§ 2.40 p.m.
§ LORD NEWTON rose to call attention to the Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) entitled Children and their Primary Schools (The Plowden Report); and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. It is a matter of satisfaction to me, and I hope to all noble Lords, that this House is once again taking the lead in debating something of the utmost social significance, even though in this instance we are possibly anticipating another place by only two days. The Plowden Report not only is a profound survey of a large sector of the maintained system of education, it is also a record and an examination of many of the ideas and attitudes of contemporary society. There has been nothing quite like it for more than thirty years, and it is a fairly safe guess to say that there will be nothing quite like it for at least another thirty. Therefore I found it somewhat difficult to make up my mind how I should set about speaking to my Motion.
§ I sought inspiration by looking up the memorable debate that we had in December, 1963, on the Robbins Report—but to no avail. On that occasion, the mover of the. Motion for Papers held the rapt attention of your Lordships for no less than 54 minutes, which is something I could never do. But, in any case, the situation then was very different. There were political axes to be ground, "I-told-you-so's" to be said; and the Government had already before the debate announced their acceptance of the Robbins findings. Morever, the 174 noble Lord, Lord Robbins, himself could, and did, testify to the excellence of his child. Lady Plowden cannot testify to the excellence of her child, but we are fortunate in that her husband can, if he is so minded. I propose to cast myself this afternoon in the modest role of midwife, to deliver the child into the world of Parliament, to offer a few comments, to raise a few questions, and then await with much interest the views of subsequent speakers. Your Lordships may think that my metaphor is not altogether inapt if you reflect that, although it is highly desirable that a midwife should be expertly trained and fully qualified, it occasionally happens that her duties have to be performed by somebody who is neither.
I have long held the belief, and I think I have expressed it in your Lordships' House, that on the whole the primary schools are our most successful schools. There is nothing in the Report to make me change that belief. On the contrary, although Lady Plowden and her colleagues were clearly concerned all the time with the achievement of perfection, in so far as perfection can be achieved without wholly unrealistic expenditure, the Report is a convincing vindication of primary education at its best, and even at its average. In some ways I think that this is the most important feature of the Report, and it is illustrated by such remarks, which I have selected at random, as these:
We have for the most part described English primary education at its best. That in our belief is very good indeed, only rarely is it very bad. The average is good.
Our review is a review of progress and a spur to more.
And, again, that the primary schools are
rapidly becoming leaders in educational advance.
I would particularly commend to your Lordships Chapter 8, which describes the assessment of primary education made by the Council after all but 676 of the 20,664 primary schools in England had been placed by Her Majesty's Inspectors (in fact all the inspectors responsible for primary education) in one of nine ingeniously devised and exhaustive categories. I hope that your Lordships have found (or will find if you have not already done so) the assessment as reassuring as I
have done. If I may say so without presumption, the Report is very well written. It is extremely readable; the use of jargon is kept to the minimum, and I hope that electoral pundits everywhere will heed that salutary lesson. And where the authors use terms of art, they take the trouble to define them. There are hardly any blinding glimpses of the obvious, though I spotted one or two—for instance:
Children are born every day of the year.
Whenever a school is unpopular that should be an indication to the authority to find out why and make it better.
My Lords, I probably should not have noticed those two examples had they not been so exceptional in this fairly long document.
§ Whether or not one agrees with the many conclusions and recommendations of the Council, they are almost invariably argued with great cogency. But I must admit that my credulity is stretched by two items. One is the reservation on religious education by Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Wilson. These gentlemen advocate the setting up of committees of teachers, lecturers and parents within local education authorities and institutes of education in order to devise an acceptable code of ethics not based on theology. My mind boggles at the thought of committees attempting something which has baffled philosophers down the ages.
§ The other item is the extravaganza on the theme of abolishing corporal punishment. I personally am in sympathy, up to a point, with what the Council say. But in their zeal, which is, alas! at variance both with the evidence they received and with their essential common sense on punishment generally, they have gone to the length of recommending that no independent school should be recognised as efficient if it retains the right to even an occasional use of the cane. In other words, my Lords, they are saying that however excellent an independent school may be, the necessary and sufficient test of efficiency should be the non-use of corporal punishment. Your Lordships will know that recognition of efficiency is a statutory sanction vested in the Secretary of State. I forbear from further comment on this except to say that in so far as the Plowden Council have made a recommendation affecting 176 all independent schools, including those of a secondary character from which they did not take evidence, they have strayed outside their terms of reference.
§ Above all, the Report ranges over an immense field, and here I am going to venture a mild, "I told you so." When this House last debated primary education in April, 1964, shortly after I went to the Department of Education and Science with responsibility for the schools, some noble Lords—and I mention no names—doubted my assurance that the Plowden terms of reference were sufficiently wide and fundamental. My Lords, I trust that those doubts have now been removed, at any rate from the minds of those who have read the Report.
§ The Report contains 197 main recommendations and a host of subsidiary ones. Where they involve additional expenditure they are costed, and where legislation is needed that is indicated. That is very helpful. They are addressed to individuals and bodies too numerous, I think, for me to list without being a bore; but, broadly speaking, the addressees may be put into two groups: those who are concerned with administering the education service at any level and those who teach or care for children, or who teach those who do, and the parents of the children themselves.
§ The sections of the Report which deal with the latter group are in many ways the most stimulating, because they bring together in two documents and in fully digested form all the wisdom that has been expressed at some time somewhere. But I am going to make no more than two comments on these sections, because I do not feel qualified to do so. Both of them are concerned with the curriculum. First, I am delighted that the Report conclusively refutes the lie, so often heard, that the schools are turning out pupils who cannot read. Because I am old-fashioned enough to believe that reading ability is the key to everything else, I welcome the Plowden finding that the most successful infant teachers have refused to follow fashion and to commit themselves to any one method of teaching reading. This finding should give assurance to those parents, and there are many, who feel that methods of teaching reading in the schools tend to be dictated mainly by the availability of staff to do the teaching.177
Secondly, I come down on the side of the majority of the Council in their recommendation that generally there should be no change in the present arrangements for religious education. The dissenting minority—not the minority I mentioned earlier, but the larger minority headed by Professor Ayer—say that whether children,
end by accepting or rejecting Christian theology they ought to be given the opportunity to acquire an adequate knowledge of all that it implies. They should be presented with the arguments in its favour and the arguments against it and allowed to decide whether they find it credible." (Vol. 1, p. 490.)
The minority then go on to argue that, because children cannot make such a judgment by the time they reach the age of 12, therefore there should be no religious education at all in primary schools. The majority, however, think that there should be. They say that children
should not be confused by being taught to doubt before faith is established. Inevitably at some stage of a child's growth the truth of religious teaching will be questioned and a free judgment made as to its truth or falsehood." (p. 207.)
This is, of course, entirely a question of opinion, but it seems to me that the view of the majority is the more sensible argument of the two. I am sorry in a way to have to say this, because I had the good fortune to be Professor Ayer's pupil and his teaching has been the greatest of all influences in my life.
§ I come now to the main recommendations directed to those responsible for administration. The most controversial is that which calls for positive discrimination in favour of priority areas, which are defined as areas where poor homes and bad neighbourhoods put a child at a disadvantage. The criterion is schools containing 10 per cent. of the most deprived children, and the Report makes precise proposals about the methods by which priority should be given to them. I am sure that this recommendation should be welcomed in principle. It is fully in keeping with the policy which we pursued when in office of favouring deliberately school building in the North-East and favouring the replacement of primary schools in Inner London. But I do not think that the policy should be pushed too far—at any rate, I do not think that more generous staffing in priority areas, 178 which is one of the strongest recommendations, should be allowed to result in levelling down over the whole field. It would be interesting to hear from the noble Earl the Leader of the House whether or not the Government accept this recommendation. It would be slightly ironic if they do.
§ Yesterday The Times newspaper, in a rather cynical leading article, said that the Plowden adoption of positive discrimination puts on trial the Socialism of the present Government. And so it does. But not for the reason given by The Times, which was a political one. If the Government accept this important recommendation, then they will be saying in effect, "It is not in the national interest to select the ablest children for privileged secondary education, but it is in the national interest to select some children for privileged education if 10 per cent. of them come from poor homes." It is not for me to resolve this paradox, which is of the Government's making, but I hope at any rate that the Government will accept this Plowden recommendation in principle. What I want to see is widening of opportunity without loss of excellence. On the details of how this recommendation should be implemented, I would say but one thing. The Plowden Council are not on quite such strong ground as they think in using the analogy of doctors to support the proposal for extra pay for teachers in priority schools. They have ignored the fact that there are over-doctored areas, whereas there is no such thing as an over-teachered area.
§ The next most important recommendation is the training and use of teachers' aides, which of course is a term used by the Council to describe trained ancillaries who are capable of giving substantial help to teachers both inside and outside the classroom. I think that my noble friend Lord Eccles may be saying something on this subject of teachers' aides, so I do not need to say very much, but I know that it is the sort of proposal that has been dear to the heart of many Ministers of Education. The suggested safeguards for the status of teachers seem to me to be wholly adequate, and I personally hope that the Secretary of State will now proceed to seek the agreement of the profession without delay.
§ I should be most interested to hear the views of subsequent speakers and, of 179 course, of the Government on the Plowden Plan for recasting the structure of primary education; that is to say, changing the ages and stages of transfer. If it is right, as they recommend, to raise the age of transfer to secondary schools from 11-plus to 12-plus—and I am inclined to think that it is—then the rest of the plan, indeed the whole plan, is beautifully logical. I will not describe it in detail; it is fully explained in the Report. This plan for recasting the structure involves a large extension of nursery education which would be most expensive. Is this justified? One knows—and the Plowden Council testify to this—that many mothers want to park their infants somewhere so that they can go out to work. The provision of such parking places may be a desirable social service, but the question is: should those parking places provide education? The Report says "Yes", on educational grounds. But, with all due deference to expert opinion, I am not wholly convinced by their argument.
§ How far is it advantageous to begin education as early as possible? The answer is—or, at least, the answer that I derive from the Report—that nobody really knows, because so far research is inconclusive. We know that a distinguished Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, could read at the age of three. We know, too, that subsequently she had a highly distinguished academic career. But from my reading of the experts, one could not be certain that there was necessarily a causal relation between those two remarkable events. My children, taught by my wife, could read with reasonable fluency before they were four, and we hoped that this would be to their subsequent advantage. But I do not honestly believe that, except for a very few years, this facility gained them any advantage. I am certain that if this nation embarks on a larger scale expansion of nursery education, we should act upon the recommendation of the Minority Report, that a parental contribution should be made by all who can afford to pay. I hope that we shall have from the Government to-day some views about this big and expensive question of the provision of nursery schools on a much larger scale than we have them now.180
§ I have nearly come to the end of the time that I allotted to myself, but I wish to say a word or two about buildings. One of the important recommendations of the Plowden Council is that much more money should be spent in future years on the improvement of old primary schools. I welcome that recommendation very warmly indeed. I think that in the past part of the trouble has been that local educational authorities have been unwilling to spend money on the improvement of old buildings which they knew were to be replaced sooner or later. When I went to the Department of Education and Science, I went there with the wish, more than anything else, to be able to do something to get more of our worst primary schools improved without spending too much money. I found innumerable obstacles; and in any case I was not there long enough to have much chance of doing anything.
§ I should like to add one further comment about building. The findings of the Council and their recommendations on school buildings, reinforce something which I have said before in your Lordships' House, and I make no apology for repeating it. It must be wrong to spend money on the alteration and improvement of secondary school buildings purely so that they may be used as part of a viable system of reorganisation of education on comprehensive lines, unless the expenditure of that money is justified simply because of the defects in the buildings themselves. Your Lordships know my views on comprehensive education; I have made them quite clear in the past. I am sure that if money is spent on buildings when the state of those buildings does not really justify it, it is bound to result in injustice.
§ Finally, I would say this. I am sure that the nation is immensely indebted to Lady Plowden and her colleagues, and that their Report will be a standard textbook throughout the world on education. It will be the subject of ceaseless discussion. Sentences will be lifted from it in support of every conceivable hobby-horse. And it is a challenge to the Government. I have not fired embarrassing questions at the Government, and I hope the noble Earl the Leader of the House is grateful. But I cannot resist saying that I have the wry thought that had my Party been in office now, and had I been the responsible Minister in this House, I should prob 181 ably have been pressed long before two months was up to announce firm decisions on the part of the Government. I hope that we shall hear some decisions to-day from the noble Earl. If we do not, then we shall certainly go on asking until we get them. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.7 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for calling attention to this Report, and for paying such a tribute to it. I, too, think that it is an extremely well-written Report—the sort of Report that will be a standard textbook in the years to come. I am glad that the noble Lord said this. I would also thank Lord Newton for his interesting comments upon the Report. Like him, I looked back at the debate we had on primary schools about three years ago. What struck me was how many of the recommendations and suggestions that were put forward in the debate in this House were taken up by the Plowden Council. We might perhaps take this as a pat on the back to ourselves; or, on the other hand—and the noble Lord, Lord Newton, touched upon this—it might be felt that this was because the Report dealt only with blinding glimpses of what was to us then obvious. However, I do not believe that is true.
From these Benches, of course, we strongly welcome the Report, and virtually everything in it. I personally am particularly glad that the Report focuses attention upon primary education. Primary education has been very much the "poor relation" in the educational field. It has a worse staffing ratio, as we all know, and a lower per capita allowance. I know that there are various reasons why, in the case of older children, the per capita allowance has to be bigger. For instance, scientific equipment and other items of that sort are necessary for children over 15. Nevertheless, in many respects, primary education needs more money, not less. Primary children are children who have not been taught to look after things such as books: they need more pictures and more paper to play with, to cut up and write on, than the children in the older groups. Primary schools also need more teachers, not fewer. This is where the whole subject of teachers' aides is dealt with so usefully.
182 There is another aspect of the "poor relation" treatment of primary education which the Plowden Report touches on and which I think is worth emphasising; that is, the system of school managers, which a great many of us regard as a bad one. The Plowden Report suggests that the school managers should be abolished and that in these cases we should fall into line with the system of governors which we have in secondary education. I am not sure that we should not go still further and do away with the managers altogether; that there should be instead some properly constituted education committee to deal with this work. It may be suggested that this is getting away from one of the aspects of primary schools which the school managers were possibly originally meant to fulfil; that is to say, to try to get more involvement between the parents and the schools. I know that, so far as working-class parents are concerned, they tend not to get involved enough, whereas middle-class parents, it has been suggested, are often too involved. So the more we can do to make working-class parents become more involved, the better.
The system of school managers is thoroughly bad in every way. So many people who are totally unfit are appointed to be managers yet they are responsible for running the schools, and they are influential in selecting the heads of those schools. The only advantage this system of managers might have had was that it was thought useful to promote that involvement between parents and teachers and schools. But I do not think that the system does this, and the sooner it is done away with, the better. It is an aspect of the "poor relationship" and the bad system in the case of the primary schools, which has long since disappeared in the case of the other schools.
Then again, the lower status of the primary school teacher is another aspect of the "poor relation" side of the question. In fact, I think this ties up with another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newton: that in primary teaching the primary schools have, in a way, been leaders in educational thought, and to-day a great deal more is known about the development of young children and the relationship of the home, the school and the community. This important point about primary education has, I 183 think, become more evident to people's minds in general, and in the same way the status and standing of people who teach in primary schools must go up. Quite clearly, if a whole branch of education is giving more and better thought in that direction, the people who do this will be considered more important.
With regard to the Plowden Report itself, I think that we all probably feel that it comes down to a matter of priorities. It is not only the priorities in this particular Report: each of the other Reports—the Crowther Report, the Newsom Report and the Robbins Report—all urge priority for their own particular branch of education; and now, in the Plowden Report, we have a whole new set of priorities. Not only that, but in order to try to implement Plowden at all we have to find additional funds. It is not just a question of re-allocating the funds which already exist in the educational field. If we do that we shall merely level down. We must face up to the fact that we have to find new funds.
Quite clearly, we cannot do everything at once, and we have to decide in what order we shall do the things that need to be done. The Plowden Report suggests a very good list of priorities. Naturally, for a person like myself to depart very far from those priorities would merely be impertinent, but possibly each of us has his own aspects of the problem which he regards as being most important. I am inclined to think that I would rearrange the list of priorities by putting nursery schools first. I do not think the Plowden Report put them first, but I would do so. This is not because I think it is highly important that we should be able to take advantage of the brilliant brains mentioned by the noble Lord, or because we should try to encourage people like the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, to read at the age of three.
I do not think that this is what it is about. To me, it is the question of preprimary school education and the emotional tie-up between home and school—and this is probably even more violent in the deprived children than in those coming from good homes. I think it is important from the aspect of the emotional tie-up rather than trying to teach people to read before they are five. 184 I cannot remember whether the noble Lord said this, or whether it was in the Plowden Report, but I think that possibly it ought to be put as a priority before the raising of the school age, and certainly before the reorganisation of comprehensive education.
Next I would put teachers' aides, because I think that follows on from nursery education. So far as nursery education is concerned, we really have none at all. We have day nurseries where children are looked after while they play, but we have no nursery education in the Plowden Report sense of the term. I think that teachers' aides follow on from this, because that would make it possible for more teachers to be available in the primary schools who are not doing the nose-wiping, tidying-up, bootlace tying and all the rest of it. So far as I understand this is now acceptable within the profession, though for a number of years it obviously was a difficulty.
I took the point of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, about the paradox between whether one devotes extra priority to ability, or whether one tries to overcome handicap. I admit that this is a paradox, and I do not quite know how one gets over it. I remember a distinguished economist and educationist, Dr. Robin Marris, saying that if one threw open scholarships at all public schools to everybody, the middle-class boys would still win them because of their better home background and a thousand and one things, and that therefore one would have to put a handicap in their way in order to make it really equal. This may sound ridiculous, but I think it is true. I know it might be said that one should spend all one's money and energy on training and helping the really clever children. I do not accept this: the really clever can take care of themselves to a much better degree. But where a great potential is being wasted is by letting many children who are not mentally handicapped but socially handicapped go by the board. This is where the priority areas can help tremendously.
I have one or two comments to make about the priority areas which seem to me to be important. The designation of a priority area must be open to frequent and flexible review. There are sudden population increases, and certain schools will be swamped, but this is all part of 185 the general policy of the alleviation of poverty, and it really ties in with that. I hope that the Government will implement the priority area scheme and put money into that before they spend it on raising family allowances. I am not sure whether the Plowden Report says anything about it, but that is my view.
