be diverted to this work, so that the effect on the teacher/pupil ratio would be nothing like what had been expected.

I cannot put out of my mind on this subject that the children most likely to suffer from staying at home until they were 6 would be those who lived in bad houses, or had no mother or no substitute for a mother. We should have to help those children, and the help would mean the use of women who would otherwise be in the primary schools.

If your Lordships agree that raising the entry age to 6 is not a tolerable remedy, is there anything else to be done to relieve the teacher shortage? Faced with a ratio of 1 to 35, it is unthinkable to sit back and do nothing. I see only one practical measure, and that is to put on a regular and national basis the piecemeal experiments in the use of helpers who are not qualified teachers. Two years ago, when I suggested that the schools should employ auxiliaries, in the same way as doctors, dentists, architects and other professional people do, the reaction of the teachers and the local authorities was decidedly cool. They feared that this was an attempt to dilute the profession and to get the job done cheaply and without proper training. Of course, it was nothing of the kind, and since then quite a number of authorities have begun quietly, and in different ways, to employ helpers. My impression is that in the schools where these experiments are being carried out the teachers would be sorry to see the young helpers or the older women withdrawn.

If this is right, the time has come to take these experiments a stage further. The duties of a helper should now be defined and an assurance given that the use of helpers would be in addition to the maximum number of qualified teachers who could be trained in the colleges and universities. No one wants a helper to be a substitute for a qualified teacher; but as we cannot, by hook or by crook, get enough trained teachers, is it not sensible to relieve those we have of as much work as possible which is not strictly teaching?

Your Lordships will know how frequently a child of 5 requires to have his shoes or coat found and thrust upon him, his nose wiped and his sudden anxieties comforted. Within the school there is milk to be distributed and dinners to be supervised; and outside in the playground someone has to keep an eye on what these small creatures are up to. How far a helper under the direction of a qualified teacher could do jobs in the classroom itself must, of course, be a matter for consideration, and the teachers must be fully consulted. But it is hard to think that the professional status of the teacher would be undermined if one of these helpers heard some of the children read, told them a story, or took a part in their play activities. Anyway, the point here is that they should do none of these things except under the direction of a qualified teacher.

How many of these helpers might it be possible to recruit? No one, I believe, could to-day give us a useful estimate. They are drawn now from girls who are waiting to go to a university, to a training college or to train as a nurse, or from girls who want to work with children and do not wish to train for any profession. Then there are a large unknown number of older women who welcome a part-time job somewhere close to their home. I think it must be true that anyone who loves being with small children could become a valuable helper.

I should like to see the Minister, the local authorities and the teachers agree upon a national scheme to recruit helpers, defining their duties and settling their pay in such a way as to make it perfectly clear that they were not dilutees of the profession. Their cost to the ratepayer and taxpayer would have to be seen to be over and above the cost of training and employing the maximum number of qualified teachers. Some such scheme must be adopted quickly and put into practice with the good will of the teaching profession, or the post-war advances in primary education will be checked, halted and reversed. To act in this field we do not need to wait for the Plowden Report. I hope, therefore, that the recruitment of helpers will appeal to your Lordships, who, through the service which you give to local government, have a great influence upon the maintained system of education, and I believe that this House could give an effective lead to securing, as I see it, the only possible way of teaching our small children, who are the basis of the whole pyramid, up to the standard that we should all wish.

3.54 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has given to us of considering this part of the educational structure which, rather oddly, we seem to have left to the end in our massive rethinking of education. It seems a little odd that we should have been discussing the top storeys and not paying very much attention to the foundations. But perhaps there may be an advantage in that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, himself rather suggested, in that perhaps we are now better able to see education as a whole and have more adequate information on which to see particular needs of that part of it which at the present time we call "primary"— although I personally hope the day will come when we shall stop putting labels on different parts of the educational system and regard it all as one whole process.

I personally would hope, too, that we shall not talk about breaks between one type of education and another, but be concerned more particularly with the best form of transition, because when we think of transition we are not raising those overtones which sometimes come with the word "break"; and as we are moving towards being within sight of what we should all regard as being socially necessary—that is, a unified free system of education at all levels—we must not allow any one part of it to be developed at the expense of another.

On this subject of primary education there are so many points which one would wish to take up that some kind of selection has to be made, and I would touch only upon one or two to which reference has already been made. The first is the point about the physical environment of the children at the beginning of their formal education. In the Newsom Report we were given pretty shattering information about the effects of bad conditions upon children who, we were also shown by the Newsom Report, were capable of being educated up to the levels of anybody else. The secondary schools in depressed urban areas constitute a very great problem and challenge to us; but so, also do the primary schools. I believe that the Manchester University Institute of Education is now engaged upon a piece of research into the effects of social and economic environment on the performance of primary school children, and there is some reason to think that that research will show that the relationship is close and that the results of environment can be very serious.

The building programme has already been referred to, and no more need be said on that, perhaps, except (since the criticism is sometimes made that those responsible for aided schools, who, because they were the pioneers, usually have the oldest schools to look after, are not doing enough to improve their schools) that anything that can be done to accelerate the building programmes in order that the Churches, which have been champing at the bit to improve their buildings, will be able to do so, will be more than welcomed by them. But, even more than buildings, there is this problem of the supply of teachers. With a good teacher it is possible to do a great deal in bad conditions. On the other hand, the most beautiful school in the world will not produce very much in the way of results if the teachers who operate within it are not up to their job. That is a truism and perhaps hardly needs restating. Yet, somehow, it needs to be remembered.

The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has given us, on the other hand a realistic and depressing forecast of the difficulties of increasing the numbers of teachers available, and has intimated that at the present time the prospects of improvements, even in terms of the staffing ratio, are not particularly good. He seemed to assume, since his references were to the female sex—and this was perhaps accidental—that teachers in primary schools would necessarily be women. Perhaps it is worth saying here that we could do with many more men in primary education. In my own experience, male teachers in primary education are sometimes more effective than the women teachers; and certainly they do not betray any lack of care and understanding for small children. And if women are all going to get married, then perhaps we ought to try to get more of the men, whose marital status does not affect their capacity to continue their teaching career.

However that may be, I think two things must be done. I would agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, in what he said about the need for taking off the shoulders of qualified teachers the many little chores which they have to perform, particularly in primary schools, through the organisation of a system of helpers properly thought out and approved and accepted by the teaching profession. This, I believe, is something which must be done unless the primary schools are to break down under the strain of increasing numbers and the need for higher standards.

The other thing I believe must go with this is that the primary school teachers themselves should not feel that they form in any way a part of the teaching profession which is lower than that which is employed in the grammar schools or in secondary education. As the supply of graduate teachers increases, it is surely essential that more graduates should be teaching in primary schools, where their own particular knowledge and maturity will bring many benefits to the children while at the same time maintaining, as it were, the academic status of the primary stage of education. If we have nothing but non-graduate teachers in the primary schools and nothing but graduate teachers in the secondary schools, I think we shall be doing real harm to the unified education which we all desire to see.

Moreover, as the principal of a training college remarked recently, there is a sense in which before long every primary school teacher will be a specialist. And, speaking as one who was himself a teacher for some 20 years, I would say that it requires more in the way of capacity and teaching ability to teach in a primary school than it does to take a sixth form in a grammar school. I personally should be scared stiff, although I was a sixth-form master for many years, to be landed with the care of even 30 children of the ages of 5 to 6 for four or five hours a day. I am quite certain that if I had to do that I should go home a nervous wreck. It requires qualities of personality and of knowledge, and a degree of training and professional competence which are second to none of those required in any other part of our educational system.

As we improve the training of our teachers, as we try to increase their numbers, my own plea would be that we do everything possible to secure that within the primary stage of education the standards of training and the numbers of graduates should not be lower than those in any other part of our educational system; for it is there that the real work has to be done. From my own experience also, I think I have seen more really good teaching, in the professional sense, in the primary schools of our country than I have seen in any other part of our educational set-up. Perhaps since we have a good many first-class teachers it is not fair to draw comparisons.

But there is, of course, something else which in this early stage we must all be concerned about, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said in the third objective of education which he described: the development of the child's moral and spiritual qualities; the child's equipment to be a good man, or woman, when it grows up to adult life. That which begins, or should begin, in the home is reinforced and developed in the primary schools perhaps more than at any other stage, where the school and the home are, as it were, closest to each other. There perhaps the Churches, which are only too anxious to play an increasing part as partners in any developing system of primary education, can serve as a link between home and school, and perhaps also as a link between those other parts of education which we perhaps tend to forget in our educational discussions—that education which takes place outside the walls of the classroom or the walls of the school.

The child is always being educated. He is educated by those with whom he plays; educated in one way of another by the availability of opportunities for proper recreation; educated in one way or another by what he sees in the "box" or hears on the sound radio, or by what he reads in the glossy magazines or sees in the cinema when he has queued up on Saturday morning for the children's performance. These are education no less than what happens in school, and I believe that there is a need for a much closer liaison between what happens in formal school and that which is going on all the time outside. There is need for more help with playgrounds, for children's clubs and the like. In all this it is our society as a whole that is concerned. I hope that out of this concern in your Lordships' House for primary education, in advance of the recommendations, whatever they may be, of the Plowden Council, there will be a reinforcement of the conviction that what happens from 5 onwards—or, as I would say, earlier still, because I personally believe that there is a great value in nursery classes or nursery schools—is quite vital for the contribution which these children, as they grow up, are going to be able to make to the life of the nation whose future will depend on them.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, would join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for initiating this debate. I am sure that if we heard no more speeches to-day we should think the three speeches we have listened to have made the decision by Lord Silkin well worth while. I would congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Newton, upon his appointment as Minister of State for Education and Science. We have had excellent speeches, and I look forward certainly to hearing a major speech by him on this most important topic.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, particularly on the three main purposes of education which he set before us. I think the mistake we have to avoid in connection with the primary schools is laying too much stress on education designed for the preparation of cogs for the economic machine. We must try to ensure that the eventual product we turn out from our schools, no matter what they may be called, shall be persons who are able to lead a full and satisfying life.

It is the case, and this has been stressed before this afternoon, that since the discovery that we were trailing a long way behind other great nations in the production of scientists and technologists, the politicians, the Press and the forward-looking trade unions have urged the Government and educational bodies towards a vast expansion of the facilities necessary for an output of scientists and technologists proportionately as great as in the United States of America and the U.S.S.R. We have had Crowther, we have had Robbins, and a whole host of books, articles and speeches devoted to the grammar schools and their product. The effects of the 11-plus and the arguments for and against the comprehensive and the grammar schools have been debated unceasingly.

