HL Deb 08 June 1973 vol 343 cc350-64

2.29 p.m.

LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government

What is their attitude to the recommendations of the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design on conditions of entry to Dip. A.D. courses; and whether they will review present policy towards art education. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to ask this Question it is my very pleasant duty to welcome the noble Lord Sandford, for the first performance of his duties in his new Department, and to say that we hope we may continue the same extremely useful working relationship we had with his predecessor. I am sorry that we have had to express this greeting, first of all, by roughing him up slightly during Question Time, and secondly by landing him now with what he must have realised is about the hottest potato in the larder of his Department.

This Question is by way of being a composite one. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi also had a Question down on this matter and we have amalgamated our two Questions, partly in order to save your Lordships' time and partly so that we can review the various problems in which we are interested in their full context. The merger of the art schools with the polytechnics, the death of the National Advisory Council on Art Education, the recommendations of the Pooling Committee on staff/student ratios and their implementation as already seen in Kent and the entry qualifications for the Diploma in Art and Design are all part of one picture.

If it can be argued that they are not, nevertheless it is certainly true that they are seen by the great majority of people in the art world as part of one picture. Individually misplaced as many of us think the developments in each of these cases may be, they are together seen as part of a process of standardisation and bureaucratisation which has rightly roused the whole art and art education community into what is really an unparalleled ferment. It is for that reason that one makes no apology for raising this matter on a Friday in possibly a rather thin House. The audience to this debate will be extremely large and the words spoken here by the Government, when they reach the outside world after our present difficulties, will be very carefully read by a large number of people.

In asking this Question I propose to concentrate almost entirely on the entry qualifications for Dip. A.D. courses. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, intends to deal rather more fully with some of the other points. I pick this key point of entry qualifications because it is part not only of the wider picture of changes in art education but also of the wider picture of the use of qualifications for entry to further and higher education. The question was asked by a leader in The Times on May 25 as to whether the interests of higher education are best served by an ever-greater reliance on certificates of proficiency in certain fields at the age of 18. This is a question which I myself would answer with a very firm "No".

We should ask ourselves to-day whether we are right to put the emphasis so much on those who will achieve qualifications, degrees or whatever, or whether the emphasis should be shifted a little as North-East London Polytechnic has been shifting it, as the Open University shifts it a bit, in favour of those who will most benefit from learning and from courses. That is a matter for a wider argument than we can have to-day and I do not base any part of the case that I am now putting on it. What seems to me unarguable is that we rely far too much on bits of paper as passports from one stage of education to another and from one part of life to another. These bits of paper are often, as in this case, highly irrelevant to the situation.

It is inevitable, although it is sad, that in the university sphere the enormous number of would-be entrants make a rough and ready guide like two "A" levels an administrative necessity. But it is important that people should realise that this is what it is—merely an administrative necessity—and that "A" levels are very faulty predictive tools. It will be a tragedy if the pressures of a status-hungry National Union of Teachers manage to enforce the same standards on the Dip. H.E., thus closing the entrance to this extremely interesting experiment to 87½ per cent. of the school-leaving population, a higher percentage in the North and, incidentally, a higher percentage of girls.

When we reach the Dip. A.D. we are moving from the tragic to the absurd. If "A" levels have minor claims to predictive virtues at university level, they have none in the fine and applied arts. Indeed, according to some figures that I have from Kingston Polytechnic they appear to be negatively predictive in the field of fashion and possibly in the fields of furniture design and sculpture. They appear to be not only irrelevant but actually negatively predictive.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford will know the figures which the Department has already given me and for which I am grateful, considering qualifications obtained and jobs obtained by students leaving art colleges, broken down by the number of "O" levels and "A" levels which students had at entry to those art colleges. He will know that there is little significant difference between those with no "O" levels and those with two "A" levels. I hope he also knows—because I know a copy of the letter containing this information was sent to the Department last month—that a further breakdown shows that there was not just little significant difference but that there was actually no significant difference on the spectrum from those having three "O" levels to those having three "A" levels. There is a slight difference below three "O" levels, but from three "O" levels on there is no difference. Far from a need for two "A" levels as a standard of entry, the concept of five "O" levels is wide open to attack.

The Minister will tell us that the procedure allows for many exceptions for those who do not have these qualifications but who are shown to have talent. Of course it does. It would have to do this. It is not an exaggeration to say that if it did not there would be mass walkouts of staff and students from almost every art college in the country. But the point is not whether there are exceptions; the point is what is the rule and whether there should be a rule. To start with, the faculty for making exceptions tends to get eroded. What we see now is a tidying-up process. When there is a tidying-up process which has built into it a lot of exceptions there is always a tendency for people to try to do away with the exceptions because they are untidy. Let us stop this before it gets started, because there is no justifiable reason for the rule at all. The only justification is that of tidiness. If there is any justification for a change it would be the lowering of the "O" level standards rather than the other way round.