There is one other aspect of the mechanics of the priority areas. Will it help if a bonus is paid to the teachers who go there? I rather gather that there is some doubt in people's minds about this, not necessarily because the wrong kind of person goes there. I do not accept that. But I have a feeling that there are other ways in which this could be done better than by offering another £120 a year, or whatever the figure is; first of all, a better staffing ratio. I am sure that obviously that is a "must" because the actual hard-slog working in one of these deprived areas with 40 children all at once, trying to teach them and at the same time wipe their noses and do up their laces, is a physical feat beyond most people.
This is where teachers' aides again come in, and I suspect that in a way it is better to have good conditions than to have the extra pay. The same goes for greater per capita allowance, and the same goes for better buildings. In this context the noble Lord mentioned something important. If you are going to rebuild a building completely in five years' time, that does not mean you ought not to spend money on it in the meantime. Do not let the best be the enemy of the good. Lastly, one other point from the view of making life easier for the teachers in schools of this kind. Instead of teachers getting stuck in a groove at one particular school in one area, year in year out till they are driven "round the bend", why not let them change round and go to different schools? I think things of this sort might do more towards making the priority area system a success than a bit of extra pay would.
The last priority I want to mention— I cannot remember where it comes in the batting order in Plowden, but to me it is very important—is the question of flexibility in the age of transfer from primary to secondary schools. I do not think it has great emphasis in Plowden, but none the less it seems to me impor 186 tant. There is, after all, a complete change of atmosphere and method between primary and secondary education; it is an enormous change for a child. I think it could be a traumatic change, and children should be moved only when they are emotionally and educationally and physically ready for it, and not at a specific age. I imagine it is not really a very difficult problem if left to the individual decision of heads and so on, but the age varies a good deal. This raise another problem, which is the whole question of the link between primary and secondary schools, or indeed between secondary and higher education, and this of course gives scope for yet another educational report. It is a subject which is quite difficult and which I think wants attention.
I have been given a great deal of advice on religious education and on corporal punishment, but I cannot make up my mind on the right way to approach either of these problems. So I say very little, but I would say this with regard to corporal punishment. It has been suggested that there are certain occasions when it is really the only answer. I accept this, but I would also say that the very long history of school masters and flogging shows there is a connection between it and misplaced sexual excitement, which to me rules the idea of corporal punishment out altogether. I do not know. It is a very difficult point.
So much for my own personal comments on the Plowden Report. I, too, like the noble Lord, Lord Newton, feel it is an exceptionally well written one, a most interesting and really splendid document in every way. I know it cannot all be implemented at once, and we all have different priorities, but I hope that to-day the Government will be able to give some sort of indication of how their mind is working with regard to their own priorities.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF LONGFORD)
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for initiating a discussion on the Plowden Report. He was highly esteemed in the Ministry when he was Minister of State there, and in what he has said to-day he has shown once again a shrewd understanding of the main issues involved, as indeed has the noble Lord, Lord Henley. 187 It is perhaps noticeable that the first three speakers in this debate were all educated at what Mr. Gladstone once called the queen of all schools of all the world, although others have applied much harsher epithets.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I am not surprised to hear some noble Lords saying, "Hear, hear!" to that comment. It may be that in a debate on primary education my noble friend Lady Phillips, who has taught for many years in primary schools, will be still better equipped to deal with the topics. A large number of celebrated speakers are going to take part. I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has been compelled to cry off. He initiated in noteworthy style the last debate we had in this House on primary education, indeed a whole series when we were in Opposition, in the course of which he expressed his own deep concern and that of my Party.
Perhaps I may be allowed to welcome in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, who speaks all too seldom, if I may say so, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, former Ministers of Education, and also the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, who has already been welcomed, and who may fairly be described as the Prince Consort of primary education. I hope he will not be discouraged by the example of Prince Albert the Good, who only once appeared in your Lordships' House and even then did not speak. It was in a debate on the Corn Laws in 1846 and his presence was criticised here as representing an undue influence, and he never came again. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, will not in any way follow that example.
May I just say this to the noble Baroness who is to follow me and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles? We on these Benches have been capable of criticising their regime in the past, as I have no doubt they are capable of criticising ours, but none of us has ever doubted their dedication to the cause of education. The share of national resources devoted to education to-day is around 5½ per cent. of the national income, compared with 3½ per cent. of considerably smaller resources some ten years ago. A good 188 share of the credit for this must go to the Ministers I have mentioned, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and Ministers like Sir Edward Boyle.
I hope they will agree on their side with equal chivalry that at the present time we have a Minister of Education of exceptional talents. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness will be the first to tell us that. We shall be listening to all these interesting speeches. I cannot imagine that the task of the Government spokesmen—that is, Lady Phillips and myself —is easy. Indeed, I cannot remember when it was more difficult. What the House might want to hear from us—though the noble Lord, Lord Newton, was kind enough not to press us too hard—are the Government's conclusions, and here the trouble arises.
The Secretary of State has already said that he greatly welcomes the general tenor and philosophy of the Report. It will make, as he has said, a major contribution to our educational thinking. Once again on behalf of the Government I endorse that opinion. The thoroughness with which the Council have approached their task, the width and depth of their investigation, make this Report a historic document, a landmark, I think it may fairly be called, like other notable reports about education in recent years. Lady Plowden and her colleagues are to be congratulated and thanked most warmly, and I am sure that primary education will feel the impact of their work for many years to come.
So far as the Government are concerned—and of course there are many lessons here for teachers and local authorities—the House will hardly be surprised to hear that I have no decisions to announce this afternoon. In these studies we must have regard, as all Ministers and ex-Ministers will be well aware, to the resources likely to be available over the whole period, and not only to our own calculations but to the views of the associations of local authorities and teachers. These are being actively sought, and indeed I understand are expected shortly. While I was preparing for this debate I learned—no doubt we all did—that another place are going to debate the Plowden Report on Thursday. This removes (if I might put it this way) the last remaining tooth from an already toothless man, so the 189 House will understand exactly how I am situated.
Nevertheless, I have come here provided, I hope, with a few shining dentures, and I will begin with one or two figures. Certainly the Plowden Council are to be congratulated on the care with which they have estimated the cost of their proposals. They reckon that, according to the present policies, expenditure in the primary schools will increase, if prices remain the same, from £340 million this year to £480 million in 1978–79; that is, about 41 per cent. in 11 years. Their own proposals, if implemented, which include the nursery provision, would add about £74 million by 1978–79 to the latter figure, so that would be a further increase of about 22 per cent. over this year's figure, 63 per cent. in all. That is a broad calculation.
If one takes the calculation per pupil, of course the increase is not so rapid, because there is a considerable expansion in the number of pupils. On present policies the Council estimate that the expenditure per pupil would rise from £69 to £88 in 1978; that is, by over 27 per cent. Their own proposals, without the new nursery provisions this time—because we cannot really bring them into this in quite the same way—would increase the latter figure to £93; that is, by about a further 7 per cent. So if you are taking it by increase of expenditure per head of the pupils, leaving out the nursery expansion, that would be an increase of 34 per cent. in 11 years, and one could call it 3 per cent. a year. It is of that order of magnitude. Everybody will form his own opinion whether that is too fast or too slow a rate of increase.
What about the recommendations? As the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has told us, there are 197 recommendations in all. I do not propose to deal with many of them or any of them in detail. Perhaps the simplest course—and I offer this for those noble Lords in the House who have a copy of the Plowden Report available—is to turn to paragraph 1,201, page 441, where there is noted the order of priorities which is laid down by the Council themselves. The first priority should be the establishment of education priority areas. Secondly, the recruitment of teachers' aides will be an immediate 190 and essential source of help to schools everywhere. Thirdly, the essential improvement of bad primary school building should be undertaken as soon as possible everywhere. Fourthly, the extension of nursery education, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Henley, placed first among his priorities; and the fifth major recommendation was that planning should begin on changes in the national dates of entry and on the ages of transfer between the different stages of primary education, about which the noble Lord, Lord Newton, said quite a few words.
The long-term pattern can be summarised in this way. First, nursery education, which would be mainly part-time and would be generally available to all the children from the age of 3 whose parents wish it. Secondly, entry to school only in the autumn term following the child's fifth birthday—that is, an average age of 5½ years; and then half-day attendance, at parent's request, up to, broadly, the age of 6 years. Then a three-year course in infant schools; transfer to middle schools at 8-plus; a four-year course in middle schools, and transfer to secondary schools at 12-plus. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, dealt with some of those points. The Council also stressed what they call the need for continued advances throughout the system, with special emphasis on school building and the improvement of staff.
That is a very short summary of the main proposals. As I said, there are, in fact, 197 of them. Perhaps I may offer a few comments, taking first this question of the staffing ratios—and we all know that, in a sense, everything depends on achieving an improvement there. Overall, staffing ratios have recently improved, although none of us thinks there can be any ground for complacency. In spite of a large increase in the number of primary school children in the past few years, the average number of pupils per teacher in 1966 was slightly better, at 28.3, compared with 30.9 in 1955. That is only a slight improvement in eleven years. There has been a very big expansion of pupils, and we can be gratified that in the same period over the past ten years the percentage of primary classes of over 40 has fallen from 29.5 to 12.4. Therefore former Ministers of Education have not laboured altogether in vain: nor has the present Minister.
191 These improvements, against a background of a very rapid increase in the number of pupils, have been made possible by the increase in the number of teachers. There has been a massive expansion of student numbers in colleges of education, from 61,600 in 1964–65 to over 84,000 this year. That is, by any showing, a very large increase. Naturally I concede that much of this flows from plans left by our predecessors—that is obvious to anybody. But quite an amount of it can fairly be described to what is rather crudely called the increase in productivity which directly followed the speech of the Secretary of State to the National Union of Teachers in 1965; indeed, it is right to say he has shown tremendous energy in this cause above all others.
The number of children in primary schools will continue to rise, perhaps by as many as 150,000 a year, for some years yet. But the schools will be benefiting from the large increase in the number of teachers in training. It is dangerous to prophesy, but there are prospects that by 1971 the current shortage of about 21,000 qualified primary teachers may well have been halved, so that by that time we shall be very near to eliminating classes of over 40 in primary schools. That will not be a moment to sit back and enjoy ourselves, but it will be a very great improvement over what we have seen in the past.
I should like to pass on to the proposal for educational priority areas to which the Council give their first and, indeed, overriding priority. These areas are to be identified as those in which children are mort severely handicapped by home background. The Council favour positive discrimination, as we are all by now aware, in favour of schools in those areas. They intend to assist them by appointing more teachers, by paying additional allowances to teachers, by encouraging the appointment of more aides than in other schools, by giving priority in building programmes and by adjusting Exchequer grants. Those are the methods to be adopted, and they should be very effective. I was not quite clear what the noble Lord, Lord Newton, had in mind when he seemed to be seeking to fasten a dilemma on the Government. He seemed to feel that the Government in some way had placed themselves in 192 a difficulty here. So far, the Government have avoided either solving the problem or being crucified by it. They are just studying it. I am not sure how the Government can be blamed for the problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, thought that there was some paradox involved here. I do not see any very great paradox. He asked, in a sense, whether the Government would be more concerned to help the clever children or the stupid ones: the most gifted or the most handicapped. I should think that any father or mother of a large family deals with that along common-sense lines. Probably parents would give, I suppose, most help to children who were working for a scholarship at one end, and to children who were going to educationally subnormal schools, at the other. I imagine that in a large family that would be what most parents would do. I do not see any very profound paradox or dilemma here, although there are practical issues of great importance.
I would suggest that these proposals have aroused wide sympathy, and I wish I could say something more definite to-day. They have repercussions outside the education service. They call our attention once again to certain areas with unsatisfactory living conditions and a high degree of ill-health or disablement. Certainly these areas and these sections of our population represent not only a challenge to the Government and to the Ministry of Education, but to the whole community. Certainly it is not a problem which can be just allowed to solve itself, but is one which must be tackled against those considerations.
The educational priority areas would start with 2 per cent. of the population and not cover more than 10 per cent. in the foreseeable future, although no doubt that proportion would rise later on. But these areas and the proposals for these areas should not be regarded as standing apart from the general body of the Report. They flow clearly from the overall philosophy of the Plowden Report which may be fairly described as that of trying to see the child as a whole. It is significant that the chapter on educational priority areas follows immediately on one entitled "Participation of Parents", and that one on a chapter called "The Children—Their 193 Growth and Development". The whole thing hangs together.
One of the great merits of this Report is that it describes more vividly than ever before the value of the interrelationship between parents and schools, and the ways in which the teachers and parents can co-operate, and indeed are co-operating, to help the children. The national survey carried out for the Council brought out the immense influence upon educational performance of parental attitudes. That phrase, parental attitudes", comes, quite rightly, again and again in the Plowden Report. I suppose that few of us who have been concerned with education or children would be unaware of this point, but I would think the Plowden Report brings it out with quite a new force.
Again and again the Report demands a greater involvement of parents in the primary schools attended by their children, not just in the backward areas but in all areas. Certainly it gives some striking examples of how this occurs at present. I will mention only one out of the many they offer us. For example, a swimming pool was built by a team of fathers who included surveyors, building foremen, carpenters, metal workers, painters and a foreman concrete mixer described as being as strong as an ox. That is just one example out of many that they give us. But I think that anyone who has read that part of the Report would learn things that he did not know before.
Here the philosophy of the parental involvement and the philosophy of the educational areas come together. In this way the educational priority areas are those where the parental involvement tends to be the least satisfactory. It is not the only handicap under which they labour, but it is the one most stressed by the Plowden Report, and this is one strong reason for positive discrimination in favour of these particular areas. To take but one aspect of that, though an important one, where the parents most need help in these particular areas the teachers at present, just because the areas are remarkably unattractive, tend to move away most quickly. So there is less stability in the teaching force. Quite unprecedented efforts must be made by all concerned to strengthen the 194 teacher force in these areas, and to try to preserve a stability among them, if these children are to be given an equal chance with others.
I cannot pursue the general philosophy of the Plowden Report much further, but will leave the rest to Lady Phillips, including, for example (there are so many topics one could dwell on), the most interesting section dealing with health and that in connection with the social services. But I cannot close without making some reference to religious education, about which Lord Newton spoke so firmly and so well, and in regard to which Lord Henley, obviously after a great deal of consideration, confessed himself less certain in his mind. To many of us, including myself, no section of the Report is more interesting than this one. I include in that comment the note of reservation by 6 out of the 25 members who do not believe that religious education should figure in the curriculum at all.
The Report does well to insist that teachers (this is in paragraph 575)—and of course the same goes for the Government—should be highly sensitive of the feelings of children of parents who are non-Christian, who are agnostics or humanists. That is an obvious duty, not least when we remember the unique services rendered to social progress in this country by the Jewish community in proportion to their numbers, and by so many individual humanists from Beatrice and Sidney Webb downwards. But, after all, we are collectively a Christian country in Britain in 1967. If anyone doubts that, let me remind him that it was only in 1944 that a daily act of worship was made compulsory in all our schools. Since then, the aid to denominational schools has more than once, indeed quite recently, been increased.
The present Cabinet, whatever its manifold and manifest feelings, can fairly be described as a Christian Cabinet; so could the last, or any conceivable alternative in this country to-clay. If it were not so, I should not be much interested in being a Minister of the Crown. Does it mean nothing that the political Parties preface their Party conferences with a Christian service or message? Does it signify nothing that the present Government, led by the Prime Minister, attended a special service to renew their dedication after the last Election—a service con 195 ducted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, and the noble Lord, Lord Soper?
We are informed in the Report that in 1965, 80 per cent. of those interviewed thought that the present arrangements for giving religious education should continue. That hardly squares with the alleged decline in religious belief about which we hear so much. As to the effect of such education in childhood, or on any one individual person, who can say? The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, in the most delightful autobiography for many a day which appeared recently, tells us that she was reading the New Testament in Greek to her father before she was 10, and to-day she puts the humanist case more attractively than anybody. You can draw what conclusion you like from that.
On the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, used to say that he was deliberately brought up without religious training, and yet, in what was almost his last speech in this House—I am not sure that it was not his last speech—he felt able to take part in a debate on Christian unity, and he wound up with the words which I think are not easily forgotten:Jesus of the Bible",he said,is called in the Revelations the bright morning star. Let us fix our eyes on that morning star and with the light of it make a new and happy Christian world even if it does not admit me to it.The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has in two fine volumes told of a long spiritual odyssey, but at the end of the second he comes out unequivocally. He concludes:We have to choose, and the choice of this book is the Gospels".With greatly gifted individuals of that kind, prediction is impossible. But who can doubt that the country which teaches Christianity throughout its schools is much more likely to be Christian than one which does not'? The attitude of the Plowden Report, I should hope, is as heartening to the great mass of the Christian population of this country as it should be reassuring to the minority who cannot believe or whose beliefs, equally sincere, are different. As the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has pointed out, the Plowden Report itself is perhaps the best evidence of progress made in our primary schools in recent 196 times. The noble Lord has said that our primary schools are perhaps the most successful schools we have. Certainly they have a high reputation throughout the world. Our infant schools are regarded almost everywhere as the best that could be found. May this debate, and the debate in another place, and the national discussion which is now proceeding, help us more clearly than ever before to perceive what it lies within our power to achieve and help us to persevere until we achieve it! We are all very grateful to the noble Lord for initiating the debate.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ BARONESS HORSBRUGH
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the three speeches which have begun this debate, and various points I wanted to make having been already covered, I will not repeat them. But I should like to say that I am glad that the discussion in the Report on religious education has been mentioned and has been so well described. At any rate, I can say that I agree fully with what has been said, and need not take up your Lordships' time by saying any more on that subject.
This Report is a very big one, packed with facts and figures, and is an interesting document. I am quite certain that it will be a reference book for us for many years to come. It was natural and right that the Council should be asked to go into all aspects of primary education, and that they began to look into the home life and early life of the children so that then they would be able to realise what sort of education was suitable, what was lacking, what was good and how they could help to make it even better—in fact, nothing was neglected. There is a chapter on immigrant children, and we hear of canal-boat children, gypsy children, and so on. I do not believe there has ever been a more thorough Report, and sometimes when I have thought to myself, "I wonder whether there is anything on so-and-so in the Report", I have only had to look in the Report to find it, whatever it may be. Therefore, one has to practise severe restraint in addressing your Lordships on this subject because one could say so much about so many things, but it is only right that one should pick out one or two points and deal with them.