In all this, it seems to me that we have tended rather to overlook the beginning of it all, the primary school. To this the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred. I know that this is an oversimplification. Part of the excellent Newsom Report was devoted to some of the aspects of primary education, and throughout the years there have been pressures upon the Government from the Opposition and elsewhere for the clearance of the bad old buildings and the training of more and more teachers. The simple fact is that if you talk to reasonably intelligent men in the train or anywhere else about education, they might be expected to discuss the pros and cons of the public schools; Robbins would probably be known to them, Crowther possibly; Newsom, I would say, very doubtful indeed; and they would be quite unaware of the decision to reconstitute the Central Advisory Council to consider primary education in all its aspects, and the transition from primary to secondary education. I hope that this will not mean that this reconstituted Council is going to pay too much attention to 11-plus onwards, but that it is really going to consider primary education in all its aspects. Certainly I welcome the decision of the then Minister of Education to appoint, or to reconstitute, this Council and to place it under Lady Plowden. Incidentally, I rather sympathise with her, for it seems to me that we shall have some little difficulty about calling the report the "Plowden Report", for we already have a major Report under that title, although, of course, it covers an entirely different field.

In regard to the Report itself, I hope it will be as authoritative, comprehensive and deeply searching as was the Newsom Report; and I certainly hope that it will be as well written, because that Report was a delight to read and carried one along excitingly and excitedly from the opening until its final conclusions. I am not going to say, in the circumstances of the times—the urgent need to increase the output of scientists and technologists—that the crash programme of urgent needs was wrong. But I am bound to say that apart from that necessity, in education we simply must get our beginnings right, and that means beginning with our primary schools, which, in my opinion, are much the most important part of the educational structure. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on this point and with others who have said the same thing. If we do not get our beginnings right I do not see how we are to get our ends right; and I certainly think that we must get our beginnings right.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to some of the disturbing facts about our primary education as it is at the moment. He referred to the basic fact of the size of the classes given in the Ministry Report for 1963. This shows that for pupils under the age of 11, classes comprising more than 40 pupils actually rose during the year 1962 from the 18.9 of 1961 to 19.5 per cent. At the end of the year. Thus, approximately one in five is being taught to-day in a class that is over sized. That just is not good enough. Another report, by the National Union of Teachers, tells us that over half of our primary schools are housed in buildings which date back to the last century. Some of us who were educated in them know what they were like, and must still be like, even though the fly-blown portraits of Queen Victoria have been removed and a bit of paint has been put on the walls and on the doors.

But I am not going to indulge to-day in fruitless criticism of the failure to build more schools or to provide more teachers, although of course I agree about this with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. But I think it is time that we began to question some of the basic assumptions about primary education. The first of these about which I have great doubts is that classes of 40 are suitable for those under 11, while for those over 11, 30 is the acceptable figure. The 1959 Schools Regulations laid down a standard of 40 for primary school classes.

Like most people who have ever looked at this matter, I am strongly of the opinion that the greatest amount of individual attention and encouragement is required at the outset of one's educational progress—at the stage when, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said, the youngster comes into the school, into a strange new world and, in this strange new world has to adjust himself and needs the greatest amount of help to enable him to meet all the problems he has then to face. It is at the primary school stage that for so many children the environmental handicap of the illiterate home and neighbourhood has to be overcome, if it is ever to be overcome.

In our struggle towards equality of educational opportunity we have rightly removed the crudest of economic barriers. The provision of many forms of monetary assistance, the abolition of school fees, and the provision of university grants, have removed the obstructions which prevented so many of my generation and later generations from climbing the educational ladder. The most serious obstacle now remaining for so many is the environmental hurdle —the obstacle of which Newsom wrote: Many boys and girls may well appear to be so much more stupid than they need be simply because of the inarticulate homes from which they come". Here, in the primary school, one should be taught and encouraged to achieve the absolute essential for educational success, which I say is a quick and eager mastery of reading. Here one should be helped away from the crippling sense of inferiority vis-à-vis others who come from a different background with a wider, regularly used vocabulary and the confidence which that brings—that inferiority which it takes half a lifetime to overcome, and which in so many cases is never overcome at all.

Mr. Leslie Hale, a Member of the other place, has recently written a novel, in which I spotted the following sentence. He was writing of an intelligent man, whom he said had "a shy appreciation of the limitations of his own vocabulary". I have suffered from this the whole of my life. I am now getting over it, as perhaps your Lordships may have observed, but certainly this can be a stultifying experience, a holding-back factor. It is extremely difficult for anyone who has not had the right beginnings to mix and talk with other people happily and readily, and really to express oneself and allow the personality to flower, unless somehow one gets over this inferiority which starts so early in life. All this means a greater amount of individual attention and encouragement, which I believe, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was saying, is quite impossible in a class of 40 or over.

Then there is also the difficulty, as I see it, that so often the child is pushed up from the class, whose main function is to teach him to read, when he has not yet acquired the ability to do so, into the larger classes, without his having acquired the "thought tools" which are necessary to enable him to cope with the new problems he has to face. When he is pushed on in this way he just does not understand what it is all about, and inevitably becomes bored; and eventually with the difficult child it leads so often to juvenile delinquency. The Times of yesterday quoted a teacher who has to cope with the problem of large classes. He said that When classes are too big we have to revert to old-fashioned methods: questions are asked of all instead of one; response comes from the mass. You have to be much more strict or you would never get anything done. You can't teach as many different things when you are teaching so many; they all have to progress at the same speed …". At this stage the teacher either has to adjust to the below-average in a class, or to concentrate—under the pressure of examinations and possible future examinations—on the above-average and let the rest go hang.

The wastage of excellent brains caused by the environmental handicap has been shown up with startling clarity by the Crowther and Newsom Reports, and by a book which I read recently called Education and the Working Class, by Jackson and Marsden. I make no apology at all for labouring this point, for I believe, accepting, as I do, what those Reports and people have said about it, that we must keep hammering at it until somehow we find a way to remove this large remaining inequality in our education system. I am sure that both the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the right reverend Prelate were hammering at this very point this afternoon. We cannot remove the illiterate parents or the illiterate neighbourhood background, but by smaller classes and a greater degree of individual coaching and attention we could remove some of their worst and limiting effects. I believe that in this way we shall help to remove for the next generation their bad, illiterate homes and their illiterate background.

The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, stressed the practical difficulties of getting more teachers. The difficulties must somehow be overcome. I know the problems which would be created by some of his suggestions, but they are worthy of consideration. We must be careful not to lower standards, or certainly not to lower standards in such a way as to arouse the understandable opposition of the National Union of Teachers to the dilution which the noble Viscount suggests. The problem is to get over this temporary difficulty without creating the dilution which would be objected to.

I should like to make a brief reference to school buildings and the urgent need for the replacement of the worst of them. The worst of them that I happen to know exist in the poorest areas, or, at least, most of them do; but I happen to know some which exist in our beautiful countryside. But it is not much help for the child coming from an ugly and depressing home and background to enter a new world in a building as ugly and depressing as his own home. With the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, I do not believe that buildings are everything. I would rather have a child of mine taught by some teachers I happen to know, even if it had to be in a hovel, than by some others I happen to know if it were going to be in a palace. I do not believe that buildings are everything, but bad buildings and surroundings are partly the cause—and this is an important feature—of the high rate of the drift of teachers from some of the worst areas to better areas and better school buildings. There is an excessive rate of turnover among teachers in these schools, and this is recognised by everybody who knows anything at all about it as a bad thing, particularly for the pupils.

The Newsom Report showed that the "holding power" of men in modern schools is 65 per cent. as an average; in socially-mixed areas it is 70 per cent.; in rural areas it is 75 per cent.; in slum school areas it is only 34 per cent. This is a tragic situation which we ought to try to overcome in every possible way open to us. New buildings in these areas clearly are one part of it, and I certainly would have no objection to paying enhanced salaries to those teachers who work in slum areas. I believe the Ministry should consider this point. The Newsom Report concludes, from its examination of this throughput of teachers in some of these areas, that Clearly having good buildings is an important advantage in keeping a stable staff, especially while most schools are indifferently housed. Factors other than buildings enter into this, but they are one of the more important factors and are more within our control than staff relationships, which happen to be another factor in the movements away from schools.

I conclude from all this that the sooner we get to the stage where classes in primary schools are reduced to 30 or under, the better the chance of producing citizens capable of a full life who will be able to use increasing leisure without suffering Clacton or any other form of boredom. Boredom, I know, can be an awful thing. Fortunately, I seldom suffer from it, except when I have to go to cocktail parties and sometimes listen to my own speeches. But the well-equipped and the inquiring mind is seldom bored. I believe that to be absolutely true. In all that we have been talking about the stepping up of our building programme for primary schools, particularly in poor areas, will play its part, as will decreasing the size of classes. My Lords, all this has been said a thousand times before, but we must keep on saying it until it becomes irrelevant. When it becomes irrelevant we shall then have to turn to the new problems in education which will inevitably emerge.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, I hope very much that the smaller list of speakers in this debate does not indicate, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, suggested, a decreased interest in this aspect of education. I feel that it might indicate a decreased knowledge of it, because this is a sphere of education of which we, and men generally, have very much less experience. All children up to a certain age look very much alike and we are apt to oversimplify their problems. Therefore it is very good that the noble Lord has raised this issue now. No doubt we are not speaking to a brief, as we were in the case of Newsom and Crowther, and that handicaps our own efforts; but we are speaking to a long series of educational debates and plans which presupposes the basis about which we are debating this afternoon.

I am personally very grateful to the noble Lord opposite, who reminded us of some of the practical work that still has to be done in terms of conditions in our primary schools. The Newsom Report opened up a good many things that were under a stone, and I am sure that the Plowden Council will open up a few more. While some of these facts have been, quite rightly and adequately, modified by some of the observations made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, we cannot get away from others. We cannot get away from the conditions of school buildings and, like the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, I feel bound to reinforce what has been said about the urgency of this part of our programme, which is something we can tackle even while the teacher problem defies any such immediate solution.

On this matter the Churches can speak not only from great knowledge but also from some rather bitter experience, because many of the voluntary schools were first in the field and, therefore, are the older schools. While it is certainly not true that an old school cannot be reconstructed in a new and imaginative manner—many of them have been—it is still true that we come in for a great deal of unmerited criticism. After all, what we are doing is waiting in the development plan pipeline, with all our own plans ready and our finances arranged for our share in the reconstruction, and we have to watch our own children suffer from the continual postponement of these plans. So I hope very much that the emphasis that has been laid on buildings—and I hope not apologetically laid—as part of the issue will be borne in mind.

My Lords, I should like to consider briefly two aspects of the framework in which primary education goes on to-day. One of these has been particularly mentioned already. We are all of us uneasy at, if not puzzled by, the disparity and the variety that we see to-day between different forms of education at what I might call the later levels. Some of them are educational divisions, some of them are not educational divisions. I am not at this moment thinking particularly (because it has been referred to elsewhere, and may be more of a temporary division) of the division in secondary education groupings as between grammar and secondary modern schools, although this casts its shadows back upon the previous stage of education. I am thinking also of this cleavage between the independent schools—the public schools, as they are called—and the State schools. The differences here are one of the challenges of our modern society. To some they represent differences which are in themselves desirable; to others they are differences that are undesirable, though they may still seem inevitable. But if we are to think of ways in which we can better express the one-ness of the nation it educational opportunity, then undoubtedly we should make a beginning in the primary school.

I remember that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, himself raised this point at an earlier stage at the Ministry. There are already primary schools which serve pretty well the whole of their own local community, regardless of any distinctions, and I believe that there are many other such cases where this greater embracing of the community would be welcome. In fact, I should hope that we could see some such steady extension of the national primary school education, so that it would afford a common basis of education for all the nation's children, and in this way take unto itself in due course a great deal of the work now being done by independent and preparatory schools. That would, in many ways, mark a very welcome advance. But, of course, it would mean essentially a far greater concentration of effort upon our primary school system, if it is to bear its extended rôle, especially in dealing with such matters as the supply of teachers and conditions which have already been mentioned this afternoon.

The second consideration of which I should like to remind your Lordships—and it is outside the primary school—is the nature of our modern society. Industrialisation is going to bring with it more leisure and therefore more need, as well as more opportunity, for creative living. It will ask of us more responsibility in citizenship. There is far more partnership in different aspects of society to-day and thus a greater need for rational co-operation together. Also, of course, if we were not careful the mass-minded man could easily develop in great numbers, and be easily induced to conform to certain patterns of habit through the arts of salemanship or the sheer, pressure of the crowd. If we are to have a free society, it must be through an education that helps boys and girls to grow up into real persons, and not to suffer later from some kind of arrested development.

I raise this point, my Lords, in this context because maturity is not a matter of techniques, or even of actual know- ledge. You can superimpose this upon a half-developed character. I believe it is the primary school that has to lay the foundation for maturity; for the emphasis there, if I take it aright, is not so much on learning or on acquiring skills, though these begin there; it is on awakening personalities, helping them to discover their enthusiasms, and perhaps giving them some confidence in their own powers which they can use later. That is one of the difficulties about the present form of selection, because it is not, as all selection should be, selection for something but selection from something.

There must be different branches to express the disparity of the human gifts but not, perhaps, the straitjacket which is at present applied and seems very much the cause of strain. As has already been mentioned, there are many forms of new teaching, imaginative teaching and techniques, which are being used to-day in the primary school. I think it could be said that they are aiming at developing intelligent and personal response, rather than the acquiring of knowledge, which in a few years, perhaps, will be instilled into us in our sleep. They are helping people to grow up as persons, and this is the foundation for which we look especially to the primary school.

It is for this reason that I wish briefly to return to two points which were touched upon, and much better touched upon, by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, in the light of the experience in primary education which the Church has had over so long a period, and in the light of what it claims to be, within the whole national system, religious education. Religious education means, it is true, teaching and learning. It does not mean a process of indoctrination—at least, it should not mean that—of certain formulae, into a certain way of living. It means opening up to children, as far as they can take it, the wider dimension of life, by teaching them about God and about their own relationship to Him, and so bringing them to face the demands of their own nature upon themselves—to face them confidently and to face them responsibly in what is asked of them.

Now there are many voices raised today, as in the past, against a built-in system of religious instruction. I hope we shall not be swayed by these, for I think that the omission would deprive the children of this age of something which they would not in most cases have any opportunity of getting later. There are, of course, more specific things to be said, which need not be said here, about religious instruction; but at the further stages, as the Newsom and Crowther Reports indicate, inquiry and discussion about the meaning of life and our own decisions in it come into it on a much wider basis. It is at that stage that there will be room for mature choice between different spiritual or moral attitudes: but I do not think such choice can be made at all adequately at that later stage if, at the earlier stage, there has not been some effective presentation of the religious view of life.

Paradoxically, many parents who themselves have apparently no deep religious convictions or practice, often ask for religious instruction for their own children. I think it is on the sincere basis that they would like them to be equipped to make the choice for themselves; and if this is omitted at this stage they will never be able to make the choice fairly. Of course, religious education is not bound up wholly or simply with instruction. The values of the spirit and the mind come in, as Newsom has indicated, through all kinds of other parts of the curriculum: through the corporate acts, whether in worship or elsewhere; through anything you like that opens up the wonder of the child in his world and helps him to get excited about it and to make some kind of serious response. All this is, if you like, part of religious education, and all of it is essentially part, surely, of this primary stage in particular.

Side by side with this emphasis, I should like to refer to what I believe to be the second piece of experience which the rather smaller schools of the past have brought to us. It is the whole play of the local community, within the school as well as outside, upon the education of the child. Now modern society does not seem to be very successful in developing mature human relationships. There are indications of this in the breakdown of marriages, the lack of communication between the dif- ferent generations, and the intense loneliness and the "keep-yourself-to-yourselfness", so to speak, of much that goes on in our own new housing estates. I believe those in the teenage are very conscious of the need for adequate and personal relationships, partly because they are themselves insecure and very aware, sometimes, that they have not been given them at an earlier stage. Surely it is essentially at this primary stage, where you get the personal atmosphere of a community, that so much can be achieved.

This would imply, so far as the school goes, questions, quite seriously, about what is the size that really is large enough to produce educational variety at this age and small enough to retain, in a sense, the local family atmosphere. Is it bound up with any kind of maximum? I doubt very much whether this atmosphere of community can be, for young children, retained in a school larger than, say, two-form entry. I think there is a strong case for something smaller than that. I think there is a strong case for anything which does not seem to stream children into different abilities at this age. They will be streamed by life later; let it wait until then: and let them learn something of the variety within the framework of their own age group.

Equally, I think it is unhappy when children have to break their schooling between the infant and the junior stages. This aspect of the local community within the school could, of course, be carried further into an aspect dwelt upon by the right reverend Prelate, and therefore I will not go into it again, and that is the aspect of the outside community. We would only say that the kind of suggestions which have been adumbrated by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, will, we hope, be taken up and investigated with the utmost responsiveness. There are all kinds of people who ought to be brought in to assist, or to be seen to be assisting, in the process of education.

One of the difficulties of labelling it by different ages is that you suggest that outside those age groups education is not going on at all. That would touch upon what is precisely one of our chief problems: how parental responsibility can be geared into a society where men and women are at work and where there are not, and perhaps never will be, enough nursery classes or schools to cope with the children adequately at an earlier age.

My Lords, I will not dwell on this subject. I will conclude with one very brief remark, since this is an aspect which has not been seriously mentioned. It is about the countryside. You can deal with statistics—the size of classes, the ratio of teachers—and forget that, within these figures, there are particular problems attached to the local rural schools. It is impossible not to see these rural schools to-day against the whole expanding scene of education elsewhere, or to consider them otherwise than on educational grounds; and yet we are bound to admit that the old village school, the village schoolmaster or schoolmistress dies hard.

In the past, the Churches have been very strong champions of the small village schools. I think we must recognise that, with the changing times, we have to revise our own estimates of this. It is difficult to conceive educationally, I think, of a school that would be much less than a three-teacher school, though that does not mean to say that there are not two-teacher schools and even one-teacher schools in parts of the country which are effective. But, none the less, what we would do most, I think, is to plead for some flexibility where the countryside in particular is concerned. After all, when it comes to matters of finance or of the use of teachers in a teacher shortage, the countryside is very badly placed. On the whole the country school, I suppose, is in these matters more costly per place than the town school, inasmuch as it is possibly smaller. It would be a great pity if decisions about the countryside, with its own changing rural problems, had to be decided on grounds of finance rather more than on grounds of education.

I know that while this matter is very much in the minds of local authorities, no fixed standards can be effectively made while the population of the countryside is so much in flux itself. In some places it is diminishing; in some places it is almost growing into a town overnight. What is the right educational framework now for that? Could we plead for an avoiding, shall we say, of blueprints about rural education, and for the maximum consultation, both be- tween the authority and local representatives and with the Churches, who have been in the past, and would like to continue to be, in this, as in other things, very ready and sympathetic partners?

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I rise with great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate on the subject of rural schools and rural education. I take part in this debate because I am the only one in the list of speakers who is chairman of a local education authority; and, indeed, of a local education authority which is almost entirely rural. I hope that, because it happens to be North of the Border, the noble Lord who is to wind up the debate will not accuse me of having any particular Scottish axe to grind. I speak in general, although my experience is of an authority North of the Border.

I was struck with a phrase which was used by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and which I think is very significant in our educational programme. He said that the local authorities have never been beaten by the rise in the school population. What he did not say, and what I should like to say, is that I think that is largely due to his long tenure of the Ministry of Education, to his enthusiam for education, his drive and ability to get people interested in education, that has helped the local authorities never to be beaten by the rise in school population. Admittedly, we fall short in many ways of what we should like to do for children in schools. Nevertheless, it is the drive, the activities and enthusiasm of Lord Eccles and the Ministry of Education—and, in Scotland, of Lady Tweedsmuir and her Department—that make it possible for local authorities to get any enthusiasm at all for education. It is not a popular subject because it is expensive; and nothing that is financed out of the rates and is expensive can be popular with the ratepayers. But we must fight this battle; it is a battle we believe in, a battle which we want to fight and one in which we get great support from the central Departments, both in England and in Scotland.

My Lords, I should like to say something about the situation in Scotland, which strikes me, listening to this debate, as being in many ways similar to that in England. The great rise in the school population last year, according to the Annual Report which I have here, was in primary education, in the primary classes only. In fact there was a decrease in the secondary classes in Scotland. The primary class increase, which was 2,397 and meant an increase of 73 classes, will eventually, of course, pass through to the secondary departments; and there again we shall be faced with the great problem of shortage of teachers and of school buildings. Nevertheless, we have time to meet that when it comes. But it is in the primary classes that the big increase at the moment is taking place. I think, therefore, that it was great foresight on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to put this subject down for discussion in this House. We have had, as I think noble Lords have noted, the Robbins Report, the Crowther Report and the Newsom Report; but we are really coming down to brass tacks when we deal with the increase in the primary population.