I should like first to deal with the educational priority areas. It has been said quite rightly that we in this country 197 have some very good schools and some very bad schools, but I am glad to know that the number of very good is a great deal higher than the number of very bad. But surely, that being so, the thing to do now is to go out and tackle afresh the very had. It has always been suggested, and I have always been in favour of this, that we should deal with those in need before those who perhaps can carry on in the meantime with what they have already achieved. There are, of course, going to be a great many difficulties, and in the Report we see the ideal—we see the perfectionist speaking. When I read the Report, I thought, "If ever this comes to pass, if ever there is the money, the manpower and the building which is envisaged in the Report, oh, how I would envy the Minister of Education of that time!" Everybody, whether in central Government or in the local authorities, knows that what one has to do is to select and try to do the best one can, because one will never be able to do all one wants to do.
Various suggestions are made in the Report as to selection. In regard to building, I agree with my noble friend Lord Newton that in some cases the local authorities do not in the least want to improve old buildings, and I sympathise with them. One has seen these old buildings, one knows how appalling they are and that they ought to be demolished. But they cannot be abolished because there are still houses round them, the homes of the children. You have to decide: Is this going to be a slum clearance area? Are people going to move with their families to other areas? Or is there going to be no clearance, with the same number of children going to school, so that the school ought to be improved? I think that a good deal can be done. The Plowden Report suggests on minor works that about £5,000 ought to be allowed to these schools. I think that there ought to be a good deal of flexibility in the amounts for minor works, for minor works can make things a good deal better.
We read in the Report that in some of these schools the Council saw the ingrained grime of generations, which is quite true, but this can be dealt with by cleaning, by painting, and things can be made a great deal better. They speak of 198 outdoor lavatories without roofs. In those schools you might be able to add indoor lavatories, but at least you can tidy up the outdoor ones and give them roofs. I knew a school which was immensely improved by its windows being enlarged. It was possible to do that, and the extra light and air, cleanliness and paint, made a most marvellous difference to that particular school. With a little ingenuity and thought, and not very much money, can be done.
I should now like to mention the subject of priority being given to teachers, and the matter of classes not amounting to more than 30 pupils. It has been suggested that in order to get more teachers to go to certain areas there should be a supplement to salary of £120. I do not in the least object to the payment of the £120, but I have met some teachers who did not like the idea of giving any extra money to teachers to go to these priority areas. But I ask myself: supposing there are schools not far away in which the classes are over 40, should you make such a differentiation to give these areas the advantage of so much smaller classes. Should we not aim, as we have been aiming for years, to bring all the classes at any rate down to 40? When I went to the Ministry of Education, I asked why it was supposed that the maximum number of children per class in primary schools should be 40, whereas the number in secondary schools was 30. The only answer I got was the fact that there was not the slightest chance of getting them down to 30 in the primary schools. We are now getting a bit nearer this aim, but in regard to the particular point on the priority area having classes of 30, I wonder whether we should not wait until the classes in other parts of the same area are not over 40.
I should now like to come to teachers' aides. I am a little doubtful about this, and I know that my noble friend Lord Eccles will be speaking about it a little later in the debate. Both he and I in this House have spoken about teachers' helpers. I envisaged somebody who was not highly trained and who would simply be there to assist the teacher, with the very small children: somebody who could help in all the little odd jobs—helping the children on with their coats, tying up their shoelaces, looking for their handkerchiefs and helping them to blow 199 their noses. And when the children knock their books and papers off the desk, the helpers could teach the children to pick them all up, rather than actually doing any picking up themselves. I though they would he there to take on tasks of this nature, and it was that sort of person of whom I was thinking.
Now, however, we have envisaged somebody of a different nature as an aide. She would be trained for two years, a part of which time would be spent in the school. I got a little muddled up between the welfare assistant, the teachers' aide and the nursery assistant. I feel that something a little more simple would be of great use in the classroom. I do not think that the teachers would regard this in the least as dilution, for I think they would appreciate this help. The suggestion has been made that in the priority areas there would be one aide to two classes. I should like to see one helper for each teacher, one in each class. This would be an immense help, and the teacher would perhaps be able to deal with the class until we could get enough teachers to reduce the number of pupils in individual classes.
The other suggestion is about the nursery provision. Whatever we may like, we must face the enormous expense, the enormous amount of extra people, extra help and trained help, which we should need. I am perfectly certain that if we can get more nursery provision, particularly in regard to learning to read (I still think that the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, was very well brought up if she read before the age of three; I do not know when I could read, and I sometimes doubt whether I can now) we should do the best we can for the priority areas. There are a good many voluntary societies who help with nurseries and get a Government grant, and who might be urged to help in nursery education in these priority areas.
It seems to me that the two most difficult problems in primary schools are the provision of teachers and the nursery arrangements. I looked through the Report to see whether there were any new ideas or suggestions for the nursery provision, or for extending the number of teachers or the opportunities for them. Then I looked, as I often do, at the reservations, because there one sometimes 200 finds something controversial, something which it would be very good for us to bring out in a debate and consider. I know that some people would be entirely against some of the schemes suggested.
Let me take first the nursery provision. There is a reservation by one member of the Council which suggests that instead of nursery schools there should be play places, and that those play places might be helped a great deal if the mothers would help in the nursery playgrounds. Many of the mothers would like to do that; it would keep their interest and very little trained help would therefore be required. The same member also pointed out the difficulty with regard to getting a sufficient number of nurses for hospitals from the girls who are above school age. With the help of mothers and other people we might be able to manage with fewer nursery assistants.
I was not surprised to see another reservation—because this wrangle has been going on for some time—about the difference between day nurseries and nursery schools. It was the case at one time that day nurseries were under the Ministry of Health, and that nursery schools were under the Ministry of Education. We then reached the stage when there was a joint authority, and now this reservation—I was not surprised to see the name of Sir John Newsom on it—suggests that the day nurseries should be linked with the nursery schools, all coming under the Ministry of Education. Therefore, from the age of two onwards the child could be considered to be in the education area.
To my mind that rather links up with the next reservation, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Newton, mentioned, which poses the question whether, since one of the great difficulties in doing more for nursery education is the cost, a payment should be made by the parents. We must remember that parents already pay when their children go to a day nursery. Very often the mother finds that for a payment she can put her child in the day nursery and can then go out to work. Of course, she earns a good deal more than she is paying for the child in the nursery. If nursery schools are to be looked upon as part of the same educational system, is there any real reason why, if mothers pay for 201 their children to go to day nurseries, they should not pay for nursery schools?
I know people may say that you cannot differentiate, and that people who could not afford to pay would probably take their children away. But over and over again we have arranged things when there are differences. After all, under the school meals service about 7 per cent. of the children get their meals free. Over and over again, right through the educational service, there is a differentiation, even in the case of those going to the universities. If the parents are very well off they get no help, and for others, there is a graded system. I do not think there is any argument whatever against this and we ought to consider this system if nursery education is to be increased.
Another reservation is on the subject of teachers. I thought this was a startling reservation, but it was signed by Lady Plowden and others, including Sir John Newsom, who I knew would have considered the matter very carefully. I quite understand why they say that they paused before they made that reservation, because the majority of the Council were entirely against them. Their suggestion is this. As we know, we have at present reached the stage when a teacher's training course lasts for three years. The Council gave the figures for women teachers in the schools, and the fact is that, from 100 young women who have been in the training colleges, at the end of three years there are 46 left in school, and at the end of six years there are only 30, because the wastage, as it is always called—probably because they get married—takes them away.
So we have that tremendous wastage in the colleges, both of money and of space. The members suggested that thought should be given to a scheme under which young women could opt for two years in the training college, then go into school, and after a certain number of years—I think they put it at five years, but I should prefer three—they would then take another year's training. It would be a sort of sandwich course. I think that suggestion might be considered, especially when they tell us that in the early 1970s it would make a difference of about 10,000 extra teachers.
I have discussed the various points which came to my mind, and the reservations, and I should like to say this in 202 conclusion. We know that the Report calls for much more money, much more manpower, and much more building. We know that any Government has to decide what percentage of the national dividend can be given to one service or another. They have to consider between housing, schools, education, the National Health Service and all the rest, and they have to decide on the amount for each service. We know that there is always competition between Ministers trying to get a little more for their Departments. We know that there is always competition for manpower or, on this occasion, for womanpower—for the girls who are leaving school. Should they become teachers or should they become nurses? I know this so well, because when I was at the Ministry of Health I used to attend various prizegivings in girls' schools, and I found myself doing my best to interest them in nursing as a career. I then went to the Ministry of Education, and I found quite suddenly (I had not realised the change) that I was trying to interest them in becoming teachers. We have not a great supply, and what we have must be allocated as well as it possibly can be.
Once a Minister has obtained the amount for his Department he has then to allocate it between the different services in that Department; and I would appeal to the Minister of Education for more for the primary schools. I believe it is absolutely necessary that those schools should get a better chance and a better share than they have had in the past—I do not say in the very far past, but in the recent past. I know the difficulties. I know they are saying, "The universities must have more for building. Here are all these young people coming on, so well educated, and we want to get them into the universities". I know, too, that the secondary schools are asking for more for this, that and the next. I know that that is the short-term policy. I know that the country will benefit from the people who can go to universities. The universities have already been tremendously enlarged, and if they are enlarged further then the country will benefit more.
It may be said that giving a good education and training to the small child is a long-term policy, and that we cannot wait for that at the moment. But if we do not look to this long-term 203 policy, and to the training and education of the child from, say, five years onwards, then in the future we shall not have the people who will have the ability, who will have learnt how to learn and to tackle a job, and who will be wanted in the years to come for the universities and for all the other skills that are required. Above all it is the long-term policy for the child himself, because his training in his primary school is his training for the whole of his life.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ LORD PLOWDEN
My Lords, it was with some hesitation that I decided to take part in this debate. When the noble Lord, Lord Newton, suggested that I should speak on behalf of the Chairman of the Council, my doubts all returned. Then the noble Earl the Leader of the House likened me to a sort of Prince Consort, and reminded us that on the only occasion on which a Prince Consort had appeared, even though silent, he had given offence. However, it has not been possible to live in my house for the past three and a half years without learning something about education and something of the problems that have most concerned the Council during their deliberations.
In the post-war years the whole range of education in Britain has been examined and charted, but in a curiously piecemeal and, indeed, illogical order. First we had the Crowther Report, which dealt with the ages from 15 to 18. This was followed by the Newsom Report, which dealt with the period from 13 to 16. Then we leapt forward with the Report of the Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins; and now we have gone back to the beginning with the Report that we are now discussing, which is concerned with children between the ages of 3 and 13.
As the sequence of Reports shows, since the 1944 Act there has of necessity been an emphasis on secondary education; but at the same time there has been increasing evidence of the vital importance of the early education of children, and a quiet revolution in the quality of primary schools has been going on. As the Report reminds us, primary education in this country is good; but there is an all too familiar ring about the 204 passages in the Report which speak of the need to improve the average towards the best, and in particular to deal with the real laggards. This is the most important and, in my view, most urgent part of the Report, and it is to this in particular that I want to call your Lordships' attention.
As various speakers have said, the fundamental question is whether we can afford to implement this Report. I believe that we can; and, indeed, that we must. As has been pointed out, a large number of the proposals need no additional expenditure, and I hope to show that others are well within our grasp—but only if we are prepared to think decisively about priorities, not just in primary education but in the educational system as a whole. I also believe that the time has come to think in this way about the Welfare State as a whole. To implement the majority of the recommendations in the Report would cost little or nothing. They could be nut into effect quickly if we had the will to do so and if the Government would give a strong lead. For instance, children below the statutory age of entry could be admitted part-time. As the Report says:a long day in a large class is no way to start school.The Council recommend a short-term plan for entry to school until it is possible to have a single term of entry once a year for children over 5. This interim proposal could start at once.
But, my Lords, education is not a process necessary to earn a living: it is part of living itself. For far too many families, even to-day, it is a thing which is done to their children by an outside agent—"they" rather than "we"—requiring neither the support of the parents nor the active participation of the children. A more positive relationship with parents by administrators and by teachers is strongly recommended by the Council. This would cost nothing, and would require no legislation. The survey commissioned by the Council showed that the majority of parents care about the progress of their children, and it also showed how it is the actively interested parents who have the interested child. It must be recognised that it is parents who have the ultimate responsibility for a child. Yet it should be one of the functions of a teacher to work with the 205 parents. This, of course, will be an added burden for hard-pressed teachers; but all parents should be able to know how their child is being educated, which will for many parents increase their appreciation of the relevance of education and thus improve the chances of their children's benefiting from their education. Even as marital discord harms the emotional growth of a child, so lack of understanding and of mutual respect between teacher and parent harms his educational growth.
But we must not look at the problems and the costs of primary education in isolation. Now that we have had all these surveys of our education system—and, indeed, taken action consequent on some of them—I submit that it is time for the Government to consider the system as a whole over a period ahead and against prospective resources. We should look at the separate parts in order to ensure that they are consistent one with another, and that we are using our scarce resources so as to get the best available results. For instance, we need to be certain that we are making the best use of our existing resources.
The Report has suggested a full-scale inquiry into the training of teachers. The National Advisory Committee for the Supply and Training of Teachers has not been reappointed. With the growing demand for teachers it is essential that their training should be of the best. Are we sure that the present method of training is relevant to the growing knowledge of the development of children, to a changing society, to changing conditions in the schools? As the noble Baroness has reminded us, the majority of primary school teachers are women. Does their training take into account the altered pattern of women's life, now that they marry earlier and have an increased span of life once their immediate responsibilities for their children lessen?
One of the great differences between the position of teachers in this country and in many other countries is the freedom given to teachers here: freedom to teach children "according to their age, ability, and aptitude". A centralised curriculum in many other countries withholds this freedom from teachers. This freedom emphasises the knowledge and skill needed by teachers and the import 206 ance of training, but it also brings extra responsibilities.
The Council have recommended that teachers should now take on the added responsibility of using trained teachers' aides, in the same way as other professions use trained assistants. The Council have stressed that these aides are to be used only under trained teachers. The fear that these aides may be regarded as substitute teachers is, I submit, unfounded. Moreover, as an industrialist constantly seeking, and indeed being pressed, to provide more assistance to skilled workers so that they can make better use of their skill, I find this fear somewhat surprising.
My Lords, in deciding how to set about bringing the below average up to the level of the rest we need to think about the allocation of resources in a way that is relevant to all the other activities of the Welfare State. The leading article in The Times, to which reference has been made, put this point. I believe that in tackling this problem we are in the happy and far from universal position that the ends of social justice and of natural progress can be followed by the same means. "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" has been one of the most powerful expressions in the history of education. But in adult life, as we know from painful experience, there will always be bitter controversy about the meaning of necessity and the problems of incentives for ability. Few would now argue, however, that because a man is less happily situated than others he needs less care, or that less effort should be taken to help him make the most of his abilities. How much more does this apply in the case of children, who have no responsibility for their environment!
Our economic progress, which will determine our power to reach almost all our national objectives, depends on our success in making the most of the inherent potential of all our population. The overriding priority in an educational system designed to make the maximum contribution to national objectives is, therefore, exactly the same as that required to give all children equality of opportunity. All the work done in recent years, including the extensive inquiries during the pre 207 paration of the various Reports on education, lays stress on the wastage of potentially able children during the earlier stages of their education. The present Report emphasises the major importance of the earliest years of schooling. Because of the well-known vicious circle, those who begin badly drop further and further behind; while increasing attention is given to those who have been fortunate in their beginnings.
In this connection it is interesting to find a striking similarity between the Reports made in 1966 and 1967 of the National Advisory Council on the education of dis-advantaged children in the United States and Chapter 5 of the Plowden Report. This chapter, on "Educational Priority Areas", is central to the whole Report, since it is here that the Council spell out the relation between "necessity" and equality of opportunity. A great deal of our thinking on social problems is bedevilled by using these terms in a variety of meanings. As a general proposition, no one would deny that equality of treatment should have regard to the circumstances of the recipient; but in practical life we swing uncertainly between the ideas, shall I say, that those whose health requires it should get pills, and that if anyone is to get pills everyone should have them.
It seems to me that we have reached a point in time when we ought to ask ourselves whether we are making the best use of our resources in the Welfare State as a whole. There is a great deal of muddle and inconsistency in our thoughts; and part of this arises in connection with the different meanings we give to the term "needs". The original idea behind the Welfare State was to provide everyone with a floor, a basic minimum level, below which no one should he allowed to fall; and the money was to be found by taxation at a progressive rate. But this admirable idea is being gradually more and more overlaid with a vague wish for absolute equality, which no State in practice has ever achieved. And since the community would refuse to go so far as this, the practical result is that what resources can be extracted are spread thinly around, so that something goes to everyone, whether it is needed or not, and the submerged minority are still left far 208 behind. All the people are to get free prescriptions, subsidised school meals, subsidised council houses, whether they could pay for them or not.
Recently, we have been hearing a good deal about increasing family allowances—again, perhaps, to be paid irrespective of need. If this happened it would do very little for the children whose need is greatest. Even if the increase reached them it would not solve all their problems. Like the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I believe that if money is available for increased family allowances it should not be applied indiscriminately across the whole population.
My Lords, what is needed is positive discrimination of the kind suggested in the Report for educational priority areas: positive discrimination for the deprived children, in their schools, in their teachers, and in the social services which help their families. Only thus can those who are being left behind be reached; only thus can the cycle of poverty be broken. In the case of primary education, it is evident that children who are at a disadvantage, because of circumstances connected with the home, the background or the area in which they live, cannot start level with those more fortunately situated. There must, I suggest, be discrimination in their favour.
As the Report reminds us, this principle has already been partially accepted for more than a generation through the weighted grants to local authorities designed to equalise the resources available irrespective of the wealth or poverty of the area. Despite grave efforts made here and there, most local authorities distribute these resources on a basis of equality by schools. It is quite clear that equal distribution of current resources is not enough. Equality must give way to discrimination.
My Lords, I urge the Government to discriminate in this way. and I hope that the noble Earl the Leader of the House will represent this to his colleagues even though he was unable to give much encouragement himself. But to do this will require political courage because the electorate continues to identify discrimination with a means test and the mass unemployment of the 'thirties; something which full employment, one would hope, has abolished for ever. But, my Lords, we often forget that every 209 wage and salary earner is subjected to a means test by the Inland Revenue.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, quoted figures to show how much has been spent on education and how much the natural growth in the population would require if we were only to stand still. The running cost of the proposals for priority areas is estimated in the Report to be just £11 million a year by the year 1972, by which time the total capital cost spread over five years would have amounted to nearly £47 million. This compares with a present total annual cost for primary schools of £335 million, including capital costs, expected to rise on present policies to £441 million by the year 1972.
The total cost of education was estimated in a recent article in The Times at £1,664 million in 1966–67, rising over the next three years to nearly £2,000 million. It may be thought that in relation to these figures, £11 million for the running cost of educational priority areas is negligible. None the less, if no extra money were available it would I believe make a positive improvement in the system as a whole if this amount were found by diverting it from within the present spending on education. But as I have already suggested, a different approach to this problem of need by discrimination within the Welfare State as a whole in favour of those least privileged would, I believe, give much more positive results for the money we spend.