One of the problems in the rural areas—and the right reverend Prelate also referred to it; so the problem in his county must be the same as in mine, in Roxburghshire—is not the too large classes; it is a matter of their being too small. The question is: at what point do we keep the small single-teacher school going; and at what point do we close it? The Scottish Annual Report announces that 50 small schools have been closed. I know that in my own county we had to close four last year, and this is a large proportion of the total of 50. One does not know exactly what effect that is going to have.

As chairman of the Education Committee, I have tried, when closing rural schools, not to take children to towns (and although the towns are not big cities, yet they are still towns) but to concentrate several small schools into one larger school in a rural environment so as to preserve the rural aspect of our education. This is because the children who are going to those schools will, in all probability, spend a large part of their lives in rural employment. To take them competely out of their environment and put them into an urban environment at the age of 5 is, in my opinion, a mistake that we should, if possible, avoid. Therefore, we have developed the idea of concentrating in one rural area a school which will perhaps be a three-teacher school and of doing away with three one-teacher schools in the surrounding district. This, I think, is a pattern that might well be developed, and if this is done it will preserve the rural environment in which we want those young children to grow up.

It is difficult to judge what is going to happen in rural areas with regard to population. Years ago, schools in rural areas were badly needed, and the populations were quite considerable. To-day, with the development of mechanised agriculture, with the replacement of men by machines, the rural population is going down at a very great speed. Therefore, one is forced, whether one wants it or not, to close many of the small schools. Whether that will continue and whether we shall go on in this way is hard to predict. Therefore, I would support the right reverend Prelate when he asks for flexibility in these matters and for having not too rigid a point of view; since we cannot foretell accurately what is going to happen in these areas.

I should like to pay a tribute to the teachers in these single-teacher schools and particularly to those in the very remote areas. Last year, when we lived in almost Arctic conditions in my own county, one school had to be closed for 25 days. Nobody could get to it, although the teacher was living in the schoolhouse. The conditions were appalling. I think we cannot praise sufficiently the devotion of those men and women who worked under those conditions and who did such a splendid job in all types of weather and despite all the very great difficulties of transport.

Among the teacher shortages that we have been talking about, and which are reported in the Annual Reports of the Education Departments, both in England and in Scotland, that of infant teachers is the most acute. They, it is said, are the most difficult to find. Therefore, I think that what has been said by many speakers in your Lordships' House this afternoon is most apposite. Judging by what I have listened to in the course of the debate, I do not think we in Scotland are quite so badly off regarding the pupil-teacher ratio as England is.

Our pupil-teacher ratio is 23.9 to one. I realise that that figure includes the rural areas, and that in our rural areas the number of small classes is greater than in the cities. Nevertheless, it is a more encouraging figure. All the same we are faced, as are the schools South of the Border, with an increasing shortage; and I should like to support the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, in his suggestion about the use of auxiliaries, certainly in the towns, to help with such duties and services as school meals, supervision of playgrounds, and so relieve the teachers of some of their obligations. I think it is an excellent idea, and, like my noble friend, I do not see why this should be treated as a dilution of the teaching profession, since these helpers would not be put on the same basis as teachers at all.

In England there is a Council under the chairmanship of Lady Plowden, inquiring into primary education, and I believe there is also one in Wales. I wonder whether the Department of Education in Scotland would not consider an inquiry of this kind for Scotland, too. It may be that in their archives they have all the information they want, but we are planning to raise the school leaving age to 16 in 1970, and that will mean a reorganisation of our schools and almost certainly an alteration in the age groupings to which we are now accustomed. I have heard it said that when the school-leaving age is raised to 16 in England, the groupings will be from 5 to 9, from 9 to 13 and from 13 to 16. This is a revolutionary proposal.

In Scotland, our age groups are different. At the present moment, the 11 plus is taken at 12, and in rural areas, where there are single-teacher schools and two and three-teacher schools, the children are kept up to the age of 10 and then passed on to secondary schools, where they do two more years of primary education before they are divided into grammar school and ordinary secondary school streams. I think it would be well worth while making an inquiry of the same nature as that which is being undertaken by the Plow-den Council in order to guide us in what we are planning to do in Scotland in 1970. I agree with what other noble Lords have said about education up to 16 being only half the battle in which we are engaged, and I think it is extremely important that we should not divide up our interests but begin with the primary school and carry on up to the age of 16.

Several noble Lords have spoken about old buildings. Of course, there are too many old classrooms, but when one goes round it is astonishing to see the marvellous new schools that have been built, particularly in our industrial centres where there is more money and it is easier to get new buildings put up. But I think we could do more in rural areas. We could build three or four-teacher schools, which would serve a whole rural area. Here I would make a plea that specifications for new schools in rural areas should allow for a little more space. It seems odd that in non-built up areas, school space should be confined by specifications which are sometimes rather cramping. Small children do not want to sit at tiny little desks for long times together. They want a large classroom or small hall to run about in and have games or other types of active educational work. I make a plea for more space in our new rural schools in order that in this new age, in which so much experimentation is going on in school classes, there should be room for this experimentation.

I would also make a plea for more specialist teachers in primary schools. I know we are up against a great shortage of specialist teachers, but if we could get them for such subjects as music and physical training it would be a great help in preparing children for their further education. To begin teaching music at 5 or 6 is much easier than starting at 8 or 9.

In the Report on Scottish Education which I have just been studying I read with considerable interest the figures about school meals and school milk. I have a real, personal interest in this subject, which I disclosed to your Lordships, in that the milk-in-school scheme was started by my husband when he was Minister of Agriculture in the years 1934 and 1935. There is no doubt at all that the health and strength, the height and weight, of many of the children, now adults, who received milk at school has been enormously improved. It is encouraging to know that the number of children in Scotland who are still being provided with a third of a pint of milk—it is still the same amount as it was in 1934—amounts to 88.9 per cent. I think that that is a very good thing, indeed.

I have talked about Scotland and rural schools because that is where my experience lies, but I realise that other noble Lords have covered ground which is of the utmost importance, and I find myself in complete agreement with what they have said. There is only one subject which nobody has mentioned—a very important and difficult matter, as any chairman of an education committee knows—and that is, money. Money looms very large in the development of education and, as I said at the beginning of my speech, it is hard to persuade the ratepayers that money spent on education is money invested. I believe that it would be really and truly the best investment for our national funds, for both the rates and taxes.

I cannot agree with those who would spend more and more money making our roads more like billiard tables, when we cannot get money to turn old-fashioned schools into new schools for the education of children—and, of course, nearly all their parents to-day drive motor cars. I go on hammering at it, and one is greatly helped by people who have done such a wonderful job in education during the last years. We have a number of people in your Lordships' House and in the other place who have been tremendously enthusiastic about education. But one has to get it across, not only in your Lordships' House and in the other place—that is not so difficult—but to the ordinary ratepayers in our own areas. That is where the difficulty begins and where one has to fight such a hard battle.

I would not agree that there is waste and inefficiency in the administration of education, certainly not in the areas about which I know anything. We cannot get education on the cheap: we cannot obtain good teachers, good schools or good pupils in that way. We must spend money in order to get these things. It is only a hundred years ago that we had Dotheboys Hall and Mr. Squeers, and, goodness knows!, we do not want in any point of our lives to have to fight conditions of that kind over again. To-day we need to have vision and faith in the future of this service; and it is necessary, I think, to start with that vision and to have that faith in the primary schools, as well as in all the other sections of education. I very much hope that what we say to-day in your Lordships' House will help those who are engaged in administering the education services in our country.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, education is a complex and difficult subject, but it is of fundamental importance to all of us, because in its widest sense education is the whole basis of civilised life and upon it depend the stability and success of our whole society. Education is so important, because men are not like insects. They do not come into the world endowed with a set of instinctive aptitudes which enable them to combat all the circumstances of their environment. It all has to be learnt by each generation, and it is because this accumulation of knowledge has gradually been developed from the dawn of civilisation up to the present moment that mankind has been able to make progress. Man's essential nature has not been altered in the course of heredity; it is the social endowment which is transmitted by education in its broadest sense from one generation to another upon which he depends.

Of course, it is not merely what happens in school that educates children. They are being assailed from birth onwards by all kinds of influences in the home and outside it. Many of these influences to-day perhaps make the problem of education more difficult than it was in the past, because influences of broadcasting, television, the popular Press and many other things which press upon the young and developing intelligence are not by any means calculated to develop to the best the novel and intellectual aptitudes with which the human being is endowed. So it seems to me that in many ways the problem which confronts our schools to-day has not become easier, but more difficult.

We cannot, I feel, discuss education mtelligently merely from the aspect of education up to 11-plus. No discontinuity in human development occurs at that age; it is only an administrative cleavage which then occurs, which has no relationship whatever to human nature, but arises out of problems of administrative convenience. Therefore it deserves a great deal of consideration, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, indicated, whether our present method of making a break at 11-plus is a rational and sensible way of handling things.

However, that is perhaps a little outside the scope of the Motion we are discussing this afternoon, and I will come back to the basic problem of education—namely, the transmission of knowledge. This has become, since the development of the art of writing, and still more the development of the art of printing, a question of literacy; a question of ability to read and write; to acquire information by means of what is in print and to transmit it by means of writing. With that I couple the arithmetical side of education, which is of much greater importance in a world in which mathematical disciplines are playing a larger part in industry and commerce, and where it has become so much more desirable that people should understand at least the bases of mathematical study, even if they do not proceed to understand the more intricate parts of it.

There is a great deal of complaint to be heard about whether we are succeeding in teaching children to perform these elementary arts of reading, writing and arithmetic. Certainly I am rather surprised at times when I go into shops and find that young people are quite unable to perform the simplest pieces of mental arithmetic and have to resort to tables, cash registers or other devices in order to do something which they ought to be able to do themselves almost instantaneously. I wonder what the reason for this is? I do not recollect that when I was a child at school anybody found any great difficulty about these things. Whether some change has taken place in education which makes it more difficult, I do not know.

Let me pass from that to the arts of reading and writing. Here, again, we find a great many complaints that children are unable to read. I wonder whether that is wholly true, because where does the enormous sale of the popular Press and such things come from if people are not able to read them? Nevertheless, the view is widely held that reading is an extremely difficult thing, and that many children do not succeed in it. Yet when I cast my mind back to education in Scotland as it was when I was a boy, in classes not of 40 children but of 60 or more, the teacher succeeded in getting them to read satisfactorily, and they emerged at the age of seven from the infant school into their next stage of learning with a sufficient degree of competence. It seems to me that some study ought to be devoted to the question of what has gone wrong with our method of teaching.

One thing I know is that, instead of using the phonetic method of teaching children to read, it has become popular to teach them by what is called the "look and say" method, which is admirably adapted for teaching children who have to depend upon an ideographic language like Chinese, but which throws away the whole of the phonetic aspects of our spelling as it has been developed. I am well aware, of course, that the English language is full of spelling anomalies, especially in many of the smaller words—not so much in the longer words—of which there are only a limited number, and which the successful teacher gradually deals with in groups of analogous cases without any difficulty whatsover.

It seems that this new method is one of the things which have interfered with the success of this absolutely essential part of our elementary education, and the dissatisfaction has grown so far that people have taken the trouble to invent a new alphabet, called the initial teaching alphabet, for the purpose of enabling children to read more rapidly. But, of course, the whole mass of literature which exists, and which will come into existence in the future will not be printed in this alphabet. Therefore, the child must in the end go back to learn the existing alphabet and be able to use it properly.

It is said, of course, that this transition will be made quite easily; and that very proposition is an admission that in fact the phonetic elements in our alphabet and our spelling, as it at present exists, are sufficient. I think, therefore, that the effort which is devoted to this is greatly misplaced. It is not going to make for ultimate success, and it must always be remembered that it is absolutely essential that children should learn not merely to read, but to write. They ought to be able to communicate with other people as well as to receive communication. Many of us, I think, have had the experience (especially those who have been Members of another place, and who have had to serve a large number of constituents) of finding the extreme difficulty which people experience in communicating quite simple ideas to one and especially, of course, of communicating them in writing, and in many cases one has had to have a personal interview in order to elicit what the problem is, because of this inability to communicate.

To go back to what I was saying a few moments ago, one of the great objections to the initial teaching alphabet is that it makes the problem of writing a great deal more difficult, because it is known from long experience that in teaching children to read one ought to teach them to write at the same time, so that by exercising their eyes and their muscles on writing, as well as upon reading, the matter becomes fixed in their minds. I think this is one of the elementary and essential notions in this matter. Here, as I say, the initial teaching alphabet, instead of being an ultimate aid, becomes an obstacle, because if the child is taught to write in this way it has to unlearn it. In any event, he has to learn the spelling, and is confused in the most essential part, the small elementary words, which are so often the subject of the unsystematic part of our alphabet and spelling.

Something has been said to-day about the school leaving age, and also about the school entry age. We are undoubtedly faced with a situation in which it is difficult to recruit all the teachers we require, and to improve the ratio of teachers to scholars; and to raise the school leaving age as is intended will certainly maze that problem more difficult. I have often wondered whether there is not quite a good case to be made out for lowering the school entry age—perhaps not to make it compulsory, but at any rate to encourage children of younger ages to go to school. At the age of four they are full of energy, full of interest, anxious to have something to do, and with only half a day at school they could learn a great deal, and their acquisition of the fundamental aptitudes of learning could be greatly facilitated. It would not be a difficult matter and I think it deserves a very great deal of consideration. I am not suggesting, my Lords, that special nursery schools should be pro, vided for children of that age. They are sufficiently old to be dealt with in ordinary schools, with education adapted to their age and their aptitudes. I have seen plenty of children who have already begun to acquire quite a good mastery of reading at the age of 5 when they have started earlier.

This brings me back, if I may continue for a moment, to the topic with which I started, namely, that the education of the child is proceeding all the time by all the things which are being brought to bear upon it in the home, outside, and in the school, and the problem of education has perhaps become more difficult. It may be that it would be eased if children were encouraged to go to school earlier, and began at an earlier age to be interested and to acquire the disciplines and aptitudes which are needed for their future life. I throw that suggestion out, at any rate, as one which deserves consideration.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, was defended earlier this afternoon by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, in her usual chivalrous way. I do not know whether he needed any defence on that occasion, but he does not need any now from me, in view of his interesting remarks. Nor will the Minister require any advice or assistance from me on the subject of education. A good many years ago he received all the educational advice that lay in my power to give him, and I feel, no doubt, he considers that that was too much at the time and will not want any of it repeated. But he will, at any rate, agree that I have not, apparently, retarded his political progress, and we all congratulate him very sincerely, and I, as his late tutor, most of all, on his elevation. We wish him well in his very important office.

It has been, on the whole, a quiet debate—I think what Sir Winston Churchill once called a "demure debate"—except that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, I think, suddenly ejected a bit of Party animus, which in a sense was not unwelcome. He began lecturing us on this side of the House for wishing to confuse politics and education because of our hostility towards the 11-plus arrangements, even in advance of the Plowden Committee Report. I must assure the noble Viscount that whatever the Plowden Committee does or does not say—and it is a very strong body—we on this side of the House consider that we know quite enough as a result of our own experience or the educational experience of those we trust to be entirely opposed to the 11-plus system. I must assure the noble Viscount, therefore, very respectfully, that we shall not wait for the Plowden Committee to cope with that in the way he knows is in the mind of the Labour Party.

My Lords, I am sure I share the general pleasure that we are devoting a whole debate to primary education. Educational experts tend to be more interested in secondary education or higher education, and I suppose it is fair to say, without sneering at anyone in particular, that most of us who talk on education have had closer contact with secondary and higher education. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that the number of speakers in this House who felt able to discuss this particular topic was relatively small, although all were expert in different ways, particularly the former Minister and the Bishops.

I agree very much with what was said by my noble friends Lord Silkin and Lord Champion, that primary education is at least as important as any other form of education, and I think they both implied that it was the most important part of education altogether. I certainly agree with what was said by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, that it is quite as difficult to teach children at the primary stage as in later years. I taught in what would now be called a secondary school. Then it was considered part of the primary system; the children were over 11 but it was part of the elementary system. I remember that very well because our rugger team, for which I used to play, could not obtain fixtures with the secondary school teams because of this accursed snobbery, which I hope is much less between the schools now, 30 years later, but which was very prevalent in those days.

There is no doubt that teachers in primary schools to-day feel as the old elementary school teachers used to feel, that they are looked down on by the other teachers, and I hope that this debate will do something to improve their self-esteem. Official policy—and here I do not think one can blame one Party more than another, but whichever is in power ought to alter this before much time has passed—seems to me to give further grounds for this kind of inferiority complex, which is too often felt among primary teachers and which has bad effects in discouraging young men and women from embarking on a career in primary education.

I agree very much with the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, about the rule that in primary schools it is all right to go up to 40 in a class, but in secondary schools the official limit (of course, it is exceeded in both cases) is 30. He said that he did not see why there should be any distinction. I feel that this is a point on which we ought to dwell for a moment, particularly in view of what fell from the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, with all his great experience. I should like to ask the Minister—if he does not feel able to answer to-day I hope he will be able to do so on some future occasion—to tell us whether, on reflection, he feels there should be a regulation enshrining this difference between the primary and the secondary school.

Is it really harder to teach 30 boys at the secondary stage than at the primary stage? Certainly we do not think so, if we pay for our own children to go to preparatory or public schools. In preparatory schools on the whole one finds that classes are about the same as in public schools, unless you reach the very ton of the public schools where children are grouped in small scholarship forms, and perhaps sometimes are crammed almost too intensively in those forms. But, taking public schools and preparatory school classes as a whole, we do not find this distinction, and I put it to the Minister, quite seriously, and ask him to consider what is the justification for it. Perhaps to-day he feels able to offer some justification, but I hope he will not commit himself to the view that there is something of the laws of the Medes and Persians about this extraordinary distinction.

Whatever are the aims of our national policy in this particular matter, there is no doubt that the situation in the primary schools is particularly grave. I realise that there could be some argument as to where the shortage of teachers was greatest, but I should hope the House would take the view that, on the whole, the greatest shortage lay in the primary schools, both at the present time and still more in the years ahead when the bulge will hit the primary schools so hard.

It is true that if you accept the view that an overcrowded primary class is one with more than 40 children and an overcrowded secondary class is one with more than 30, then the proportion of overcrowded classes in secondary schools is greater. But if you make a considered comparison based on the idea favoured at any rate by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and myself, and perhaps by others, that the standard of overcrowding should be the same in each case, you find that 75.2 per cent. of the children in the primary schools are in classes of over 30, against 52.8 per cent. in secondary schools; while 19.2 per cent. in the primary schools are in classes of over 40 against 2.6 per cent. in the secondary schools. So once one accepts that there ought to be the same basis in each case, one is bound to agree that the primary schools are very much more overcrowded.

The figures I have just give perhaps rather underestimate the dangerous situation in the primary schools, which was brought before us very clearly by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I therefore hope that the proposals of the National Union of Teachers for altering the differential arrangements in this respect will receive the favour of the Government. I realise that the whole subject of the differential payments of teachers is one of appalling complexity. I am not talking about the differential payments for special qualifications or experience; I am talking simply of the arrangement under which a child over 13 counts for more points than a child under 13, so that at any rate some of the key people in the primary schools with the same qualifications as those in the secondary schools are paid worse.

I have worked out, with assistance, one example which I present as a rough indication. Take a primary school of 360 pupils and a secondary school with the same number, and assume that the headmasters of the two schools have the same qualifications. Making some reasonable assumptions about the age of the secondary school pupils (one has to make one or two assumptions here, but I have had expert help in making these calculations), leaving out the personal allowance in the headmasters' salaries, which we can assume is the same in each case, you find that the allowance for the headmaster, as headmaster, would be £475 in the primary school and £650 in the secondary school. So there is a difference of £175. And that appears to be roughly, I think fairly enough, the comparison. There is no doubt, assuming that there is a grave situation in the primary schools—and I should think a still graver situation there than in the secondary schools—we are accentuating it, making it worse, by a system of differentials which offers special financial inducements to the abler sort of teacher to embark on a career in secondary rather than in primary education. I certainly support the National Union of Teachers in their argument that that kind of differential (and I repeat that I am not talking about the differential for extra qualifications) should be abolished.

Then we come to the whole question of teacher supply, which was dealt with by my colleagues, and on which, of course, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles is a very considerable expert. I felt, if I may say so, that on most aspects of this question he threw up his hands in despair. Perhaps that was due to limitations of time; perhaps if he had spoken longer he would not have given so pessimistic an impression. He made one particular suggestion, but otherwise seemed to think that nothing much could be done to improve the prospect of teacher supply. I should like to quote from an address by Sir Ronald Gould, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers. He said: We must turn to the only immediately available supply of trained teachers, the married women. If we really want to protect entry at 5, and prevent a deterioration of primary staffing, old prejudices among authorities and teachers about employing married women must go". So in the view of Sir Ronald Gould—which I am bound to say is also my own view, so far as I have the right to express one—there are still many prejudices among fellow teachers in the way of maximising the recruitment of these married women.