My Lords, the extension to all primary schools of the good work done in many could be accelerated if the public and administrators recognised its importance. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that primary education has been something of a "poor relation", and I think that anyone who has read the Report we are discussing will see that that is so. Much of the growing amount of money spent on secondary education cannot be well spent unless the children reach the secondary schools knowing how to learn and wanting to learn. The compulsory lengthening of secondary education, with the demands that it will make on money and manpower, will be wasteful—at a time when we can ill afford it—unless at the same time the primary base is strengthened. All children should have an equal chance to develop their ability, 210 and this chance can be given only at the stage of primary education, since many of the mistakes made at this stage by deficiencies in the system can never be retrieved. This Report on Children and their Primary Schools, the first since 1931, has again focused attention on primary education. It is important that it should be acted upon.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ECCLES
My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, and I thank him particularly for the passage on social philosophy. I could not help thinking what wonderful conversations he and Lady Plowden must have at breakfast. While I thank my noble friend Lord Newton, for introducing this important debate, in a speech which obviously commended itself to the great majority of the Members of your Lordships' House, I have also to apologise to him for the fact that an engagement with the Architecture Club will prevent me from hearing the end of the discussion, for which I am very sorry.
The very first Press notices warned us that the Plowden Report, compiled with care and skill and charm, contained a great deal that was already very familiar; and indeed it is the case that five or more years ago the Department had already considered most of the major recommendations in this Report. That made me wonder whether the elephantine delays were really a fair price to pay, or whether Ministers should not have taken action themselves upon issues that were so well understood in their Department; for example, on minor works in primary schools, on teachers' aides, on special allowances to attract teachers to unpopular areas and on greater flexibility for the entrance of children up to the age of six.
All those things were on the Minister's desk at least in 1960, if not before. The fact is that we have to look elsewhere for the real and lasting value of the Report. The studies in the development of the young child bring together a rich store of information that will be of the greatest help to parents and teachers, and I hope that every local authority is giving free a copy of the Report to every head teacher in its area, secondary as well as primary.
211 As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, pointed out, and I am fully in agreement with him, the really important lesson to be drawn from Plowden is that we still have to grasp the full significance of the interaction of school, home and environment. I suppose that we have been so taken up with the effort to build, equip and staff the schools that we have underestimated how much it hurts a child to be considered, not as one child, but as two children, one at home and quite another one at school; and how much it matters that every small boy and girl should be cared for, not in fits and starts, but all day long, so that their happiness and security is not broken every morning when it is time to go to school, or every afternoon when it is time to return home. Plowden has done an excellent job in putting home and school in better perspective.
In any large city it is all too often true that what is all right at home is all wrong at school, and how bewildering that must be to a small child. When parents are indifferent about how their child is taught to behave, and the home actually works against the school, the teachers may be forgiven if they abandon the struggle to create some kind of unity between what they are trying to do and what the parents recognise as good for their child. The Report points out in various ways how we may stimulate the active and benevolent interest of parents. I am sure that we all agree that we ought to try to do this, but I suggest to your Lordships that unless we begin at the beginning, where concern is first felt for the child's education, we are not going to reach the Plowden objective. The starting point is what is commonly called parents' choice. Most parents, if they are to feel some responsibility for the school, must have had a genuine opportunity to influence the choice of the school to which their child has gone.
I regret to say that not all those in authority care very deeply about parents' choice. Indeed, some experts are frankly scornful. They believe that county hall always knows best what is good for the child. They would like to zone the catchment area for every primary school so that the child can go only in one direction, to what is technically known as a neighbourhood school. That con 212 tempt for parents' choice offends against the humanity of the Plowden Report, and if I had only one thing to be grateful for in the Plowden Report—I have much else—it would be that it shows us so clearly that it is wrong in principle to go for neighbourhood schools.
Now I return to the recommendations as a whole. When they are taken together, they will cost a great deal of money, as the noble Earl the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, have said—and not only money, but many more trained teachers. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, said about teacher training. Then there is this body of 50,000 teachers' aides which has to be built up from nothing. Are these just paper dreams or are they practical proposals? I am bound to say that the stagnation in our economy and the alarming rise in Government expenditure make it hard to see just how and when such large fresh commitments can be taken on. Indeed, it is not only the prospects for Plowden but also the overload throughout the whole range of the educational service which now force upon us the conclusion that the Secretary of State should stop pretending that he can do so many things at once and instead recast his priorities so that what is most worthwhile doing can be done well.
The noble Earl asked me not to be unkind to Mr. Crosland. Of course, I do not want to be unkind to Mr. Crosland. I want the education service to be run by the best possible Minister and I should not like to see Mr. Crosland earning the reputation of an amiable, unpractical academic, who is all too inclined to accept the advice of every interested group and every civil servant, and afterwards, when he comes to add up the bill, to find that he can do only a part of what he has promised. What will he do now that he is challenged by the Plowden Council to give highest priority to millions of new expenditure on the primary and nursery schools? He might try—and I am very frightened that this is what he will do—to conceal his financial embarrassment and make some inexpensive gestures towards the Report. It would be much better if he had the courage to cut back some of the existing programmes in order to give the recommendation the priority 213 for which the Council make so strong a case.
Before I attempt to suggest what is the right answer to this, the big question of policy raised by the Report, I should like to spend a few minutes on one or two matters in the body of the Report itself. The Ministry knew all about the black list of bad old primary school buildings long before the Plowden Council were appointed. For years and in no spirit of complacency we had to live with them, and I must observe that the account given in the Report of the post-war building programmes understates the most significant fact about this period.
Lord Butler's Act of 1944 was essentially a secondary school Act. Every child over 11 was required to move from junior school to a separate secondary school. That obligation created the need for a vast number of new secondary school places, which number was immediately increased by Miss Wilkinson's brave decision to raise the school-leaving age from 14 to 15. That was the dominant duty laid by the Act on Miss Wilkinson, on Mr. Tomlinson and on my noble friend Lady Horsbrugh, whom we were so delighted to hear in such good form this afternoon, and her successors. Our first job was to pull the over-1 Is out of the all-age elementary schools, and to do this we had to give the lion's share of the building programmes to the secondary schools.
When the over-11s went off to their new buildings they left behind thousands and thousands of vacant places available for the growing numbers of infants and juniors. Obviously that reduced the claim of the primary schools for new building, but—I think that this is not brought out in the Report—they had a very real compensation. They were able to make striking advances in the education they offered to their pupils precisely because they enjoyed stability, in marked contrast to the turmoil going on in secondary education.
The new techniques in British primary education, which have rightly been held to he the envy of the post-war world—far more visitors came from abroad to see our primary schools than to see any other part of the education service—were made possible because the teachers in those schools were left in comparative peace. The secondary schools, particu 214 larly the modern schools, were bound to have serious teething troubles. That was why we needed the Crowther and Newsom Reports far more urgently than we needed Plowden, and why Plowden offers so few recommendations that the Department were not anxious years ago to put into operation had they had the resources.
In the field of primary education one serious charge lies against all post-war Governments. We, none of us, spent enough on minor works for these schools. The minor works programme brought out the inhuman worst in the Treasury. It was not that these gentlemen did not give us money in other directions—they did—but they argued that minor works, being small jobs quickly finished and distributed all over the country, were the ideal instrument through which to increase or decrease at short notice the volume of public investment. Accordingly they fixed ceilings on minor works, which were altered up and down to suit the miscalculations of the hard-hearted planners in Great George Street, to the great harm of generations of small children in the schools. If the Secretary of State is so financially straitened that he can do nothing else to implement the Plowden Report, let him insist on the complete removal of the ceiling on minor works. He must not be content with a revised ceiling. Mr. Callaghan and his officials will snatch away the extra millions the moment that the economy picks up. We must watch closely to see that the removal of the ceiling is complete and permanent.
I turn for a moment to the proposal to give above-average resources to schools in deprived areas. This is really an extension of slum clearance, and in my view is wholly admirable in principle. But in the form recommended in the Report it would be exceedingly difficult to administer. First, there is the definition of such areas, which would obviously arouse acute controversy. How is it to be done? It could be done by reference to the poverty or the ugliness of a certain area. It could be done by reference to the number of children of immigrants in the schools. It could be done by the proved difficulties of a particular school in attracting and keeping an adequate staff, whatever was the local cause—and as a matter of fact this is perhaps the most practical way.
215 To give every teacher in a deprived school a flat bonus of £120 a year is altogether too naive. The embattled ladies of the N.U.T. would soon be clamouring for a rise for everybody of the same amount, making great play with the fact that the Plowden allowances were not attached to any posts of particular responsibility. The future Burnham settlements would certainly be undermined.
Yet something must be done to attract teachers to really unpopular areas. I venture to put forward a suggestion that was made many years ago. Each local authority could be given an annual sum, proportionate to the number of deprived schools, upon whatever basis it had been agreed to define them. Then these authorities, at their own discretion, could distribute these sums in special allowances attached to particular posts in the deprived schools. In this way it would be possible to strengthen the staffs where they are weakest, without undermining the whole salary structure; and it would be much more flexible when the time came and you wished to classify some school as having got out of the bad area, and bring in another one from outside.
One hears it said that it would be a waste of effort to do this for the primary schools if the deprived areas were not being tackled as a whole—and I mean housing, roads, secondary schools, amenities, and so on. I do not take that view. We are up against a problem of deep national concern, and we must make a start somewhere to get it right. And what more sensitive and rewarding place to start than the schools to which the youngest children go? But perhaps the Government are going to tell the House of Commons on Thursday—since they will not tell us—that they have not enough money to do anything significant about Plowden. Mr. Crosland described the pressures for more educational spending when he was explaining in another place his discriminatory action against overseas students. Your Lordships have already expressed an adverse opinion on the reasonableness —"reasonableness" was Mr. Crosland's word—of raising the fees for overseas students. This afternoon we can note how hard-pressed the Secretary of State must be to produce such an unpopular economy in order to 216 save a sum trifling in comparison to the cost of the Plowden proposals.
Here is Mr. Crosland's own list of the demands upon him for more money than he has to spend. (I quote from the Hansard of the other place of February 23, column 1988):…more teachers, more buildings, more for going comprehensive, more for industrial training, more for the universities, more for science, and so on indefinitely.He forgot the very large sums to which he is committed for raising the school leaving age from 15 to 16; and to-day we want him to add to his list the millions required for Plowden. It is pretty clear that unless the national revenue is to grow a great deal faster than anyone can reasonably expect, the bulk of Mr. Crosland's existing commitments will not be carried out according to his plans and time-tables. He shows evidence of slipping all along the line. He must know this. Yet, foolishly, as I think, he goes on trying to do something for every programme, with the sure result that he will do nothing well.
Ministers of Education have found themselves in this predicament before. In the early 1950s we were desperately short of everything. In fact, we were so much worse off for buildings and teachers than we are now that the Crosland policy of something for everybody might have appeared the only political line to take. But we did not do this. Out of the half-a-dozen extremely urgent tasks, we selected two only to share the highest priority for whatever funds were available for new reforms. The choice fell on the reorganisation of secondary schools in rural areas, and the reform of the technical colleges. Everything else was made to take a back seat. I may have been right or I may have been wrong to insist on standing firmly on those two priorities; but at least it had one good effect, in that both programmes were well done, and the way was left open for the crucial increase in teachers' salaries which was made in the mid-1950s.
To-day we are in a similar position. The Department is being pressed on all sides to do more at once than it can do. Which then are now the highest priorities, and which programmes ought to take a back seat? I must ask your 217 Lordships to bear with me for a moment if I look at education as a whole. Where, if anywhere, could the resources be found to carry out well the Plowden recommendations? The prospects are bad. Looking ahead, we see the numbers are increasing of the children entering and staying on at school, and of the boys and girls who want to go on from school to further education. Merely to cater for these growing numbers at today's standards of education will cost immense sums of money over and above the present level of expenditure; and in my judgment a good deal more than was estimated in the defunct National Plan.
It must follow that the margin for new developments, ranging from nursery schools to post-graduate universities, simply does not exist, unless we assume very much heavier contributions from the rates and taxes, or directly from parents, much heavier than most people would consider tolerable or, indeed, anything but self-defeating. And yet it would be shocking to lay aside for five or ten years every new advance in education. What are we going to do? For my part, I see two programmes of outstanding national importance which demand much more money and drive than they are getting at present.
My first priority would be the boldest and most effective plan for industrial training. All our policies depend on the strength of the economy, and that calls for a keener acceptance of technical change. The resulting pool of temporary unemployed, considerably larger than we have been used to, would be tolerable only if industrial training were on a greater scale and better done than at present. And not only on a greater scale, but made more attractive and fruitful by linking industrial training with a fresh expansion of the training colleges. This expansion is itself tremendously important, for the further reason that the better education of boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 18 who have left school is now so urgent that it needs no further argument from me. This job could best be done in combination with industrial training. This, therefore, is my first priority.
Plowden would be my second, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, said, it strengthens the whole base of the 218 educational pyramid; and that we certainly now ought to do. For that, the minimum required is the complete removal of the ceiling on minor works, money for local authorities to distribute in special allowances in deprived areas, a training scheme for teachers in nursery schools, and the recruitment of 50,000 teachers' aides. Without these aides the trained teachers will not be able to bring the improvements in the standard of primary education that we all wish to see.
Where is the money to come from for industrial training combined with the technical colleges, and for the Plowden Report? It is tempting to argue that parents want better education so much that it would be safe to ask them, in the affluent conditions of to-day, to pay directly important sums towards the education service. We must be careful about all suggestions of that kind, for however they are dressed up payments by parents must fall on families with children. Are we sure that it is right to single out these families to provide the resources for greater advances in education?
Take, for example, the well-worn proposal to charge the full cost of milk and meals in school, operating, as now, a means test to exempt children from the poorest families. It is said that by shifting the cost of these services on to the parents we could save £50 million, or even £75 million, a year for Plowden. My Lords, I have grave doubts about this proposal. An increase of 1s. 6d. a meal—from a shilling to half-a-crown—would fall so heavily on the low-income families that one of two things would have to be done; either the means test would have to be made much more generous (and your Lordships will appreciate that the more generous the means test, the more embarrassing for the teachers to administer it) or family allowances would have to be increased, in which case there would be no certainty that the money would be spent on the children's dinners, and the net burden on the Exchequer might remain much the same. I am also worried by the possible reduction in the number of dinners taken, which might seriously affect the health and alertness of precisely those children who most need the good meal provided by the school.
219 Whatever the saving might be it would fall far short of the money required to do my top priorities properly. Therefore I must look elsewhere, and I find two large programmes which, by comparison, are of low priority and could be reduced, and a third which could be held where it is and not allowed to expand further. Taking these three programmes in turn, can it now be right to spend over £100 million in capital, over £50 million a year in running costs, and to make use of 20,000 teachers, on raising the school—leaving age from 15 to 16? When that decision was taken, everybody—the Labour Party in the van—thought that the economy was going to continue to expand. But it has not done so, and we now realise that in our grave economic situation there are more important things to be done in education to help get the country right. The case was well put by Mr. Walter James in a signed article in that rejuvenated periodical, The Times. Therefore, while holding firmly to the principle that we ought as soon as possible to raise the school-leaving age, I would now postpone it for a few years, and in the meantime I would give further serious thought to whether those children between 15 and 16 who do not particularly want to stay at school for the extra time might be offered, as an alternative, a full year in a technical college.
Then can it be right to spend money on "going comprehensive" in cases where the particular schemes call for new buildings? Where two or more secondary schools can be efficiently welded into one without damaging the sixth form (and that is an important proviso), then let the schemes go forward. I have always been in favour of that, and I still am. But, at a time like the present, to divert resources to "going comprehensive", rather than to making a good job of industrial training and the Plowden proposals, is to play politics at the expense of the strength of the nation.
Thirdly, the universities. Rightly and belatedly they have embarked on huge expansion projects. I feel that they need more time to digest these projects before another round of expansion can be reckoned among the highest priorities.
An interesting conclusion can be drawn from the present overstretched condition 220 of the education service. It shows how wise it was to put the whole of education under one Secretary of State. Sooner than I thought it has become essential in one central place to weigh, sift and revise the priorities. I have as much reason as anyone in your Lordships' House to be sympathetic with Mr. Crosland in his deteriorating position; but sympathy pulls no chestnuts out of the fire. In education, as in the other great spending departments, there is no substitute for good housekeeping. It is better housekeeping at Curzon Street that the Plowden Report makes so vital—even more than it has ever been before. But I hope—and no one will congratulate him more than I shall—that the Secretary of State will take this opportunity to put his finances in better shape, making ample room to do well what Plowden asks.
§ 5.8 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
My Lords, it has, I know, seemed strange to a number of foreign observers that in a sequence of significant and important Reports from the Central Advisory Council we have only now arrived at the important stage of the creative first years of education. There have been reasons for this, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has just told us, but I hope that we shall not let it be thought that the order of consideration is the order of priority of importance.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Newton, I came to examine official Reports by looking for glimpses of the obvious, and I had included one which he did not mention. The opening sentence of this Report says:At the heart of the educational process lies the child.I thought that was a truism, but after listening to, perhaps, some of the more gloomy parts of the speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, I wonder whether it is not one of those truisms that need to be said again and again, because we may so easily find this vital part, to which we all attach importance, pushed out by financial considerations. I believe that in this valuable Report there are many points which would not require an immense amount of capital expenditure to carry through, and it would be sad if some of those were to sink, if the economic waves were too great for the whole ship of primary education.
221 It is not, as is obvious, the purpose, and there is not the time in this debate, to enter into a discussion of the detailed proposals of the Report. What we have in the Report is a reflection of some of the best and most recent thought and development; and from the Church's point of view we welcome greatly the compassionate spirit and humanity of the Report, and its generous recognition of the good which is being done by so many gifted and devoted teachers, often working in difficult material conditions, with over-large classes.
The assessment that is made in Chapter 8 of the results of the detailed survey is encouraging to all concerned, and not least to the voluntary bodies which in the past have carried almost the whole burden of national education and which to-day have still a large share in the enterprise. May I remind your Lordships that, as the Report shows, 40.7 per cent, of all primary schools are voluntary schools, and they provide for 29.5 per cent. of all primary school children? The Church of England's share in that is 31.5 per cent. of all primary schools, and the Roman Catholic Church has 8.3 per cent. We can say here that we speak with knowledge and experience, and all that we know confirms the assessment made in this Report.