He goes on to say—and here he agrees with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, To lighten the load on the hard-pressed teachers, authorities should employ others to do work for which no professional expertise is required. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles is entitled on this to say that when he started that suggestion it was a good deal less popular than it is now. I have been talking to a young teacher, a friend of my children, and obtaining her views, and she certainly takes the view that it would make all the difference in the world if help of this kind could be given, She was thinking particularly of supervision of meals and supervision of playgrounds. I suppose that most of us, at any rate, who have been to public schools would at first sight be rather sorry to think that masters were relieved of this kind of task. I should regard it, frankly, as rather an emergency measure. I think it would be a pity if the work of looking after the children had to be divided in this fashion. Yet I entirely agree with what is suggested by Sir Ronald Gould, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles and others: that we must make use of these auxiliaries, or whatever we may call them, in the years of grave shortage that lay ahead.

If we turn to the policy of the Labour Party, which will no doubt be declared official as we approach the Election, I would summarise, shall I say, the general attitude of my political friends under five headings, without suggesting that this is an official statement. First of all, salaries must be competitive with those of other private employment, and to make this possible the Labour Party has stated that the burden of teachers' salaries must be transferred, in the main, to the Exchequer. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, explained our point of view about that. I cannot help wondering how the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, who spoke in an interesting way, would react to this proposal. She has told us already that it is difficult to convince the ratepayers of the merits of educational expenditure. I should rather hope this particular proposal might arouse her sympathy; she can explain that on another occasion. Certainly the present teacher-training programmes of the Government must be re-examined and increased. I will not repeat speeches that I have made in this House, last summer in opening a debate on Education and again in our debate on the Newsom Report, and I think the noble Lord opposite at least is well aware that I take a very poor view of the Government's record with regard to teacher-training facilities. At any rate, turning to the future, the existing programme, which has been increased, must be increased again and yet again.

Then we come to the whole question of our attitude to the married woman teacher. We have surely to recognise, in spite of what was said, and rightly said, about the need for attracting men into primary teaching, that teaching is becoming to a large extent a married woman's profession; and training and re-training and school curriculum must take great account of this change. That means a much more strenuous and much more aggressive campaign to recruit women than we have yet seen. And I would suggest also that there are a large number of middle-aged women who have not hitherto had the opportunity of higher education. They should now be brought in and facilities provided for training them.

A point which has not, I think, been made to-day, but which certainly exercises my young friend who is a teacher, is the need for improving the quality of teachers still more by providing refresher courses. Her suggestion is that more time should be spent on the practical side of teaching while in college, and more time later on theory in the form of refresher teaching. And when we are talking of strengthening teacher supply we must think not only of sheer quantity but also of improving quality. Then fullest use should be made (and I am sure, at least I should suppose, that my colleagues would back up this idea) of aids to teaching of all kinds—for example, nursery helpers to look after children at dinner time, break-time and in the cloakroom. These ideas are becoming more and more acceptable, certainly among my colleagues.

On the subject of building, we would give priority to essential building; and we are, of course, very critical of the cuts that have been made. Our policy on the 11-plus is well-known; we will certainly end selection at 11. Local authorities should be free to advise the form of comprehensive secondary education most suited to their local needs. That, I am sure, is certain to remain our policy whatever the Plowden Council report.

Before I close I should just like to say a word on the religious aspect. It would not be useful to-day, for me at any rate, to embark on an account of the difficulties of voluntary primary schools. As the House is aware, the financial burden is still very grave. If a religious Communion wishes to provide a new voluntary primary school, unless it replaces an old one it has to pay for the entire cost of the primary school. In the case of my own Communion, the Roman Catholic Communion, for instance, a school to be built in the White City area in London would cost well over £100,000—and I could give other examples.

However, no one wishes, I am sure, that these particular issues should be tangled up with electoral considerations. There is strong, unanimous agreement to try to keep this out of the Election, but we shall no doubt be hearing a good deal about these issues later on. But, in a wider sense, it has seemed to me before to-day, and still more perhaps after listening to the right reverend Prelate, that there is a converging agreement about the need to treat the child as a whole throughout his or her education. May I quote a few words from the official Handbook on Primary Education? The quotation reads: One salient feature of primary education to-day is the ever deepening concern with children as children which has gradually spread from the nursery and infant schools to the junior schools. This concern shows itself particularly in the awareness of the child as a whole with inter-dependent spiritual, emotional and physical needs. I think that fits in with the approach of Lord Silkin at the beginning. The only surprise to me there is that we should be told that this is a new awareness. One would have thought that this was an ancient doctrine, but apparently the latest educational theory has come round to this.

We can fairly say, therefore, that the necessity for harmony between the values of the home and those of the school is occupying a central place at last; and this certainly is in part a reply to those who sometimes dismiss the talk of religious education with the airy saying, "Ah, yes, religion, of course, is essential for children, but it is up to the parents to give them that." I think that the latest psychological teaching along with ancient wisdom, demonstrates that we just cannot leave it to the home in that way. We cannot teach one set of values at home, or hope that one great set of values is taught in the home, and then leave a sort of vacuum in the schools.

But, if that is so, while that new of clearer awareness certainly strengthens the demand that has been made by various religious bodies for the right of parents to choose their own religious education for their children, and the demand that the State should provide such schools or pay almost their entire cost, I think there is another thought also which should be in some minds at this stage. Here, I think the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chichester expressed what I had planned to say much better than I myself am likely to express it, and I am doing little more than to reinforce what fell from him. But I felt that what he said was so true that, even if one takes the view that an adolescent ought to be absolutely free to choose—I do not quite take that view, nor do I think that he quite takes the view that an adolescent should, so to speak, have no kind of guidance in a positive direction—I would agree with what I think was his argument, that he cannot take that decision fairly unless the religious case has been presented at an early stage. And, of course, if one believes that the Christian life is a much better fulfilment of a human being than any other, one must go still further and say that one hopes that the result of religious teaching in early life will be that children will in fact reach a religious conclusion when they are in a position to examine these matters in adolescence.

Even if one is uncertain about that, even if one is doubtful about whether religion is true, I still think, from what one might call the old-fashioned secular point of view, that in order to give a child a fair chance to make up his mind he must be given some understanding of religion in his early days. I would, as I say, go further than that, as indeed I am sure would the Bishop—whom I have ventured to paraphrase rather inadequately in his absence, but I was trying to say the same thing. I feel that parents and teachers in a Christian country—after all, this is a Christian country; we have a compulsory act of worship in every school—and, for that matter, the Government, who must make the arrangements, cannot escape this terrifying but, at the same time, sublime opportunity of helping children during these crucial years to take their first steps, hesitantly but firmly, towards moral and religious truth.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood will forgive me if I do not say anything about what is happening North of the Border. She knows that I have no responsibility for what happens there. Had I known in time that she was going to take part to-day, I would have taken steps to arm myself with information, but in fact I did not know until just before lunch. I will, however, see that what she has said is brought to the notice of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, called for much more research into the question of education. In the brief month that I have been in the Department of Education and Science what has struck me with most force about the education service to-day is the immense variety of aspects which are being discussed, examined and researched into. Everywhere, from one end to the other, there is a mood of re-thinking and of change, and I venture to doubt whether any other part of our national life is so actuated by new ideas. The plant of education is being tended by many gardeners, each with his own tool, food or fertilisers; and it is apparent to me that its growth is not being hampered through lack of skilled attention.

I should like to thank my former tutor, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for the kind welcome that they gave to me in my new job. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for initiating this debate on primary education, and I am also particularly grateful for the thoughtfulness in all the speeches which your Lordships have made and for the concentration upon the future rather than upon the past.

Naturally, for me, as a new boy in my job, it is appropriate to begin at the point at which boys and girls first go to school; and in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said at the beginning of his speech, I think I ought to say, quite firmly and distinctly, that primary education does not arouse less interest in me than the subjects of the Robbins and Newsom Reports. I would certainly agree with what has been said by virtually exery speaker this afternoon, that education should be firmly based. Incidentally, on the point made by Lord Silkin to which I have just referred, I think I am right in saying that the Opposition chose the order of debate on the subjects which he mentioned: that is to say, the Robbins Report, the Newsom Report, and now, to-day, primary education.

Virtually every one of your Lordships who has spoken has talked about the physical conditions in the primary schools and the size of classes and how these cause difficulties. Certainly the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, did, and so did my noble friend Lord Eccles, both right reverend Prelates, and the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I was glad that my noble friend Lord Eccles said that we should not be too gloomy about our primary schools as they are to-day. Of course, the quality of primary education will be improved to the extent that we can get smaller classes.

This raises at once the difficult problem of teacher supply, as has been recognised by every speaker this afternoon. At the present time the staffing standards for primary schools, though they are still short of what we should like and what we are seeking to achieve, are better than they have ever been. About one-fifth of children of primary school age are still being taught in classes of more than 40, but this is the lowest figure on record. About another 20 per cent. are in classes with fewer than 30 children in them, while the remaining 60 per cent. or so are in classes with between 30 and 40 children in them. The average class size of primary schools to-day is about 33.


My Lords, the grave situation in regard to primary schools lies in the years just ahead. Will the noble Lord be dealing with this?


If the noble Earl will give me time I will come to that. I was going on to say that a different prospect lies ahead of us, as was clearly recognised in the speech of my noble friend Lord Eccles. Progress has already been impeded by the operation of powerful forces which are quite outside our control, and in the coming years these same forces may arrest progress towards better staffing standards in the primary schools or conceivably may even reverse it. The national tendency for young people to marry and have their children much earlier than before—which is, of course, an entirely welcome development in itself—has the effect both of sharply increasing the number of children to be educated and of reducing the number of teachers available to teach them, because young women teachers follow the national tendency and leave schools in their tens of thousands to marry and have children of their own, Like the tender grass, they flourish and grow in the morning—and are lost to the schools long before the evening. It is the primary schools which suffer worst on both these counts, for it is they which first, and for some years, have to bear the main burden of the increased school population; and it is also they which sustain the heaviest loss of trained staff, since they rely so much upon women teachers.

Primary school teachers are, of course, drawn predominantly from the training colleges, and we have responded to the needs of the situation through the unprecedented expansion of the training colleges. The student population in the colleges, 28,000 in the late 1950's, has already increased to 54,000, and plans are well advanced for its continued expansion to 80,000 by the end of this decade. The training colleges will thus be expanding, between now and 1970, more rapidly than any other sector of higher education, and the Robbins Committee itself did not consider that they could be asked to undertake a more rapid expansion than this over the next few years. By 1970, student numbers in the training colleges will have been virtually trebled in the space of only twelve years.

Moreover, the more urgent needs of the primary schools were recognised by an important act of policy when, in 1960, the training colleges were asked to make a major change in the pattern of their general training courses by ensuring that 80 per cent. of the places were used to prepare students for teaching in primary schools. Since then, the intake of students to secondary courses has been below 20 per cent., with about 30 per cent. of the students taking a course which fitted them for work in either junior schools or the lower forms of secondary schools, and the remainder (rather more than half of the total) following exclusively primary courses.

The output of trained students from the colleges was 14,000 last year and will increase rapidly to 23,000 by 1970. A considerable majority of these students will have received a training which will equip them to teach in primary schools. If teachers were needed merely to keep pace with the rising birth rate and to replace losses due to retirement and ill-health, recruitment on this scale would very soon transform the staffing situation in the primary schools. But in fact the greater part of the accession of teaching strength to the primary schools is cancelled out by the loss of teachers already in service. The net growth in the teacher force is painfully slow, while the build-up of the school population continues apace. We must therefore examine every possible means of helping the primary schools quickly.

First, and most obviously, we must try to offset the heavy loss of young women teachers. We can do this in two ways: by training more men, as the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London recommended, who will not leave service in their early years at anything like the same rate; and secondly, by encouraging young women teachers who do leave to return to the schools for a second, and we hope longer, period of duty. We have already decided to make some increase, as soon as possible, in the proportion of men students entering the training colleges. At present they represent a little less than 30 per cent. of each year's entry. We propose to increase the proportion to about 36 per cent. over the next few years. This will mean that several thousand training college places will come to be occupied by men rather than women.

The return of married women offers us by far the most promising opportunity of grappling with the problem before us—an opportunity long suspected to be open to us and now confirmed in the findings of the Kelsall Report. For large numbers of the women teachers who leave the schools after short periods of service, their departure represents merely an interruption, and not the end, of their teaching careers. The Kelsall Report suggests that rather more than half of these teachers will eventually return to the schools. The primary schools suffer worst from the loss of young women and it would be reasonable to hope that they would also benefit most from this flow-back into teaching, since returning teachers could be expected to prefer the kind of schools in which they taught before. This is, in fact, what has been happening. In the three years since my noble friend Lord Eccles launched a national campaign to persuade married teachers to return, nearly 16,000 of them have done so, to full-time and part-time service. Of these 16,000, 11,000 have returned to primary schools.

It was recently decided, after consulting the local authority and teachers' associations, to launch a further publicity campaign. This campaign opened about a fortnight ago, on April 12. Its emphasis is placed mainly, though not exclusively, on the needs of the primary schools, and some prominence is given to opportunities for part-time teaching, especially since the Kelsall Report made it clear that many married women would return only if part-time posts were available, at least in the first instance.

It is true, of course, that some local education authorities have greater need than others to recruit returning married women, and some have greater difficulty in absorbing part-time recruits. The publicity has made it clear that teachers cannot always be fitted into the schools or posts of their own first choice. However, all authorities have been asked to deal with inquiries promptly so that the force of the campaign may not be needlessly weakened by adverse publicity. In all the circumstances, the response we have so far received from local education authorities has been very gratifying.

My Lords, the teachers who took part in the Kelsall Survey placed considerable emphasis on the suggestion that we should improve nursery facilities, so that teachers with children, below school age could resume teaching sooner than would otherwise be possible. The shortage of teachers of very young children precludes any general expansion of nursery education, but my right honourable friend Sir Edward Boyle announced in answer to a Parliamentary Question last year that he was willing to approve the establishment of new nursery classes in existing accommodation in areas where the setting up of such classes would release women teachers for a return to service and, therefore, result in a net gain to the teacher force. So far, four authorities have opened nursery classes on these conditions, and a further eight authorities have submitted proposals which are now being considered. I hope that other authorities will he able to follow suit, especially since the pool of potential returners continues to grow.


My Lords, does that mean that the children attending these nursery schools must be the children of teachers who are returning to school? Are these nursery schools to be confined to this purpose only?


My Lords, the idea behind my right honourable friend's announcement was that in those parts of the country where it could be shown that the establishment of these nursery classes would enable a number of teacher-mothers, so to speak, to come back into schools, then he would consider proposals on those lines.

Another factor to which the Kelsall Report drew attention is the need for more opportunities for part-time service. Two out of every five women returning to teaching are at present coming back part-time, and four out of every five part-time teachers now in service are married women. The number of part-timers has increased from about 5,000 to some 25,000 over the last eleven years, and this is very welcome. In some areas nearly 10 per cent. of the total teaching force in the primary schools is composed of part-time teachers. The national average at present is a little over 3 per cent. If the national average can be made to approach the figure of 10 per cent. which some authorities are already on the verge of reaching—and I believe this is well within the bounds of possibility—then the primary schools will receive very substantial help.

But as well as seeking the greatest possible increase in the recruitment of new teachers, we must also learn to use as effectively and economically as possible the teachers we have. The schools, as has been pointed out this afternoon. have long been accustomed to using the services of a range of auxiliary staff, of which laboratory and workshop technicians and school meals helpers are obvious examples. The question we must consider (and I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Eccles ask it) is whether there is not a part which auxiliary staff of this kind can play in the classroom itself. These helpers would not, of course, be teachers. They should not be in charge of classes, and they should always work under the direct command of fully trained qualified teachers.

I believe that a growing number of people, both inside and outside the teaching profession, are coming to see that even if we had all the qualified teachers we reasonably needed, subordinate help of this kind would still be valuable in the schools. How much more valuable, therefore, it should be in a period when our skilled and qualified teaching force, already subject, as I said, to heavy loss through the early retirement of young women teachers, is going to be stretched to the uttermost by the rising number of pupils.

Many local education authorities have already begun to employ help of this kind in infants' schools, to relieve hard-pressed teachers of tasks for which their professional training is not required. It is understandable that this development should begin in the infants' schools, where the pressure on teachers is greatest, but we may perhaps look to its eventual extension to schools of all kinds. I am sure that not only would this help the schools themselves but also that the standing of the teaching profession itself would be raised and not lowered if teachers were relieved of all the chores and many of the less skilled tasks they now perform, and were able to devote their energy and expertise more fully to their prime tasks of teaching, planning and organising. I hope that the National Advisory Council on the Training and Supply of Teachers, which is now studying the matter, will find it possible to reach agreement on how best we can make progress in this direction.

My Lords, many of your Lordships talked about the primary school buildings. Certainly, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who moved this Motion did so; and so did my noble friend Lord Eccles. I was glad to hear him put on the record, so to speak, the achievements of the post-war period in the design and building of new primary schools. The 1958 White Paper on Secondary Education accepted two tasks of first importance, in a five-year programme for 1960 to 1965. These were the completion of reorganisation of all-age schools in both rural and urban areas, and the replacement or improvement of the worst secondary school buildings, particularly those with poor facilities for teaching science and technical subjects. Beyond this, it was possible to allow the replacement of primary school buildings only in extreme cases. By the end of 1963, some 1,700,000 new primary school places had been completed since the war, and a further 100,000 started. Put another way, 4,142 new schools had been completed, 3,589 of them since October, 1951.

In deciding the policy on school building after 1964–65 the Government had to face the fact that forecasts of future numbers of children in school showed a continuous rise for so far ahead as could be foreseen, exceeding 8 million by the end of 1970; and that the expansion of the housing programme would create increasingly heavy demands for new school places. The Government were determined, however, to provide in major building programmes for the regular improvement and replacement of outmoded primary school buildings. To achieve this over and above the provision of essential new places inevitably called for substantially larger programmes. We therefore decided on a three years' programme for the period 1965–68, with building starts at the rate of £80 million in each of the first two years and an instalment of £40 million in the third. These programmes represent an increase of about one-third over current levels.

The programme for 1965–66 is now virtually complete. Its value is £78.4 million and projects so far announced for 1966–67 total £64.6 million. In the 1965–66 programme 428 primary school projects, equivalent to some 120,000 places and costing about £26 million, are required for basic needs; but 105 projects, yielding nearly 27,000 places at a cost of £6¼ million, are exclusively devoted to the improvement or replacement of existing primary school accommodation.

The corresponding figures for the 1966–67 programme, as it stands at present, are 304 projects or 81,000 places, costing £18½ million, for basic needs; and 97 projects, or some 24,000 places, costing nearly £6 million, for direct improvements and replacements. Thus, my Lords, the two years' programmes, as yet incomplete, already provide for more than a fifth as much again as the whole of the direct improvements to primary schools approved in the five programmes 1960 to 1965, and this comparison will, of course, improve still further as authorities' programmes for 1966–67 are completed to the full £80 million. Moreover, in both programmes nearly one-fifth of the projects required for basic needs will result in the replacement of existing unsatisfactory accommodation. The figures for both programmes include 42 projects, or over 13,000 places, for the replacement of primary schools in areas of town re-development.

The 1965 to 1968 programmes offer, I would submit, clear evidence of the Government's determination to tackle the problem of old primary school build- ings, in spite both of the unrelenting pressure of rising numbers and of the commitment to raise the statutory school-leaving age to 16 in 1970. The figures which I have given, of course, take no account of the steady flow of improvements of all kinds at primary schools undertaken under the minor works programmes, and these will continue on a rising scale.

Several of your Lordships (particularly the noble Lords, Lord Silkin, Lord Champion and Lord Douglas of Barloch) have discussed this afternoon the content and purpose of education. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, called in question the whole content of education in the context (if I may paraphrase what I understood him to say) of young people leaving school and going out into the world inarticulate in speech and on paper, and lacking any appreciation of the fuller life. The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, asked the question, which he said should be answered: what has gone wrong with our method of teaching?

My Lords, the first thing I would say about all this is that at the present time there is probably more scientific thinking and research going on into what education is, what it ought to be and how it should be organised, than ever before. I shall say a little more about this later; but, I am not prepared to countenance for one moment the suggestion one sometimes hears—I had it put to me recently at a political meeting—that the large sums of money invested in the education service are not producing worth-while returns. Of course there are individual failures, and there always will be.

Cynics can gibe—if the fancy takes them—at the follies of youth, and point at episodes like the Clacton affair, which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, mentioned en passant, but I deprecate attempts to exaggerate such manifestations and to present them as sufficient and conclusive evidence that our educational system is to blame. We must not make education the scapegoat for all human folly and wickedness. The best education will not make all young people perfect. In considering the achievements of our educational system, we must compare what it is now doing for the young with what it achieved a generation ago. The bad behaviour of comparatively few young people receives a good deal more publicity than the solid attainment of a much greater number of their contemporaries.

I would remind the House, as my noble friend Lord Eccles did last July in the debate we had then, in which I took part, that the current pressure on places in institutions of higher education is due to the number of passes in G.C.E. in the secondary schools. In the same debate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, interrupted my noble friend in order to say [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 252, col. 748]: Everybody knows that the present problems of higher education are due to the successes of the secondary schools. In other words, my Lords, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. When you boil a pot, the froth comes to the top, and that is what you immediately see. But what matters is what is happening underneath. It is just not true, though it is sometimes suggested, that illiteracy is on the increase and that there has been no progress in standards of reading, spelling and composition.