Nevertheless, it should not be thought that there is any complacency amongst those responsible for voluntary education in primary schools. We are desperately concerned that there is still so much to be done to improve material conditions. There are primary schools with buildings long overdue for modernisation or replacement, which the Churches are desperately anxious and ready to improve the moment they are allowed to do so. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, if I heard him correctly, said that minor works are apt to bring out an inhuman aspect of the Treasury. I would only add that restrictions on minor works have produced some remarkably un-Christian remarks from some of my brother Bishops as chairmen of their boards of education. Nothing has been more frustrating than to know the work that needed to be done, to be told that it could be done, and then to be stopped when just about ready to begin. I hope very much that what has been said about removing the ceiling 222 on minor works, for which the financial implications cannot be excessive, will be noted and carried out, so that essential work can be done, and done quickly.
We know, too, that in spite of the splendid work of the teachers, not least in the small rural schools, many of which are Church schools, there must be a continuous development of teaching methods and new approaches to the children's changing needs, and I think we can say again, speaking for the Churches, that in the voluntary schools and colleges of education there is a great awareness of the educational insights of to-day, not least those which stem from a secular approach.
Reference has already been made in this debate to the relationship which should exist between the school and the home and the community. Here again, perhaps we may say that we in the Churches speak from experience, for it is precisely this which the churches have sought to encourage and it is for this reason that we have valued the continuance of the voluntary primary schools. For the Church primary school is by its very nature in close touch with the parents who have chosen to send their children to it, and it is in equally close touch with the Church community who contribute financially to its existence and development. And the freedom of parental choice is obviously a vital part of the proper relationship between home, community and school. We were glad to see the strong reinforcement by the Plowden Report of that principle. We have always to be on our guard, as we have been reminded, that it is possible to have a very fine scheme of parental choice yet render it ineffective through administrative action or by a little bit of tidy planning to prevent children from having to travel too far.
I have referred to the extent of the Churches' involvement in primary education which the Churches themselves are determined to maintain, so far as they possibly can. We are there in primary education to make plain our concern for education itself. We believe that there are Christian insights which are vital for the upbringing of children in these early and formative years. We value our schools greatly, not as instruments of a denominational or exclusive pattern of education, but as the means through which 223 those Christian insights can be expressed and developed, so that all children may be given those insights which we believe are necessary for their growth and development as full persons.
I had thought that it might be necessary at this point to make a spirited defence of the religious element in primary education, but noble Lords who have spoken before me have made it unnecessary for me to do that. Their advocacy perhaps exceeds in cogency that which could have been produced from these Benches, and therefore I will not labour the point, except to say that we know from our own inquiries that it is the wish of the great majority of parents and teachers that religious education and the act of worship should influence the entire curriculum and set the tone of living and learning for the whole school community, as the Plowden Committee describe it in Paragraph 558.
From the Churches' side, we would insist on the fullest freedom of conscience for parents and teachers, but subject to that we would maintain that to learn about Christian faith is a necessary part of a child's education. I hope that not too much will be made of the suggestion that the act of worship should be divorced in some way from religious education because that might, among other dangerous things, turn religious education back into being religious instruction, from which trammels it has happily been escaping in the last ten years. But I hope that we shall see more flexibility and freedom in the interpretation of the law on the act of worship.
Reference is made by the Plowden Council to the fact that further inquiry is needed into the content and method of religious education. Of course that is always necessary. The process has already started. The Churches are deeply involved in it, and, as I said in your Lordships' House on a previous occasion, the Churches are anxious and ready to co-operate in further inquiries. The Church of England Board of Education have recently set up a working party under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Durham to advise on this whole question and to be available to help in any national inquiry which we hope will be set forward.
224 There are many points on which we should all wish to comment. There is only one which I think I ought to mention myself at this stage, that which arises in the Chapter on The Ages and Stages of Primary Education. It may be that in some cases and in some areas the three-tier system is the only practicable system. The dioceses are anxious to cooperate with the local educational authorities in developing these proposals, but there are pastoral and social implications in this kind of reorganisation which must be considered along with the mere educational need. I venture to express the hope that time will be given for an adequate consideration of these other issues.
Co-operation between local education authorities and those responsible for voluntary schools is accepted as a part of our partnership. But co-operation is two sided. It is not merely the dioceses co-operating with the local authorities; we hope to see in one or two cases more co-operation from the side of the local authorities with the voluntary bodies. Here there are places where undue haste to carry through a scheme could do untold harm, both to the relations with the voluntary bodies and, we believe, to the interests of the children concerned. But that is a relatively small point compared with our concern for the whole field of primary education. We indeed add our own congratulations to those already given to Lady Plowden and the members of her Council for this most valuable Report. We hope that it will not be long, in spite of all the financial problems, before some steps are taken to implement their proposals. We hope that in this the educational priority areas will receive the attention they need, for the need is great, the good will is very manifest, and the needs of the children must be served.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for initiating this debate and for his most interesting and temperate speech. I sympathise with most of it, particularly his reservations on encouraging mothers to park their young children in nurseries while they go out to work. Here I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh—I am sorry she is not here now—on one of her very rare speeches, and I wish she would 225 not deprive us for so long of her experience and wisdom.
I must confess that I approached this Report, the fourth of this aristocratic quartet—Crowther, Newsom, Robbins and now Plowden—with a slightly sinking feeling, because I knew that all the statistics and recommendations in the field of education were destined to lie fallow until money was forthcoming. All the same, I hope that we may have better days soon and that some of the recommendations will be put into effect. Kipling's poem If sprang to my mind, and I could not help Bowdlerising it and adding a line:If you can plan and not make plans your master".At present the money is just not there, and the Government cannot profit from these tomes of Wisdom. They are indeed very expensive signposts for the 'seventies, but all the same they are the texts for future expansion. I thought that here the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was peculiarly unsympathetic as an ex-Minister of Education, seeing that, after all, when he was Minister, I think, they were better days than the troublesome times the Government are having to-day. The Plowden Report deserves its full measure of praise for its exhaustive survey of our primary school educational scene, and for its wise, constructive and humane recommendations.
Until now the primary sector has been the Cinderella of the educational services. This has been said. It has had no extra provision since 1944, and here perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, would take note. The expansion of secondary education has been made at the expense of the primary. The Plowden Report makes it clear that so far we have had better value from the primary schools than we really deserve from the poor investment in them. And again I must speak to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and say that his explanation does not really explain away why the primary schools did not get more money. Of course, it is obvious that primary and secondary education is interdependent. If we invest more in primary education, we shall get higher dividends from secondary education.
This Report emphasises once again, as did all the other Reports, that there are 226 still untapped resources among our children in the country, and suggests we should begin by drawing on these in the primary schools. No one, as yet, has assessed the potential of ability or the effect this would have on increasing our economic growth. Here I should like to point out to noble Lords opposite, when they ride this cliché about comprehensive education, that comprehensive education is the philosophy behind just this: the fact that we have to educate as many of our children as we can—not just a few of our children or some of our children, but the greatest number of our children— to the highest possible degree.
My Lords, I agree myself with the major recommendations in the Report, such as the large expenditure on nursery education, the single date of entry and the transfer to the middle school at 12. But as these changes are part of the expensive reforms at the moment—we cannot afford them—I should prefer to comment briefly on a few of the recommendations that cost relatively little or even nothing at all. Even when they involve a legislative change, the change is not a controversial one. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of the Report for me was its psychological, and one can almost say philosophical, approach and its common-sense flexibility. It laid particular emphasis on the two-way relationship between the primary school and the community; not only was the school to be an active part of the neighbourhood, but people in the neighbourhood were to take an active part in the life of the school. A much greater partnership between schools and parents is advocated, wider than is achieved by parent-teacher associations to-day, or by managers or governors committees.
The Report goes so far as to say that the primary school should be the centre of activity in the community. There are already in existence some remarkable examples of such voluntary enterprise by parents, and the noble Leader of the House has referred to one of them, where the parents built a swimming pool in one neighbourhood. Mothers sew and make equipment for the children. Fathers, for another school, raised £8,000; not only has a swimming pool been built, but a museum centre, a theatre, a greenhouse. All of these have been built by parents' efforts. This exhortation to stimulate 227 home-school relationships can do nothing but good as well as raising the status of the primary school, which for some reason is lower than the secondary school's. It was evident from the Report that, for instance, the status of school managers for primary schools was lower than that of governors for secondary schools. I cannot think why they are called managers and not governors. Changing their name to governors would be a very painless piece of legislation, a good thing and absolutely free.
We know that not every management or governors' committee is competent or effective. It depends on the personnel and the emphasis on the concern with education rather than with politics, but when these committees are good they are not only a wonderful help to the head of the school but are a wonderful education for parents. I have just, very regretfully, resigned from being a governor of a boys' comprehensive school because I was not able to attend enough of the meetings. That is because I am away for three months of the year. This school is neither very large nor is it in an affluent neighbourhood. It is true that the committee was made up of persons who were distinguished, active or experienced in the teaching profession or other professions, and very concerned about education. But I was very impressed by the close consultation that existed between the headmaster and the committee. We freely discussed everything from the appointment of new staff or the violent behaviour of a problem pupil to the latest broken window. To-day the task of a headmaster or a headmistress is a particularly heavy one. The Ministry of Education has only recently asked for a small percentage decrease in the number of staff, when we know the shortage that already exists. Any improvement in the management committees of primary schools would be invaluable.
The Plowden Committee recommended, with one reservation, the abolition of corporal punishment. This again would cost nothing. I realise that public opinion, in the teaching profession and outside, is against it. I would only point out that public opinion sometimes needs to be led as well as followed, and that we might take into account the fact that we in this country have a bad record of cruelty to children, as is evident in the 228 courts to-day. The greater flexibility urged by the Report in the matter of part-time schooling in the first year, where parents desire it, is most commendable. Some children are exhausted by a full day's schooling at the age of 5. It is not too much to ask for half-day schooling until the age of 6.
I am glad that the teaching profession has overcome most of its suspicion and hostility to the idea of teachers' aides, less expensively trained manpower, and that the Plowden Committee have made the bold recommendation for inducements of higher pay for teachers in educationally deprived areas. This, incidentally, would be a double benefit, because it would alleviate conditions in immigrant areas and so help in race relations. Unless I have my sums wrong, which is not unlikely, the additional expenditure for this measure would be £3 million by 1972—not an enormous sum to contemplate. Also, in order to obtain adequate equipment for primary schools an additional sum of from half a million pounds to £1 million is needed. That again, is but a small sum. These are some of the less costly improvements in the Report to which I wish to refer.
We cannot overcome our educational dilemma to have expansion while we have inadequate resources and relatively fewer teachers; but we can make-do-and-mend with some of the cheaper recommendations put forward by this Report. Meanwhile, the Plowden Report, together with the three other great Reports, stands as a foundation for a logical progress in education that is the hallmark of a civilised and advanced society. And one of the most dismal things to contemplate, depressing and sometimes even frightening, is the prospect of an ever-increasing number of our children materially better off but poorly educated.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I wonder if I could take up one point that she made—the question of corporal punishment. She says that our country has a bad record of cruelty to children. Of course cruelty to children is not to be condoned. Whether we have a bad record or not, I do not know. But if we have, it certainly does not come from corporal punishment in the schools. I worked for some years—
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I am extremely sorry to intervene, but is the noble Lord asking a question? Unless the noble Lord is asking a question, it would be most unusual to give a commentary.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I am sorry. I will try to put what I have to say in the form of a question. Does the noble Baroness imply, then, that our bad record for punishment comes from corporal punishment as it stands in our schools to-day?
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, no; I do not imply that the bad record that we have in this country of cruelty to children, which, as I say, is often to be seen in the newspapers, comes as a result of corporal punishment in schools. But I think there is some relationship between our zest for corporal punishment and the fact that the worst of our parents are sometimes cruel to their children.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, would my noble friend agree that, in relation to its effect on young children, and quite apart from brutality, at least corporal punishment could be administered in a form of chastisement which may do them good, as it did me?
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ LORD JAMES OF RUSHOLME
My Lords, it is all too easy for some of us to be complacent about our primary schools, for many are first rate and some have been so for a long time. I myself remember with gratitude and affection the education I received in a maintained elementary school fifty years ago, though neither the buildings, nor, I suspect, the methods would perhaps seem adequate to me to-day. I remember with still greater regard the primary school in Manchester where my son received the first part of his education soon after the war, where some of the teaching was so good that the worst punishment with which we could threaten him was illegally to keep him home from school for half a day. There was not much wrong with those two schools.
Since then we have made immense strides. I was reading the other day a booklet on school development in the last twenty years in the area where I now live, the East Riding of Yorkshire. It is a record of what is virtually a minor 230 revolution—in accommodation, amenity and in approach. Reading such a record makes one feel admiration and gratitude to the administrators, the teachers and the laymen who have made it possible. We know, too, that under the impetus of enlightened local authorities and the architects' group in the Ministry of Education, primary school building represents perhaps the most significant contribution to English post-war architecture—at any rate, I think a primary school was the only building for which we got a gold medal at an international exhibition.
All this is a matter for congratulation, but certainly not for complacency. For in spite of the fact that the primary school can justly be regarded as one of the best elements in our education, the Report we are considering this afternoon makes it abundantly clear that we still have a long way to go before we can feel that great efforts are not required of us. There are still far too many schools that are physically sub-standard. That we all know. And we know, as we read this Report, what is required to remedy conditions that in some cases are still scandalously bad.
But that is only the beginning. Even if all school buildings were reasonable, they are but a framework. The Plowden Report indicates a number of lines of advance, and proposes a number of new approaches which we must explore if our primary education is really to meet the needs of our children and the community.
It does so in terms that are sensible and realistic, if I may say so. It costs its proposals and it puts them in order of priority. These are, of course, points on which many would disagree. We have just heard one discussed. Perhaps I might inform the noble Baroness, to set her mind at rest, that although I was headmaster of a large school in a city for 16 years, I am opposed to corporal punishment in schools—not that I think we should make too much of that subject.
With what, however, some might think my somewhat narrow educational experience, I am sorry to see that the single chapter in the Report on the needs of the unusually gifted child is the shortest in the Report and. as is so frequent nowadays, lends colour to the view that it is only outstanding abilities in the arts, in music and the ballet that need bother 231 us much at all. Although that is not a minor matter, I do not want to dwell on it or to let my disagreement about it colour my general wholehearted support of this Report. What I want to do is to comment very briefly on three particular questions which I think are of fundamental importance, and which I am sure demand the support of your Lordships' House and of the Government. Inevitably previous speakers have said a number of things that I wanted to say. I can simply add my support to their greater authority.
First, there is this genuinely radical proposal about what the Report calls "deprived areas". I would agree with the noble Viscount. Lord Eccles, that people in the Ministry may have thought of this years ago, but the plain fact is that from the point of view of the ordinary citizen and the ordinary teacher what is proposed in the Report is genuinely radical. Of course, we have long been aware of the way in which home and environmental circumstances, whether material, intellectual or moral, affect a child's development and, in spite of the efforts of the school, make much of our talk about equality of opportunity sound like a joke in rather bad taste. If we did not realise this clearly before, the Newsom Report underlined it with example after example. Plowden goes a great step further, because it makes hard suggestions as to what we can do if we will. Though we know, or ought to know, that the school in itself is but one of the agencies for creating a better society, we are given here two lines of practical approach to enable it to make a greater contribution to the mitigation of the effects of bad material and cultural background.
We have here listed a number of criteria by which we can identify areas in which pupils will have special problems; and although those criteria may not be the right ones, and although we may need to modify them or add to them, nevertheless they give us pointers on which we can work. We have, too, precise financial proposals to give extra help to the schools themselves. Very often, as we all know, it is the schools set in the darkest areas of our cities where staffs are most transient and most difficult to recruit. Yet it is pre 232 cisely the children in those schools who most need stability—and "stability" is a key word in a child's education—and more than usual help.
The suggestion that we should actually make available extra money for the staffing and maintenance of such schools seems to me as practical a step as we could take to tackle a problem whose difficulty makes one at times almost despair. In my view, it must be followed up. Here I very much agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, when he said that there should not be simply an automatic supplementation of the salary of every teacher who works in such an area, but by making the money available for salaries and other purposes in a flexible way we can help the schools to the best advantage. It is these schools, too, where the Committee's suggestions about special social workers, and the development of school welfare services which some of us have long urged, will be most important.
The need for some continuity and stability in the staffs of schools in deprived areas applies, of course, to all schools. Here one is forced back on the old platitude, though it is no less true and important for being a platitude. Our schools may be designed by our most gifted architects; they may have every visual aid and teaching machine and listening booth in the world; but they will still be good schools only if there are enough teachers, some of whom at any rate are good and some of whom stay in the same school for more than 12 months at a time. What is the position in this respect? With tremendous efforts, our colleges of education have doubled in seven years, yet the impact on the staffing situation has not really been all that impressive. Why? Because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, said, in a splendid and inspiring speech. out of every 100 women teachers leaving these colleges more than half will no longer be teaching in three years, and two-thirds of them will have gone in six years. And it is the primary school that suffers most from this exodus.
What can we do? We can, and must, press on in our efforts to bring back the married teacher after she has had her family. But that is not enough. I believe that we have to face resolutely the hard fact that we shall never have enough 233 trained teachers to give the kind of education we want. We never shall; and if we are honest we shall say so. What many children need—for instance, the immigrant children in the deprived school—is not initially class teaching at all, but rather to have someone to talk to in small groups in their new language. Such a procedure is unthinkable with any conceivable trained teaching force.
We are driven back inevitably—and even some of my friends in the teaching profession have realised this by now—to the solution proposed by the Report: to the use of teaching aides; that is to say, of girls and older married women who are not trained teachers but who can do many of the jobs a teacher now has to do, and often provide a sympathy and personal concern no less great. This is a controversial proposal, yet we must have the courage to adopt it. Is it so outrageous that the professional should be assisted by someone who is not so well qualified as himself? The hospitals and the laboratories of England would close, as we know, if it were not adopted in other fields.
I myself would go further. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, I would support wholeheartedly the Minority Report, which suggests that for a number of teachers the sacred cow of three-year training should be treated, for the moment, as not so sacred, and that a two-year course should be followed by some years in the school, when the third year's training could be added if the candidate wanted to remain in teaching. That revolutionary and much-opposed doctrine has the support of many people very experienced indeed in education. I know that politically this suggestion is simply a non-starter, but it is was, after all, supported by the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, and critical situations demand unpalatable remedies.
It is clear, too, that to give a core of greater stability to schools, which is what they need, more men must be attracted to primary teaching. In this the raising of the age of transfer will help, but something more is required. It may well be that more men will see a career for themselves in primary schools if we give them more responsibility and more independence. What the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said about managers and governing bodies was, I thought, ex 234 tremely relevant. We have to make a man feel that his school is in some way "his" school. It is to this element that many of our present grammar schools owe their success. He will also realise that his is a career worth pursuing if he is given some share in training his successors, as in so many other professions. The barrier between the colleges of education and the schools is often, in my view, far too rigid. There is room for more frequent secondment of staff both ways; and room, above all, for a new attitude of partnership between those who teach and those who teach others to teach.
I myself have for a long time felt most strongly that it is vital that we should have a Report comparable with those which we have had in recent years—Crowther, Robbins and the others—specifically devoted to the more limited field of the education and training of teachers. I know that the colleges of education have had a very difficult time over the past few years. Their splendid efforts to expand have imposed great strains on them. One is reluctant to lay on them again the burden of a new inquiry. Yet without a fundamental, and, above all, constructive reappraisal of the aims and methods of teacher-training at all levels—and I include the universities—we shall not be able to introduce the reforms we need.
Such a reappraisal is particularly important in view of the third and last point to which I want to draw attention. The abolition of selection may be a good thing or a bad one. As your Lordships know, I am one of those pretty well prehistoric animals reactionary enough to defend the 11-plus, partly because it gave the teacher clear and recognisable goals of literacy and numeracy at which to aim; and I think that literacy and numeracy are good things. Nor did it really cramp creative effort in the primary school as the illustrations in this Report testify, which, after all, represent activities which were going on while the children were cramped by the 11-plus examination.
The primary curriculum is now, however, in a state of rapid change—and I expect that it should be. Its techniques are being radically altered. Here one must pay tribute to the work of the Schools' Council. The setting up of that Council, and the initiation of its studies of the cur 235 riculum, may well come to be regarded as one of the significant landmarks in our recent educational history, because from the Council is coming a body of information and suggestions which is of the greatest importance, such as their last admirable pamphlet (I mention it merely as an example) on French in the primary schools.
But the value of these approaches, these new advances in technique, is greatly diminished unless teachers are shown how to use them. As in every other field of knowledge, whether it is chemistry or physics or engineering, or whatever you will, the growth of knowledge about education itself is so rapid that one cannot speak of a qualified teacher as if he or she were a finished product. The teacher whose training finishes in 1967 will be ill-equipped to teach the children of the year 2,000, yet that is what he will have to do. The inescapable conclusion is that our colleges and departments of education must put an emphasis on in-service training far greater than anything we have previously visualised in this country, though it is common enough in the United States. One aspect of this will be the provision, as the Report suggests, of teacher centres as widely scattered as possible, so that teachers may come in the evenings—as I can testify from our experience that many will—to discuss their common problems and to keep bright their knowledge and their ideas.
Those are the three points in this fine Report which I wanted specifically to commend to your Lordships: the recognition of deprived areas, the provision of teachers' aides, and the radical reexamination of teachers, including great emphasis on in-service training. All of these reforms will cost money, and the Report is bold enough to say how much. About that I shall say only two things. If our finances are so straitened that we cannot do everything we want over the whole field of education, then let us get our priorities right. Here, of course, I am simply echoing the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Lord to whom we are so grateful for having initiated this debate.
I think one is entitled to ask, even if the noble Baroness thinks it a cliché, whether the strengthening of the founda 236 tions of public education is not more important, and will not yield richer and more certain dividends, than many of the schemes which are now being evolved for the reorganisation of secondary education. Secondly, I would ask whether as we read this Report, with its comparatively modest estimates as education goes, we shall simply say, "We cannot afford it." We should, I believe, rather say that if we as a country can afford hundreds of millions so that we can learn to fly to New York in two hours rather than five, or spend great sums so that we can see our television programmes in colour, then if wisdom and humanity are left in us we must still more afford the sacrifices required to strengthen the foundations of our national prosperity and the basis of our national character by enriching at its roots the education of our future citizens.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ BARONESS BROOKE OF YSTRADFELLTE
My Lords, it is clear from this afternoon's debate that many ideas triggered off as a result of the marathon Plowden Report are common to noble Lords who have already spoken. Mention has been made of the quality of the Report, and any of your Lordships who have read it, certainly Volume 1, will realise the beauty of the language with which it has been produced. I will not weary your Lordships by being merely repetitive, so I shall scrap from my speech the points already covered and concentrate on one which I think worthy of emphasising here.
We have heard a great deal this afternoon about the priority areas, and I want to speak for a moment or two about the staffing problems of schools in those areas. Various methods of attracting teachers are put forward, some good, some not so good. The suggestion that teachers' aides should be provided is excellent. I was interested in what a former chief inspector wrote in Teachers' World the other day, when he said:The Council has courageously gone beyond what the teachers' organisations have in the past been willing to concede. The Report has strengthened the Secretary of State's hand in pressing with equal courage, but unavailingly so far, for something more than mere ancillaries in the primary schools. If the Government shows it means business over this Report, one hopes that the teachers' organisations will meet Mr. Crosland more generously on this particular issue. If 237 the profession wants the public's support on salaries, status and conditions of service, it cannot afford to be accused of restrictive practices.Those are the words of Mr. Percy Wilson, a man who in his high position in the Department was known to care deeply about children and their education.
But in addition to teachers' aides, the real need for teachers is to be aided. I hope that the Government will not rest content with the suggestion that there should be a carrot of £120 extra allowance to lead the necessary teachers into the priority areas. Is not some imagination needed to avoid having a commuter force of teachers, moving in in the morning and out in the afternoon, detached all the rest of the time from the neighbourhood in which the children have their homes? The noble Earl the Leader of the House spoke of this with feeling, and I suggest that it is really a housing problem. If appropriate accommodation could be provided for young married teachers, or groups of teaching friends, somewhere near the schools, and if the kind of appeal were to be made which in another field is resulting in sending hundreds of young people through the V.S.O. and other agencies to service overseas, I am certain that the response would be rewarding.
Often these priority areas are in need of leadership, friendliness and enthusiasm. For two years after leaving a domestic science training college I lived near just such an area, teaching in a school where all the children and their parents had been moved out of the overcrowded East End of London into a vast, new housing estate. I was very conscious that what I might call cross-fertilisation was sorely lacking in that area. There was hardly any local leadership, no community feeling, no play centres, no youth clubs—nothing but hundred and hundreds of council houses that had come to be occupied by hundreds and hundreds of families, strange to each other and to the roads in which they lived. All contact with the children and the school ended at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, when the staff hurried away to catch their trains or their buses. It was not the teachers' fault. At that time, nearly forty years ago, if accommodation for them had been provided on the huge new estate, many of the teachers would have lived on the spot. As it was, no one was left behind 238 to make a contribution to life out of school hours.
In that housing estate the school buildings and equipment were new, but the income level was low and the need for leadership living in the community was every bit as great as in some of the priority areas described in the Report. Take the kind of area described in Chapter 5 of the Report. If improvement of some of the housing in such an area could be undertaken immediately and the accommodation then offered to young married teachers—therefore obviating the wastage of so many of the women who get married—and also to groups of teacher friends, I am sure that they would accept it and set out to make something of living in the area as a challenge to their social conscience. Young men and women often make a success of what they set themselves to do in incredibly difficult circumstances. The manner in which so many of the young to-day respond to what they see to be a real need is a shining example to us all, Perhaps the noble Baroness who is to reply, and who was at one time herself a teacher—and I am sure a much more skilled one than I ever was—will pass on this suggestion when submitting to the Secretary of State the ideas that have come up in this debate to-day.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, I want to deal with one aspect of the Plowden Report; that is, the problem of the immigrant schools—what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, in a recent debate in your Lordships' House, called the "ghetto" schools, The Report draws attention to the fact that over 200,000 immigrant children, so-called, have actually been born in this country since the large-scale immigration began, and that the numbers of children from certain Commonwealth countries are as follows: West Indians, 57,000; Indians, 29,000; Pakistanis, 7,800; and 13,200 Cypriots. Some 25 boroughs, including 11 in the Inner London Authority, have an immigrant population in school of more than 5 per cent., the highest single figure being 21 per cent. Because immigrants tend to concentrate in particular districts, the children attend few schools even in these boroughs; that is to say, they are concentrated in particular schools. In some schools, more than half the pupils come 239 from immigrant families. They are what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred to as the "ghetto" schools.
Many immigrant children are at an enormous disadvantage because of their poor educational origins. To quote the Report:It is difficult to discriminate between a child who lacks intelligence and the child who is suffering from 'culture-shock' or simply from inability to communicate.This problem of "culture-shock" is one that concerns me professionally, in the sense that I am a professor of international relations, and I have seen a great many of the places of origin, if you like, of these immigrants. As a result of "culture-shock" and the inability to communicate, few immigrant children find places in selective schools. Few go on to higher education. In one borough with nearly 6 per cent. of immigrants in its school population not a single child was selected for grammar school in 1966; and children with high mathematical and technical ability are at a disadvantage because of their poor English. I have plenty of evidence of that from those who are striving to teach immigrants for technical school purposes.
This is a dangerous form of segregation, because it perpetuates the immigrant complex in the next generation. The fact that these children cannot succeed, that they cannot go forward to higher education, begins to react on them. Children of intelligence who have missed their way at school through "culture-shock" or language difficulties, or just inappropriate teaching—and teaching may be inappropriate even with sympathetic and patient teachers—are likely to discover that they have missed their opportunities, and may develop grievances; or they may be what in America are called "drop-outs". They are so discouraged by the inadequate and bad schooling, and by their sense of inadequacy in themselves, that they just do not persist with education. They do not try to "lift themselves with their own bootstraps," and they remain, going on into the next generation, as second-class citizens.
This is something which ought to concern us deeply, not merely because of the wastage of these people, themselves, but because here we have an inherent problem of great magnitude for the future. I would remind your Lordships that this 240 was the inflammable cause of the Watts riots in Los Angeles. We have seen in the schools, and indeed in the living conditions of the recent immigrants, a repetition of what was in fact the deprivation of the 1930's, which again built up an enormous head force of resentment. I would commend to my noble friend Lady Phillips, who will be replying, a close look at what has been done in America by the Job Corps to deal with the "dropouts". A great many lessons—lessons which will be very valuable—can be learned from them. Above all, I suggest that a look should be taken at "Head start", which is the name given to the desperate efforts which the Americans are making—some of them not very successful—to take children, particularly the Negro children, out of the impossible social quagmire at a receptive age, and try to prepare them for school. "Culture-shock" needs culture therapy. It also needs culture prophylaxis to mitigate the shock of exposure to an alien cultural training.
Like everything else in the problem areas discussed in the Plowden Report, the difficulties cannot be solved in the classroom alone, because they relate to a whole complex of social under-privilege; namely, the squalor of immigrant overcrowding, the "ghetto" mentality which is being generated in the community, the grumbling of racialism and job discrimination—the job, as the Plowden Report points out, they do not get when they go to look for it. Fortunately, as the Plowden Report also reminds us—and it is nice to be reminded of this:…colour prejudice does not cause much difficulty in the classroom. Children readily accept each other and set store by other qualities in their classmates than the colour of their skin. Some echoes of adult prejudice may invade the classroom but seldom survive among children".That makes it the more painful when, outside the classroom, the immigrant child is tormented in his own neighbourhood or rejected when he comes to look for a job.
I have some suggestions to make with regard to the nature of the teaching of the immigrant children, simply because I have seen the conditions and the nature of the teaching from the other end; but I will not go into that now. But I believe—and I reinforce everything that 241 has been said about it—in the need for teaching aides. And I mean both aides (for I could employ more than 50,000 of them) and aids: technical aids. On the aids and aides to teaching we can elaborate at great length, and the effect could be extremely valuable.
But, there is one other aspect that I should like to emphasise. It follows what the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte, had to say about service overseas. I believe—and I ask the House seriously to consider and reinforce my request to the Front Bench—that we should try to relate the whole problem of the immigrant schools, the ghetto schools, with the enormously advantageous effects of Voluntary Service Overseas with which I am closely connected, through the Duke of Edinburgh's Council. As the noble Baroness said, we have there a tremendous body of enthusiasm, of people who have actually been on the ground, who know the conditions, who in many cases have learned the languages and who know something of the cultural background which cannot be obtained from a textbook or fabricated in a teachers' training college. Therefore I think this whole problem of the ghetto school should be closely considered in terms of our whole overseas aid programme and the "come-back", as it were, of the people.
I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London is back in his place because I think he was rather premature when he said that we had no questions on the matter of religious education. It seems to me that this question of the immigrant schools highlights the problem of religious instruction, or religious education, as the Plowden Report prefers to call it and I am glad they do: I only wish they would call it "education in religion". The real problem here is how to reconcile the argument which in an otherwise magnificent Report, if I may say so, is extremely evasive or excusing on this question of religion. Naturally, as the Report itself points out, the members of the Council were divided.
We must ask ourselves seriously what is the nature of religious teaching or religious education in the schools (in which we have a very large and diversified body of differences in religious content) and the nature of the "culture 242 shock" of people coming from the conditions of one religion, for instance, from India, of Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists, coming to find themselves in schools where they are being expected to conform. Let us be quite clear about this. They are being expected to conform in the act of worship to an approach to a religion which in fact conflicts with all their background—as it does, to my certain knowledge. There are enormous differences between the conditions of home and school. But think how infinitely more difficult it becomes when you have a religious conflict between the teaching at school and the teaching in the home.
In an examination of the Plowden Report, I think we have to bear that in mind. It is the dividing of a child's mind, the dividing of a child's loyalties; not one child but two—because we have to accept that they come with their own ideas of religion, of Islam, of Buddhism, of Hinduism, or Animism and other varieties.
I ask the right reverend Prelate who is to follow me to believe that I am sincere in saying that the question of religious education and instruction in the schools, in terms of the problem with which I am dealing, (the problem of the immigrant schools and, therefore, one high-lighted throughout the whole of the teaching of primary education) is a very important issue indeed. I ask those who follow to go beyond the Plowden Report and ask again whether, in fact, in our whole approach to religious education we are coping with the nature of our times.
§ 6.16 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WAKEFIELD
My Lords, I will try to take up a point raised in the last speech. I have absolutely no authority to speak on this subject, but I know that it is one which has been and is being taken up, and one to which very careful thought is being given by the Board of Education of the Church of England. One hopes that, as a result of that study, there will be at any rate some new viewpoint which can be contributory to this vitally important discussion which your Lordships have raised and for which I am grateful. I am afraid there is no immediate answer to this problem. Speaking personally, I have realised that it exists in the schools in certain parts, which I suppose would now 243 be called special areas, in my own diocese. It is a very practical problem.
In looking at this whole vast subject of Children and their Primary Schools one realises how significant it is that that title has been used. This Report, above all else, is looking at this matter from the point of view of the child—and the understanding of the immigrant child is as important as the understanding of the child of this country. The Church, I suppose, was doing the pioneer work in this field all through the last century; and the fact that many of its buildings are old and need modernising is to its credit rather than otherwise. Looking at this subject from within the long and, I consider, honourable tradition of the Church, and asking what would one like to see taking place, I find time and time again that Lady Plowden's Report has put its finger on precisely the things one would like to see. As has been suggested more than once, the Report will no doubt serve as a kind of textbook for the whole subject for a few years—although I must admit it is an intimidatingly bulky one. But, even if in other respects (as I am afraid we probably must expect) it will be pigeon-holed, as a textbook it will prove of very great value to education in this country.
As has been said, the insight of our predecessors and the suggestions they have made—particularly in the Hadow Report of thirty years ago—have been justified and refined by experience: for instance, finding out has proved better for children than being told. That may be the line we shall have to take on this whole religious issue. The chapter on "The Aims of Primary Education" could be criticised, in spite of what has been said about the language, as somewhat banal; and from the point of view of the Christian tradition the aims are limited because they give no hint that there might be places beyond this world for the child to explore, to find out about and prepare to take his place in. But considering the bitter controversies of the past and the questionings of the present day, I think that the whole statement—I am sure that my colleagues would say the same—is very fair. The emphasis laid on the importance of participation by parents (another subject which has already been mentioned), participation by parents in the 244 life of the school, as well as interesting themselves in the doings of their children, is of course to be welcomed and is something we have pressed for all the time.
It may well be that the whole of Part Three of the Report on the home, school and environment will turn out in the end to be the principal contribution which the Report makes to the whole discussion. We have always known what an influence the attitude of parents to what goes on at school has on the development of a child. It is only natural, but the extraordinary thing is how often it is lacking, and how apparently indifferent educationists can be. I must confess that I wish the Report put rather more strongly the part fathers should be encouraged to play, and not only mothers.
Now, on the basis of this Report, with its findings largely based on a national survey with the portentous title of Parental Attitudes and Circumstances Related to School and Pupil Characteristics, we have such evidence as should almost compel educationists to bring parents into the picture in every possible way. The recommendations made have the great merit that they call mostly for the expenditure of time, energy and imagination on the part of head teachers and their staff and not for the expenditure of public funds, and so one may hope that at least these will be implemented. Also, something which has not been mentioned, in Part Three comes the important chapter on the health and welfare service and the school child. The recommendations in the Report are somewhat tentative in view of the fact that the Seebohm Committee has not yet reported and what recommendations are laid are in line with the thinking of many of us who have the many-sided care of families of all kinds as our major concern.
A great deal more needs to be done to co-ordinate the various agencies which will become independently involved in school cases and, as the Report says, we need to reach an understanding of the partnership which makes teacher and social worker—and, I would add, sometimes the parson—real colleagues. I think that this is an important chapter which is worth noticing. I will not say anything about the proposal to make a planned and positive discrimination in favour of deprived areas because so much has been 245 said on that already. With Sir John Newsom on the Committee we can well understand how they were not allowed to shirk this issue. I remember very well, again about thirty years ago, a book by him called On the Other Side, in which he put himself in the position of different kinds of deprived persons in different situations in the country. By this Report we have been compelled to put ourselves in the position of a person in these deprived areas and that has been a very good thing for our consciences.
There are many other recommendations which will mean increased expenditure and these, too, have been discussed, but there are certain ones which will not require expenditure to which attention ought to be drawn. One of them in particular I should like to mention, and I was rather surprised at what was said about it very much earlier in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I refer to the recommendation about managers of schools. From our experience in the church schools we know how important a role school managers can fill and what a difference it makes if they meet regularly and are known to meet. They can indeed share their relations between school and community and they can indeed support the head teacher. And the staffs of many church schools testify to the value of having a group of people of this kind interested and concerned for the wellbeing of their staff and the children. True they can be a hindrance and have been known sometimes to hold up progress, but by and large we should want to support the plea that more should be made of them and that their responsibilities should be increased.