Between 1948 and 1956 there was a marked improvement in the ability of children to read with understanding. It was particularly noticeable in the primary schools, where the age group born in 1945 were, in 1956, at the age of 11, nine months more advanced, on average, than the age group born in 1937 were in 1948. The corresponding advance among children aged 15 was about five months. A survey made at the time showed that in that period, 1948–56, the proportion of really good readers in the primary schools rose from 9 per cent. to 17 per cent.; that is to say, it virtually doubled. Moreover, the proportion of children aged 11 in the two lowest categories—the illiterate and the semi-literate—dropped from 5 per cent. to 1 per cent. The next survey was made in 1961, and was one of the investigations of the Newsom Committee. It, too, recorded progress. It found that the standards of pupils aged 14 in secondary modern schools had advanced by the equivalent of 17 months in the five years from 1956 to 1961.

These things do not happen by accident. They are the consequence of many factors. Children are healthier; at school they are vigorous, active, inquisitive and less inhibited. Teachers are better equipped; they are interested in each child as a person, concerned about methods and ready to try new processes and materials, with the changes in attitude that re-thinking implies. Outside the schools themselves there is the increasing influence of public interest, expressed locally through parents' associations and Associations for the Advancement of State Education, and expressed nationally by the Campaign for Educational Advance.

In view of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, to the debate—which, if I may respectfully say so, much impressed me—I want to pick out three tendencies in the primary schools which are general enough to he significant. These are the use of books, the teaching of written composition and the teaching of science. Until comparatively recently the books to be found in most primary schools were mainly sets of text-books, to help with the teaching of the three R's, with geography, history and so on. There were very few books which children might read for themselves for pleasure and information. Children who came from homes well stocked with books could find what they wanted there: others, who did not, had to go without.

Latterly, there has been a dramatic change. The recognition has spread that a liberal and varied supply of good books is an essential part of a good education, and that the text-book is no more than a means to an end. This has led to many schools possessing something deserving the name of library, and not just a cupboard of tattered books. The books include the classics of childhood, as well as favourites from other countries, books of legends and folk-tales, poetry, and books about travel. The use of the books of course varies from school to school, but mostly they are there to be used in the day's work, not simply to be read when a task is done or to be taken home in the evening. Children undertake studies and projects which involve consulting books, extracting and summarising information, identifying specimens and answering specific questions so that they learn how to use books as well as how to enjoy them. The choice of these books is entirely in the hands of the teachers They can, and do, seek assistance from public libraries and from booksellers, but what they buy is their own responsibility. My Department has established two collections, one of 400 volumes mainly suitable for infants—children between 5 and 7 years of age—and another of 450 mainly for juniors—between 7 and 11 years of age. These collections, which I saw for myself last week—and very intriguing I found them—are in heavy demand throughout the year for exhibition at teachers' courses and meetings all over the country.

The teaching of written composition is another part of primary education which has seen important changes in many schools. Until recently the normal method of teaching English was to give many formal exercises, including reproduction and dictation, and to confine individual composition to a short weekly exercise on a set subject, such as "What I do on Saturdays", "My pet", "Dressing a doll", and so on. This was carefully and meticulously corrected, usually in red ink, by the teacher. It has gradually been realised that this method ignored one fact and one hypothesis. The fact was that children undoubtedly write more fluently and more interestingly if they really have something to say, something that they really want to say, something arising from a genuine personal interest or experience. This suggested that the "set" subject might not be a good exercise for young children. The hypothesis was this. Since children learn to talk their own language between the ages of 2 and 4 without any formal teaching at all, simply by the process of talking incessantly, it is possible that a similar process might produce results in learning the written language.

It can be safely claimed, my Lords, that the results of testing this hypothesis have exceeded its proponents' hopes. Not only do children, given the opportunity, write fluently, naturally and freshly, but their personal interest in their subject matter seems to stimulate them to take much more trouble with spelling, grammar and neatness generally; these qualities have not declined in the way that even those who advocated the method feared that they might. An increasing number of teachers have tried, and are trying, to ensure that children write about genuine interest and experience and that they write a great deal.

Thirdly, the teaching of science. From the very early days of English primary education, natural history had its place in the curriculum of most schools. But until recently it was the only kind of science to be found in the primary schools. Latterly, however, there has been a growing tendency to add to the time-table, as an extension of natural history rather than as a new subject, material drawn from the physical as distinct from the living world. We all know that children love playing with magnets, lenses, pulleys, low voltage electricity, wheels of all kinds, pumps and water and things like that; and the science done in primary schools simply consists in harnessing this interest so that the children are led to ask questions, to learn what kind of question it is sensible to ask and what kind of thing has to be done before one can find the answer. There is no wish to embark upon a systematic course of science since this is generally thought to be best left to the secondary stage. The aim is rather to turn to good account the natural curiosity of children born in a scientific age.

This brings me to two projects of research about which your Lordships may like to hear. The first one, mounted by the University of Oxford Department of Education and grant-aided by my Department, concerns the matter of which I have just spoken, the teaching of science. Its aim is to indentify the concepts and experience which it will be possible and needful for children at the primary stage to develop if they are afterwards to make satisfactory progress in their scientific education and to consider how best the development of these concepts might be encouraged.

The second project derives from the growing conviction that children of primary age are more receptive and more capable than was thought hitherto. In conjunction with the Nuffield Trust, my Department last year began an experiment into the teaching of French to children aged 8. The Trust has made itself responsible for the production of suitable teaching material, and my Department has undertaken the choice of areas and the training of teachers. Thirteen local education authorities and 120 primary schools are taking part; and, to ensure that there is a proper link with the secondary schools, fifty such schools in the same areas will also be involved from September, 1967, onwards. This will be a genuine experiment and no precise syllabus or method will be laid down, but it is agreed that the emphasis should be on the spoken word, and that reading should not be introduced until the children can speak well; and writing later still. During and after this experiment arrangements are being made for a careful assessment of the results.

Several of your Lordships referred to the Plowden Council and to the parallel Gittins Council for Wales. Both are now at work on their immensely important review. Their terms of reference are: To consider primary education in all its aspects and the transition to secondary education". The Councils, although appointed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, are largely autonomous; they may choose their own way of working and decide what matters they should consider, Their Reports will attract great interest because it is over thirty years since the Consultative Committee on Education published the Hadow Report, which made a great impression on the primary school world. That is the answer to one of your Lordships who asked why these Councils had been reconstituted at the present time.

The Plowden Council, which was constituted and started work earlier than the Gittins Council, is well under way and I am grateful to Lady Plowden for agreeing that I may give your Lordships a brief account of its approach—something for which my noble friend, Lord Eccles, asked. The Council has decided to establish, at this first stage, five working parties to undertake its initial inquiries; others may be set up later. These first five parties are considering, respectively, the growth and development of children up to the age of 13 and their implications for educational organisation; the relationship between home, school and community; the ages and stages of primary education and the transition to secondary education; the internal organisation, curriculum, methods and staffing of primary education; and the training of teachers for primary schools. Your Lordships will see from these titles alone, how wide and how deep the Plowden Council have cast their net.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who, I think, asked whether the inquiry would be wide enough, I think I can assure him that it will be going very wide indeed. Nor do I think that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, need have any fear about the comprehensiveness of the inquiry. The Council are asking some big and fascinating questions. Let me give your Lordships two examples. First, the growth and development of children. How far does our present knowledge about the growth and development of children support the existing organisation of primary education? Secondly, the relationship between home, school and community. How far is performance at school related to social background? How far can the education service offset cultural and other deprivation in the home?

I think the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, asked when the Council would be likely to report. I understand that Lady Plowden hopes that her Council will be able to report roughly about the middle of 1966.

My Lords, I am afraid that I have been speaking for a long time, but I hope that I have been able to convince your Lordships that primary education is not standing still but is, in fact, the scene of enormous interest and variety. The work of committees, administrators, researchers and so on is important—indeed very valuable. But in the end everything that really matters turns on the individual teacher in the classroom. So much of our attention is inevitably centred on the shortage of teachers that it may sometimes appear that we have almost forgotten the very large and very vigorous teacher force that we have in the primary schools. I am very glad that the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London and my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood paid their tributes to them. There are now over 140,000 teachers in the 23,000 primary schools, and it is on their skill and their devotion that the success and continuing achievement of our primary education depends. I end by reaffirming yet again the Government's conviction that the devotion of a rising proportion of the gross national product to the education service is right as a contribution to individual betterment and wise as an investment in the future.

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the Minister on his maiden speech as Minister. It was a very worthy effort. I will not say that it was uncontroversial, but it was interesting and valuable, and I am sure the whole House will agree that the noble Lord has acquitted himself well in his first Ministerial speech. May I say that I do not blame the Government for the order of the debate of the three aspects of education? If there is any blame to be attached to anyone, we on this side are quite prepared to take our share.

The Minister naturally told us of the progress which has been made in the field of primary education, and, of course, progress has been made. I would not deny that teaching and education to-day is far better than it was before the war, and I did not attempt to deny it. Certainly, in the best of our schools, primary education is very good. I was concentrating my remarks on what is roughly about one-third of the children, who are not getting all the advantages of our system, and I think it would be a great mistake for us to close our eyes to the fact that one-third of our children are not getting the right kind of education.

The noble Lord was not able to tell us what steps are being taken to deal with the particularly bad areas. I pointed out, as he will remember, that the discrepancies between the opportunities in one area and in another are enormous—from 25 per cent. in one area who are going to grammar schools to 1.4 per cent. in another area. Are we doing anything about that? The Government must not be complacent about the great variations in the quality of education which exist throughout the country.

Finally, I was interested to hear of the research which has taken place and of the terms of reference of the Plow-den Council. I am bound to say that, in my view, they are not sufficiently fundamental. By and large, they deal with administration much less than with the content of education.


My Lords, with great respect, that is not so.


My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, I disagree with him. I listened very carefully to his statement of what are the terms of reference. But it may be that the Council have wide powers and that this debate may have some value to the Council in helping them to take the initiative and deal with what I regard as the fundamental and far-reaching questions which are due for consideration to-day. If they do that, then I think this debate will have been well worth while.

In any case, I would express my appreciation of the contributions which every speaker has made to the debate. Although it has been relatively brief and the number of speakers has not been so large as in other education debates, I think that everyone has made a worthwhile contribution, and I hope very much that the debate will have its effect in improving the system of primary education. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.