To return for a moment before I finish to the specific question of teaching of religion as an element in the curriculum—and here, of course, I speak from the Church point of view—this must be done with the same educational expertise and imagination as is afforded to all the other subjects; and the numerous recent research projects on the subject, particularly the work of Dr. Goldman and his colleagues, are to be welcomed. What is so surprising is to find that so few educational authorities have appointed advisers on this subject, especially when we remember that it is the one subject which must be included in the curriculum. The West Riding authority appointed an 246 adviser three or four years ago, and this has proved of immeasurable value to all concerned. I think that our authority would most certainly endorse Lady Plowden's Committee's opinion that such appointments would help to raise the standard of religious education.
Finally, my Lords, a word about the Report as a whole. It is about children, and children as individual persons; about their needs, their differences and the different environment in which they have to grow. The schools are described as "their" schools and are staffed, and the curricula are planned. for them. It could almost be called a "Children's Charter". While many of us would naturally have liked the aims to be expressed with a rather more definite Christian conviction behind them about the nature of man and the end for which man is created, being the glory of God, nevertheless, it does reflect the views that the Church holds and it is the stewardship of human life which is the first responsibility of every educational process. Because of that, I am sure that we heartily endorse what is said in the Report.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ LORD ARWYN
My Lords, first I have to apologise for not being here for the major portion of the debate and for the fact that I have to leave early. I should not like to attempt to follow the right reverend Prelate in his theme, except to say one thing, that when my daughter was very young she chose to teach in a primary church school. The Plowden Report has already become an historic document. I must declare my interest in this debate by referring to my eldest daughter, whom I have already mentioned, who is a primary school teacher, and to one of my oldest friends who was the headmaster of a primary school. Both of them have helped me to write this speech. My second daughter until recently taught English at a grammar school, and my mother, on the day of her appointment, was one of the youngest headmistresses of an infants' school.
My contribution to this debate is to draw attention to the differences in pay in the teaching profession and what one would call parity of esteem as compared with other stages of education. Teachers still find that in the minds of administrators, especially in the higher flights, and 247 among the general public, the older the pupil, or the nearer he is to getting a job, the more important becomes the teacher. It seems that educationists and the general public are prepared to spend more on the final touches than on the foundations.
The Plowden Report suggests means of getting parents and local authorities more interested. There is already a growing interest and this must now be exploited. The public must be made to realise that the most important years of a child's life are those up to the age of 11. This calls for an enlargement of scope in the duties of primary school teachers, such as specialists in remedial work, both on the "three R's" side and on the physical side. On the physical side it would include special classes for correcting feet, posture, deafness and sight difficulties not serious enough for clinic or hospital treatment. This means getting away from the hard and fast rule of one teacher per class in primary schools—even for classes of thirty.
We shall realise, I hope, in the not too distant future the urgent need to spend more money on load-bearing foundations and not so much on the trimmings that are often found on the superstructure. There is too much gilding of the superstructure nowadays and we find that this gilt very easily drops off under stress. The basis of a child's character, apart from strong hereditary characteristics, is laid in the home and in the primary school. I am glad that the pundits who advocate the postponement of the age of entry are not likely to succeed. I went to school when I was three and I could read fluently when I was five. It was a very good start.
It may be wise to have second thoughts on increasing the school leaving age to 16. There might even be some merit in letting pupils leave at any time after 15 or even 14½ if they pass the modern equivalent of the old Labour leaving examination at 13, which was in effect when I was a boy. There is plenty of scope for people who want to learn, if they are slow developers, at night school. In my day many of us went to night school and we produced some excellent men. Some of them became Greek scholars, to whom I referred in a speech last month, and others became first-class mining engineers. The list is endless.
248 I should like to turn to the state of primary school buildings. Heaven knows how some devoted caretakers work desperately in buildings over a hundred years old, with insufficient wash basins and with outside lavatories, to keep them warm in winter, clean and tolerably hygienic. I heard of one case of school dinners being served under an umbrella because of a leaking roof. This school was within a borough whose education committee were spending a large sum on a construction where the main occupation will apparently be to turn shapeless lumps of stone into perhaps slightly more symmetrical lumps of stone. I cannot appreciate this modern art. I think that the priorities are slightly wrong when it conies to the question of primary schools. There should be some reasonable explanation for such a seemingly extraordinary state of priorities.
The age of the primary school population is constantly changing in any area, particularly where new housing estates are inhabited by families with young children, who inevitably grow older, and as the maximum stay in an infants school is three years, a new school serving such a housing estate could be much depleted over the course of even ten years. Is it not therefore worth while considering prefabricated mobile buildings which can easily be moved to where they are needed most? I have to declare no interest here. The firm in which I am interested do not manufacture prefabricated school buildings. We build buildings like St. Paul's Cathedral.
Some of the schools erected even 12 years ago are already grossly overcrowded. When architects plan the erection of schools, before they start designing they should spend time studying the interior of schools while the children are working in them. The 12-year-old school I referred to is out of date because modern infant and junior teaching methods require much more space for movement. Primary school children are no longer required to spend all day motionless in rows of desks. Architects must not only be up to date but also capable of visualising the needs of primary school teachers at least ten to fifteen years ahead. Good buildings are by no means essential to good teaching in an academic sense, but they are bound to be beneficial, by raising 249 the morale of pupils at the most impressionable age and certainly by raising the morale of their teachers, too many of whom, particularly in the winter, are still working under conditions which would not be tolerated in a modern factory.
It is a fact that graduates tend to look down on infant teaching. Is it because the intellectual achievement of children is so low or is it because graduates do not regard them as a sufficient challenge to their own intellectual powers? If that is so, I should like to ask the question: What is the difference between an effective infants' teacher and a professional child psychologist? The difference is that, in addiiton to the psychologist's work of observing, analysing and taking necessary action to rationalise children's behaviour, to counteract adverse home influences, to provide an atmosphere of affectionate security in which young children can achieve a normal emotional and social development, an infants' teacher is required to equip each child with a basic knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic and to open doors to give him his first glimpses of history, geography, biology, literature and music. In a class of thirty or forty there may be, in addition to the full range of unstreamed intellectual ability, a fairly high proportion of problem children, the mentally, emotionally and physically handicapped. These children do not go to special schools until they are seven.
In conclusion, my Lords, I should like to say how thankful we are for the meticulous care taken in preparing this Report. The teaching of infants is not a job for a low-grade child-minder. It is a job for a really dedicated mature person, often deserving more first-class honours than universities can bestow, because examiners are not asked to award marks for depth of character or for a capacity for dedication, two of the basic essentials in a rewarding career as an infants' teacher. If this is not one of the greatest challenges, then I do not know what is. It is time we got our priorities right in regard to the status and payment of the primary school teachers, on whom we shall depend for the next generation.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
My Lords, the hour grows late, and I know that many of us in the House are waiting for the noble Baroness to reply to the various 250 observations and questions which have been put during the debate. I will try to delay your Lordships for only a short time. The problems of providing facilities for children under 5 years old are a constant concern. The question of transfer from primary to secondary education has surely provided the subject for numerous speeches and discussions over many years past. A debt of gratitude, then, is owed to Lady Plowden and her Council for Part Four of the Report, on "The structure of Primary Education."
Noble Lords have already described this afternoon how the Report calls for an expansion in nursery education; but here there is an immediate practical problem. At the moment, by law, no local education authority may start nursery classes unless 12 married women teachers within the area return to teaching. This allows the authority to start its first three nursery classes, and after that the required ratio is reduced. Under this system, and possibly under any foreseeable system, the danger is that nursery classes will readily fill up with the children of married women teachers, and also, I suggest, the children of people engaged in such matters as social and welfare work. Then, in the rush for places the children from really deprived homes will he omitted. And, my Lords, there will be a rush.
In my own local education authority, East Suffolk, diagnostic classes were started a few years ago for 5- to 8-yearolds whose handicaps make the possibility of normal effective education for them an uncertain factor. The volume of inquiries received about these special classes leaves little doubt of the interest which nursery schooling will attract. If the Government accept the recommendation of the Report for a change in the age of entry into school, tied to an absolute need for nursery education, then I would follow the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Horsburgh, in supporting the note of reservation on parental contribution to the costs of nursery education signed by eight members of the Council.
I suspect that many teachers have agreed with the contention of the Report that part-time entry into an infants' or "first" school at 5-plus will relieve what the Report calls the abrupt "transition from home for many children". It may 251 well be strictly illegal, but I know of a headmistress who receives children every Friday afternoon—with their mothers, if they wish to come—during the term before entry into the school. In the light of that, I must say that I was shattered to read that over one-third of the parents in the National Survey did not even see the head before their children started school. I think that some of this is due to the system of "neighbourhood schools", referred to earlier by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.
Possibly, from what has been said this afternoon, noble Lords will agree that Chapter 4, "Participation by Parents", is one of the most valuable parts of this Report, and especially paragraph 106.Parents",the Report says,irrespective of social class, took more interest in their children's work in those schools in the National Survey which arranged as many as nine or ten meetings a year when fathers could come.This was a fact referred to just now by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, and it is something that I would beg local authorities to look into. That interest, and the love of the parents, is vital to the child. Perhaps I might add to what the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, said, in that, when teaching in a boarding school, I remember occasions when a child would evince inexplicable signs of distress or instability, and it might be months before the school discovered that this stemmed from trouble at the child's home. Anything which can draw the interest of parents closer to the school is surely right, and I strongly support the Report's "Minimum Programme" for parent-teacher meetings, open days, school prospectuses, and at least one written report a year.
The case for at least a four-year course in the junior or middle school, the final school of the primary sector, is surely also made out by the Council, if only by the argument that 11-plus is:too early for the educational decisions which follow from a change of school.This is still important, because evidence apparently shows that transfer between streams in comprehensive schools is "uncommon", though surely this was precisely one of the dangers which comprehensive education hoped to avoid.
252 There are two other arguments which I feel bear close scrutiny. One is that children remain in many ways unselfconscious in temperament until 12 or 13: in other words, transfer before 12-plus is simply too young. The other argument is that an older age of transfer will do something to keep the ever-growing size of secondary schools in check, in view of the evidence in the Newsom Report that heads of schools in "deprived" areas were convinced of their children's need for small schools. What a pity it was that the Minister sent out his demand for plans to local authorities for comprehensive education before this Report was published! I warmly support these plans for the future structure of primary education, and the recommendation that the final age of transfer should be flexible to suit a child's progress and temperament. Every local education authority could immediately act on the recommendations for better liaison between schools in Chapter 12, oncontinuity and consistency between the stages of education",all of which can be implemented at almost no cost at all.
My Lords, anyone who has read this Report must surely have been stimulated to discussion by Part Five on "The Curriculum and Organisation". May I for a moment or two put a few thoughts to your Lordships on the teaching of English, because of its basic importance, and also on the general development of a child? Future generations of children may have cause for gratitude to a Council which has so strongly argued the case for a three-year first-school course, just because this should give time to learn to read. This time span before the upheaval of a change of school will give more chance, also, for diagnosis and teaching of children suffering from some of the handicaps which cause poor reading, particularly if the Government and local authorities can implement—as some of them are implementing at the moment—at least some of the recommendations on the education of handicapped children.
The Report confirms the value of stories. It says:As children listen to stories, as they take down the books from the library shelves, they may be choosing their future and the values that will dominate it.253 Some years ago, I knew of a boy from a good home who seemed to have something for ever holding him back. At last, a master from the school went to give the boy some extra coaching during the holidays, and there he found the answer. A good home it may have seemed, but there literally was not a single book in that house.
I know that there are present noble Lords who believe in music for children, not only for its intrinsic value but also for the opportunities it may afford to the backward or unsatisfactory. So it is with drama. But I disagree with the view, despite all the other most interesting things said in the Report about it, that formal presentation of plays on a stage is out of place. Certainly with children of 12 (and let us remember that we are talking of transfer at a higher age) tremendous benefits can be reaped by those who do not shine readily in other directions by participating in the artistic or production, as well as the acting, side of a stage play. It is true that there are dangers inherent in the school play. During the first term I ever taught, the school put on Dorothy L. Sayers' play The Man Born to be King, and unfortunately the Virgin Mary reached the final of the middleweight boxing competition and had a very black eye indeed!
There is an age-old problem of whether insistence on the correct uses of grammar restrict the writing of English. The Report stresses here that what matters is clarity of meaning, and that abler children should not become self-conscious about style. I take this typical, well-balanced advice with just a pinch of salt, as general slovenliness of presentation can be a result of a class which is too large for a teacher to cope with. The Report adds thatthe best writing of young children springs from the most deeply felt experience.May I submit that this is no empty platitude. I am sure that there are other noble Lords who are thankful that they did not skip paragraph 605, in which a girl describes her mother. She saysShe is not tall or short and quite ordinary looking. She is patient and good natured and helps us in all we do. She always gives in to my sisters and to me. She says sometimes she wishes she was dead".Perhaps the greatest single contribution of the Report is describing how the 254 general development of every child can be stretched by not streaming—and I think in all fairness it should be said that the Report is not dogmatic on this—at any rate in first schools. The Report points out that:Children's interest varies in length … and it is folly to interrupt it when it is intense or to flog it when it has declined".The answer, then, is to teach in small groups, as the Report says, but let no one delude himself. At the present stage of pupil-teacher ratio this theory is dependent on the proposals for teachers' aides and for a supply of schools of modern design.
Three years ago in East Suffolk £2,000 a year was set aside for what we call "helpers". In view of what the noble Baroness said earlier in the debate, may I say that what we did was in the hope of encouraging the entry of married women—among other things, the local educational authority insisted on a qualification of five "O" levels—to help, among other things, in the classroom. I am proud to be able to report that there has been a good response. I do not believe a "helper" has ever been offered to a school without receiving a ready acceptance. One "helper" has completed a term of teacher training, and only a fortnight ago I heard that three more are to start teacher training in September.
Certainly it is pleasant to debate Lady Plowden's plans for facing the challenge of the future, but for some schools there must seem to be very little future. May I add my voice in general support only of the Council's recommendations for "the educational priority areas", even though the evidence itself does present some doubts? Is such special help simply investing in failure? What of other areas—are they to suffer in the process? What about rural areas, where the "take home" pay of many fathers may be a good deal less than that of parents in a poor "deprived" city district? Nor am I exactly certain how the various criteria for deprivation are to be judged, and I hope that perhaps the Government will take note of the plan put forward earlier in this debate by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.
The noble Lord, Lord Plowden, spoke in terms about the Welfare State which, I believe, if noised abroad more fully, would find a ready response in the hearts 255 of more people, particularly young people. I submit that in general the Report provides an unanswerable argument for special help when it says:The justification is that the homes and neighbourhoods from which many children come provide little support and stimulus for learning.I hope your Lordships will forgive me for including this, but for over five years I taught in a boys' independent preparatory school, and I think—and I say this without having conferred with any independent bodies—that people connected with independent schools will welcome the Council's recommendations as logical, if not immediately acceptable.
I wish the Council had seen fit to explore more deeply why it is that parents send their children to independent schools. In the case of boys, I believe that one main attraction is the boarding facility which is offered. Anyone who has taught in a boarding school can recall countless examples of children who improved out of all recognition just because they were able to find their place in a small community, and I hope that one educational experiment which will at least be considered soon will be a maintained primary boarding school, possibly linked to some form of educational priority area.
I hope the Council are not surprised if their recommendation to abolish corporal punishment, against the opinion of a large majority of the teaching profession, meets with opposition. Perhaps those who support this proposal will ask themselves whether they are motivated more by the fear that this punishment may be misused, rather than by a real belief that it is utterly wrong in itself.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
I hope that, because of this, the Report will not be construed (may I dare to say wrongly) as an encouragement to children to do as they like at school. As the council themselves say:It is not a question of saying, ' freedom is in. discipline is out'.The key to discipline is to capture and hold the interest of children.
This Report may be debated in both Houses of Parliament and discussed throughout the country, but what matters is whether it is accepted by the teaching profession. We have moved a long way 256 since Oliver Goldsmith's village schoolmaster, in whom all authority and learning seemed to reside, but the teacher to-day is still faced with an eternal double responsibility: how to adapt to the requirements of each child, especially by practising the teaching methods described in this Report, and at the same time, by personal example, how to be a secure, unchanging guide on whom each child can always rely. This is the paradox of the teacher's art which makes the profession at once so rewarding and at times so exhausting.
The noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, called for more assistance for primary schools. Our future lies with our children, and their education will be constantly devalued if primary schools are treated as the poor relations. If only the training and deployment of teachers can continue to reduce the size of classes, a great future may exist for primary schools. Certainly this Report has pointed the way.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ LORD VIVIAN
My Lords, although my name does not appear on the list of speakers to-day, perhaps you will allow me to take up your Lordships' time for just two minutes. I wish to speak of one point in the Plowden Report, and this has already been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, with whom I agree. It concerns the question of corporal punishment dealt with in paragraphs 743 to 751 of the Report. Like many noble Lords and noble Ladies in your Lordships' House, my wife and I are the proud parents of three fine children. They are grown up now and married, and frequently attend your Lordships' House. They have known in the past, both at school and at home, what the term, "Spare the rod and spoil the child" means.
I confess that I gave both my boys a jolly good walloping when, but only when, they deserved it. Our sons took it as men, and they never disrespected me for having punished them in this way. I am pleased to be able to inform your Lordships that such a state of affairs only happened on four occasions, and I think it probably hurt me more in having to administer the medicine to them. At Eton I was tanned at least six times. I can assure your Lordships that I have no chip on my shoulder for having been 257 at the receiving end of the cane. I would therefore ask all noble Lords and noble Ladies, and the right reverend Prelates, who have taken part in this very interesting debate in your Lordships' House this afternoon to think once again on this particular issue.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I am even more apologetic than my noble friend behind me, because he has occupied your Lordships' time far less frequently than I have, but I should like to say just one thing which occurred to me as I was listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder. I am sorry that he is not still in the Chamber, but he will no doubt see what I had to say. I entirely agree with what he said about the problems of schools where there is a large proportion of immigrants. It is a tremendous problem. But to me the whole issue hangs on something that was said earlier in the debate by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London; namely, that this is a Christian country, and I think we must take it for granted that immigrants from other countries when they come here must realise that they are coming to a Christian country. If they are not willing to accept Christian teaching when they arrive here, then of course they must be excused. But I personally have no doubt that quite a large percentage of them would be.
When I taught for some years at Epsom College we of course had one or two there who were not Christians, one or two who were practising Jews, and they were, of course, excused from attending chapel and from Prayers and so forth. I remember one of my first experiences when I went there. When a boy failed to turn up for his lessons I left a note in his housemaster's pigeon-hole, and I got back a scrap of paper saying, "Gone to Day of Atonement". That was my first experience of the difficulties one comes up against. But they were excused, they were allowed to go to their own individual religious teachers, and I do not think that would be an impractical system to use in those schools where there are large numbers of immigrants.
However, I personally feel that this does not remove the importance of religious teaching for those who are willing to accept the Christian teaching 258 and for those whose parents are Christians. I therefore sincerely hope that this particular aspect of teaching will not be forgotten.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I feel very humble in winding up this debate this evening when we have had so many distinguished contributors to the discussion, including (I hope my calculations are correct) at least two ex-Ministers of Education—I am told, three. Splendid! If I may add to the voices of other noble Lords, I was delighted to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, speaking without a note and with such conviction and, as always, such sincerity, and I do hope we are going to hear her far more often.
The noble Lord. Lord Newton, to whom we are so grateful for introducing this Motion to enable us to discuss the Report, said in a very thoughtful and reasoned way that he felt the Plowden Report was a document of utmost social significance. I think words he also used were, "an examination of attitudes in contemporary society", and I do not think that anybody who has spoken subsequently has described it better. It will be a document to which one can refer often, not merely to talk on education but to talk on many things which are happening in contemporary society. To the noble Lord, Lord Newton, I would say that in his role of midwife he is to be congratulated on a very lusty child, one which commands our attention and will continue to do so for some time to come. The position is a little changed from yesterday's when we had an analogy regarding horses; to-day we have moved on to nursing babies, much more to my liking.
I should also like to thank the other noble Lords who have taken part in the discussion. They have congratulated Lady Plowden and her Council, who sat for some 3½ years on this mammoth task, interviewing, visiting, discussing, and finally producing, as so many noble Lords have said, this very readable document. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said quite rightly that particularly the studies of children in this Report will provide a very real source of information, and the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, reminded your Lordships—and this is where I would begin—that 259 a large number of the recommendations need cost nothing. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, also reminded us of this. In this connection I should like to quote the comments of two primary head teachers. I have been chatting recently with many of my profession. One of them said, "Yes, it is a splendid and interesting Report, but let's face it, a great many of these suggestions have been carried out by enlightened primary schools for a long time now". And the second one said, "I am absolutely convinced that the most important thing in the Report is the stress on good relationships, parents to school, children to school and parents, and eventually both children and parents to those in authority". I suggest that this bears out the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, when she stressed that many of these recommendations need not wait on the suggestion of Her Majesty's Government or legislation, but could be put into operation right now.
I wonder how many of your Lordships have ever spent time in a primary school? It is an experience which I can recommend if you spend only a day there. Gone are the days when the children sat in static rows like little soldiers listening, with interest or not, to the words of the teacher. I wondered whether the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, had recently been in a primary school. He seemed to me to refer constantly to "class teaching" which, of course, has not been the case in primary schools for a long time.
Children move about the school intent on their learning, and they learn about learning and the desire to go on learning. They open books; they investigate everything from the inside of a frog to how to hammer a nail into a piece of wood. The walls are covered with their paintings—wonderful paintings—in every kind of medium, oils, water colours. Their murals are made from every imaginable material, newspapers, bottle tops, old tin cans. They have their own newspapers of happenings, written beautifully, phrased well and spelt well. I think that would conform to most of the noble Lord's ideas of literacy. They tend their animals, play their own music, often on instruments made by themselves, and even cook in full-scale ovens. It is a kingdom of little people, a community of 260 activity, and best of all, it is a first exercise in democratic living.
I should like to repeat the words used by the right reverend Prelate in the previous debate on this subject, in 1964, when he said that it requires more in the way of capacity and teaching ability to teach in a primary school than a sixth form of a grammar school. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in his marvellous speech, if I may say so, call this teaching an "art". Too often we forget this is not only a skill but indeed an art. The good primary school teacher is a pearl and a joy; she is constantly improving her skills—I say "her" because I believe that at the moment perhaps 85 per cent. are females—at courses which she can and does attend. I wonder whether your Lordships realise that many primary teachers actually spend two-thirds of their vacation period trying to qualify themselves in subjects, which knowledge they will then pass on to the children, or to brush up skills in which they are not so up to date.
The next important point I should like to emphasise, which will cost no money and need no legislation, is of course the participation by the parents. This has been emphasised, I am happy to say, by many noble Lords including Lady Gaitskell and Lord Belstead. Parents can always work with teachers, or they can work against them. The clever child learns that if two adults are in conflict she can always play one off against the other. Most mothers know how a child will return from school saying, "The teacher says I must do so and so", usually something she wants to do, and go back to the school teacher and say, "My mother says I must do so and so". There can be nothing but good from closer cooperation, much closer co-operation, between parents and children, and most parents are most anxious to help. I believe that if the Report did nothing else but to bring this out into the open, it would have served a very admirable purpose. We know, of course, that this is only one of its many recommendations.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, referred to the question of managers, and whether they should be "managers" or "governors". I remember when I became a manager of a primary school I received some instruction on how to be 261 a manager from a county councillor who had held that office on a good many occasions, and he started off, sensibly, by saying, "This is a misnomer; you manage nothing. If you get that into your heads you will make excellent managers." I think the term "governor" much more happily expresses the role which these very useful people play. I should like to pay a tribute to the voluntary work put in by these people. I felt that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Henley, had not been as fortunate as I have. I have met splendid managers, who do this work in a voluntary way, spending much of their time and money.
I should like to underline very strongly the need which has been emphasised by many noble Lords that the primary school status must he improved. I have found over the years a definite change in tone when, even among the profession, somebody inquires, "Where are you teaching?", and you are not able to say, "In a grammar school", or Eton, but you say, "Oh, in the Black Road Primary School". There is a change—"Well perhaps you are useful, but not really quite as worthy of approbation as the rest of us." I felt that a slight misunderstanding ran through the debate even in this connection. There was reference so many times to wiping of noses and tying of shoe laces. This might be true, I suppose, in some schools. Offhand I cannot remember wiping many noses in all the years I was teaching in primary schools. This work is a skill, an art. This is something in which any holder of a degree could be happy, occupied and rewarded.
I should like at this point to say that, whatever pattern of transferability the Government finally decide to discuss with the local authorities, this will in no way change the philosophy of comprehensive education. I should like to endorse everything that Lady Gaitskell said in this connection. This does not cut across the stages of education. The belief in comprehensive education stems from a different reason, that we must make the utmost use of the talents our children have. Whichever form this education takes, it will be for the better, we hope, for all children, and not merely for those who are brilliant, or for those who are deprived.
262 The particular recommendations which have been discussed this afternoon fall under five or six headings. A number of noble Lords have referred to teachers' aides. I feel like the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, that I deplore the number of names we seem to be offered: helpers, auxiliary welfare assistants, and so on. To me simply the name of "helper" seems to describe everything. I think it is heartening to note—and those noble Lords who have studied the Report will have noted it—that out of 156 authorities who answered the questionnaire in England and Wales, a number were already in fact using auxiliary welfare assistants; nursery schools, 115; infants, 58; junior, 17. These were schools actually using these auxiliary assistants already.
I think perhaps a little too much has been made of the professional attitude. I think it is fair to say that both the National Union of Teachers—and I notice the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred to them as "embattled females" and I strongly suspect that those of them who read Hansard will have something to say to him tomorrow morning—and the other professional bodies have already accepted the principle of aides in the classroom. They merely wish to confirm that they will not be engaged on the duties which are regarded as teaching. I have never found the profession as having closed minds on this particular form of assistance. Lord Henley's suggestion for the number of aides is excellent, but I am sure he will have worked out that it would roughly treble the training and payment for them.
As a final point on the question of aides, I might quote one of my head teachers again: "Yes," she said, "splendid, if they are extra and not instead of more teachers".
When we came to the question of teacher training, the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, had quite a lot to say to us on this. He referred to the Minority Report on the shorter period of teacher training. I am not sure what Her Majesty's Government or my right honourable friend would have to say on this, but my own instinct as an ex-teacher and an educationist is against it.
I noticed that during the debate several noble Lords referred to "wastage." It is a horrid word; it is even worse than 263 "drop out". I should think that if a woman who has been trained to be a teacher marries she would be a good mother. We must remember that there are not going to be any spinsters soon because, for the first time in history, there are more men than women; so we shall not be seeing the same number of women needing to make a full-time career. But from my experience the trained teacher is surely a better mother on that account. Therefore I am always a little puzzled to know why we use the word "wastage". There is every chance now that these women will return to teaching.
Here I should like to pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. We must remember that he initiated the scheme for getting married women teachers to return. This has been highly successful. I would be kinder to him—I am sorry he is not in his place—than perhaps he is now to my right honourable friend, because he seemed to be able to say what my right honourable friend was going to do when neither my noble Leader nor I know. But there is no doubt that married women teachers returning to the profession bring to it something which is subtle and more useful, and therefore I would say that that will be a feature of our returning teachers in the next few years.
Certainly we shall need to train more teachers. My right honourable friend is well aware of that fact. Noble Lords will probably remember that he stated in another place his 14-point programme for teacher training. Colleges are to take a greater number of students with the existing accommodation. Outside annexes are to accommodate older students. There is to be help from colleges of further education; the establishment of four or five new day colleges in heavily populated areas of the country; a campaign to persuade still more married women to return; a register of women teachers not in service; and he said that he would look into the pension rights of part-timers. Nursery classes are to be provided that will enable an appreciable number of women to return to the schools. In that connection I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that this is only a beginning, and that there was never any intention on the part of my right honourable friend to have these nursery classics for teachers alone; it was a 264 short-term measure to attract teachers back, in order to get more children in the schools. I should not like the noble Lord to feel that this was an ending of the scheme. It really was an attempt quickly to solve a vital problem.
Then there are to be refresher courses for returning teachers; greater use of part-time teachers; new departments of education in suitably located technical colleges to be concerned with advanced work; part-time training, and still higher productivity within each college; more ancillary help for the teacher to carry out his or her professional duties. This was already the declared policy of my right honourable friend even before he received the Plowden recommendations.
In this connection, I would also draw the attention of your Lordships to the circular sent from the Department, on co-operation between colleges of education and schools. This has not been discussed this afternoon, but it was in anticipation of the Plowden Report. The circular drew attention to the importance of relations between the schools and colleges in order that the training teacher should enter the school more often and more frequently, so that both students and new teachers should have a much closer link.
We have discussed the problem of the immigrants in the community. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, spoke with great sincerity on the problem of these children who are often torn between the home environment and the situation as they find it in the schoolroom. Here I believe there can be greater use of the aides to which we have referred. Surely one of the best sources of help could be aides from the immigrant community. I should also like to take up here the splendid suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte, that if we could inspire a volunteer task force, as she so rightly described it, to go into these areas, there is little doubt that teachers would go. I believe, with her, that one can appeal to the idealistic quality of humans far more often than you can appeal to them in relation to the small sum of money which would be offered and which may be swallowed up in tax extras.
The recognition of the deprived areas is, of course, one of the most important recommendations in this Report. The 265 noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, both agreed that the local education authorities should have sums to distribute, special allowances for posts in deprived schools. I have no reason to suppose that my right honourable friend would not receive this suggestion and look at it, as he will be looking at all the recommendations of the Plowden Report. In order to put into effect the recognition of these deprived areas it is estimated that we should require about 400 extra teachers in 1968 and 1,000 in 1972. That is not a vast figure and, I should hope, not one at which we need to boggle. There can be no doubt that this is something that should be done, and I should think that my right honourable friend would give this some priority.
The question of nursery schools was raised by several noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, made it his first priority. I think he, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, would like to know that we already have some 200,000 children between the ages of 2 and 4 in nursery schools and nursery classes. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, used the phrase, "Mothers park their children." The important emphasis in the mind of the teacher and the administrator is on the child, and not on the mother. Incidentally, if the mother is freed, and if she uses her freedom to go to work, or even if she goes, as has been suggested, to a "bingo" drive, that is her business. The value is in the social training which the child receives and, with the advent of high flats, congested areas, and many of the other situations which we find in this complex society, it appears that nursery schools will become more rather than less important.
If, in their tour of the primary schools, noble Lords have an opportunity of seeing a nursery class, I would say that this is an experience that I recommend. The children move about in their own world, putting away their toys and getting them out again. They are independent little human beings. I am sufficiently Philistine to suggest that the mother is not always the best person to bring up a child. This is one of the emotional conceptions with which we have been dogged for far too long.
266 With the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, I would remind the House that there are cases of child cruelty in vast numbers in this country, many of them by their own parents. If the mother loves the child, if she likes small children, if she is not overwrought, then she is the right person. But if she has four or five small children, all sorts of difficulties in the wrong situation are likely to arise, and, quite respectfully, I would suggest that the nursery class may well be better for the child. This, of course, does not presuppose that automatically we are going to snatch all children from their mothers. I hasten to say this, as the Press sometimes pick up the wrong impression.
In this connection, I should like to pay tribute to the work of the pre-school play groups. The noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, made reference to play centres and play groups. She will probably know of the work that this group has done, and that it is possible for voluntary groups with little money to help to organise successful groups for the pre-school child. In this connection, I should think that the mother would not necessarily be the best aide. Speaking now as an ex-teacher, I have found that I could always control even 50 children on their own, but 50 children plus 50 mothers I think would be a completely different proposition.
There are, of course, practical difficulties which I cannot ignore in the way of having nursery schools immediately. The provision of the accommodation even envisaged in the Plowden Report would cost £110 million. The launching and administration of training schemes might mean some 70,000 women. This does not mean that we should not think in terms of having these nursery schools, but I have often said that I feel we do not have to convert the Government to the need for education; we have to convert the British people. It seems to me that there is still not a real acceptance among very many people that money has to be spent if we are going to get education for everybody.
I will touch on only one other point, and that is the rather delicate question of corporal punishment. The noble Lords, Lord Vivian, Lord Somers and Lord Belstead, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, referred to it. I would only remind those who think that this is necessary and desirable that a sharp smack 267 from a parent whom the child knows and loves and understands is completely different from the cold, removed punishment administered by the head teacher, possibly three days after the so-called offence. I can only say with some pride that I have never needed to use corporal punishment. I think the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, got to the crux of the matter when he said that the teacher must hold and keep the interest of the children; and no amount of beating or whacking will produce learning if the child has not an immediate link with the teacher. Smaller classes and better surroundings will surely remove the necessity for corporal punishment.
On the matter of religious education, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, said he thought that the Plowden Report was perhaps a little evasive on this issue. For what it is worth I would tell the noble Lord that I am not evasive. This is described as a Christian community. I am sure he would not want us to change our system of religious education because of a small number of immigrant children. It is quite true that children who wish to withdraw even from the corporate act of worship do so, but anybody who has experienced the corporate act of worship in a school could not fail to appreciate that for many children this is the beginning of their day. This is often the only kind of prayer, the only kind of link with the Divine Being, that they have. To the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London I would say that I feel it is not necessary to remind him that Her Majesty's Government have of course shown their appreciation that the Church is involved in education if only in the small Bill which I had the honour to introduce, when great tribute was paid on all sides of the House to the work of the voluntary schools.
My Lords, I hope that I have covered the various points raised by noble Lords. I feel that I have come into the conference chamber rather naked. But I would suggest to those noble Lords who feel that we are perhaps having our debate the wrong way round, and that we should have heard from my right honourable friend first, that there is great merit in this procedure in that my right honourable friend will now have before him 268 the considered opinions, the wisdom and the comments of so many of your Lordships who have a great deal to bring to this subject. I hope that, either accidentally or deliberately, we have done this in the right way. We are at one with Lady Plowden and with Lord Newton that the education of our children is the most vital thing we are concerned with. I know that in this matter there is no Party consideration and that we all want to do the best both for the primary school children and for all children for the length of time they remain in school.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I should like to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, that she has certainly covered the points which have been raised in this debate, and we are grateful to her. Although traditionally I cannot see her, I know that Lady Plowden has been present throughout this debate, and I hope that she has found her fairly long sojourn here worth while. I had every confidence that this would be a fascinating debate; and so it has proved. Every speaker who has taken part has made his own individual contribution, which is not surprising, considering the width and the range of the Plowden Report. Through every speech there has been one constant theme, and that is the demand first for decision by the Government—in fact, not just "decision" but "decisions" by the Government—and then action. The only thing I have found disappointing about this debate is that we have not had from the Government one single word as to whether or not they accept or reject a single one of the innumerable recommendations in the Report.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord to say that that is a rather surprising remark? The noble Lord is well aware that the Secretary of State is speaking on Thursday, and I thought that the noble Lord's comment was a shade unnecessary. It is rather a pity, after such an excellent debate, in which the noble Lord has played such a fine part.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, the noble Earl may think that it is a pity I have said this, but it is perfectly true. We have not had one single word from the Government as to whether they accept or reject even the smallest of the many 269 recommendations in this Report. I certainly do not blame Lady Phillips for this, but the noble Earl is a member of the Cabinet, and if the Cabinet do not know about these things, I do not know who would.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
The noble Lord is trying to pick a quarrel. It is obvious that the Secretary of State for Education will be speaking on Thursday—the noble Lord is very intelligent, and I am sure he realises this—and it is hardly likely that we in this House should anticipate the speech of my right honourable friend. If the noble Lord cannot grasp that, I despair of him.
§ LORD NEWTON
I cannot grasp that. It seems to me an entirely new enunciation of constitutional principle. What the noble Earl is saying is that Members of this House may be entitled to ask the Government spokesman questions about Government policy, but they are not entitled to have answers to these questions until similar questions have been asked and answered in another place. This seems to me precisely what the noble Earl is saying.
§ LORD NEWTON
It seems to me to be an entirely new declaration about the Constitution of this country. I shall await with interest to see whether or not announcements are made by the Secretary of State on Thursday as to Government decisions on the Plowden Report. We may have to return to this matter later.
I would also follow up something the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said. She pointed out quite rightly as did others that a great many recommendations in the Report involve neither money nor, for that matter, even legislation. It seems to me to be incredible that we have not had from the Government any indication at all about their attitude on any of the recommendations. If we look at the beginning of the Report we see that on October 28 last year Lady Plowden wrote to the Secretary of State. Her letter said:I now have much pleasure in submitting the Report of the Council.That means that the Secretary of State has now had this Report before him for four and a half months. I certainly do 270 not wish to pick a quarrel with the noble Earl. I will simply say that I think we may have to start pressing, to try to get answers to some of these questions.
It only remains for me to thank most warmly all those Members of your Lordships' House who have spoken in this debate, which I have thoroughly enjoyed, and which I think will be considered by those who read it as one of the more memorable debates in your Lordships' House. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.