I have no time, my Lords, to deal with what many regard as the worst feature of the recommendations, which is the foreseen erosion of foundation courses. Suffice it to say that it is quite unrealistic to think that Sixth Forms will be able to find the resources to provide anything remotely equalling the foundation courses. It is probably wrong to think that they should if they could, because it is arguable that this would be a misuse of resources when the foundation courses themselves offer such a good alternative. As one head of a department in a polytechnic said to me, the ill effects of keeping highly motivated young people in school for two extra years doing more or less irrelevant courses and taking more or less irrelevant exams is good for them neither as artists nor as people.

I ask the Government what attitude they take to these proposals. I freely concede that they did not dream up this blunderland themselves, but in the first place, if alterations are needed to the regulations for grants—and these tend to be both stick and carrot—it is the Secretary of State who will have to act or to refuse to act. In the second place, we know perfectly well that a few well-chosen words by the Secretary of State would puff this whole fabrication away. These are matters on which the Gov- ernment should have views, and should express them.

My Lords, I have concentrated on one particular point, but I still see it in the larger context. In closing, I should like to quote some words of my noble friend, Lord Esher, Rector of the Royal College of Art, in a recent lecture to the Royal Society of Arts. He said: Among other things which are not expendable is our system of art and design education. It needs enriching, not scrapping. That is why I and others view with some alarm a tendency in Whitehall—or rather York Road —to suppose that it can properly be run from there. In this country the professions, for example, law and medicine and architecture, have always accepted and jealously guarded the responsibility of seeing that their training meets society's needs, and the links between practice and education have been extremely close. In art and design the guidance of a unified professional body does not exist, and the Government of the day very properly set up the National Advisory Council on Art Education to fill the gap. It was, no doubt, a highly diverse and divisible body, and the temptation for its masters to divide and rule has proved irresistible. The world of art and design is united in its conviction that the Government were wrong to close down the Advisory Council, and that without such an authoritative advisory body there is no hope of this country maintaining its present leadership in art and design education. We can already see the decline setting in with the lopping of art schools within the polytechnics and the savage cuts about to be meted out to their staffs. It is almost unbelievable that this should be done at the moment when we enter the European community, in which everybody recognises that we have the best art and design education in the world. This country does not have so many excellencies these days that it can afford to throw away the few it has. In quoting those wise words of my noble friend, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for raising this matter. I should like to congratulate him most warmly, if I may, on his moving, sincere, and knowledgeable speech. The noble Lord was kind enough to allow me to add my Question to his. It has been a marriage of the two, and I am grateful to him. Of course, as the noble Lord has said, some aspects of current policy have been causing great concern. It is surely right that the Government should be asked to state their attitude towards them. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, indicated, I intend to deal with some other related aspects in this field. Before doing so, however, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who is to reply, on his transfer to the Department of Education and Science. We know the noble Lord from his work as Under-Secretary of State in the Department of the Environment, and we know from this that his heart is in the right place. Therefore we hope that the case which will be put before him will be considered sympathetically.

These higher entry qualifications which have been proposed seem to have been the direct result of the merger next year between the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design and the Council for National Academic Awards. The Coldstream Report, 1960, recommended five passes at "O" level plus a foundation course. These entry requirements with, of course, the panel of selection, seem to have been working well. What is the reason for the proposed change? Also, how many potential artists are going to be lost through it? How can artistic talent possibly be measured academically? Artistic talent is something with which a person is born; it does not mean that that same person is always good at passing exams. The proposal will make it more difficult for art students to obtain grants, since mandatory awards are given to students because they have the required entry qualifications, not necessarily because they are admitted to advanced courses. In 1972–73 about half the students entering art diploma courses did not have two or more "A" levels. In future, these will presumably merit only discretionary awards—if they are lucky.

This proposal will also be socially divisive, like so much of the Government's policy. Nature scatters her artistic gifts irrespective of social status. Until now, art schools—and I speak from personal experience as a former art student—have been completely democratic, with students coming from all sorts of backgrounds, and united in their enthusiasm for art. However, in future the academic barriers will discriminate against early school-leavers from the lower income groups. In 1971, only about 36 per cent. of secondary school children continued after 16 years of age, and only 12.5 per cent. of school-leavers in the year 1969 to 1970 had two "A" levels. I admit that this is expected to rise, and it is hoped that by 1985, about 22 per cent. will leave school with at least one "A" level. But this will still be less than one-quarter of all school-leavers. I find it extremely difficult to believe that these are the only ones endowed with artistic talent.

The proposed requirement for two "A" levels is strongly opposed also by ILEA. The Authority is worried that the requirement will mean the end of the foundation course, to which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, referred. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, and I doubt if sixth form activity can possibly be a substitute for a foundation course, except perhaps in one or two large and advanced schools. The foundation course is basically a higher education activity. It is important also that such a course is based on the unique and inspiring atmosphere of an art school, as it enables the student, with his teachers, to discover his special interests and aptitudes. In general, a good foundation course is a far better preparation for a diploma than "A" levels could ever be.

Many people in the art teaching world are concerned also that the Pooling Committee has laid down that staff/student ratios should be about half what they are at present. The proposal takes no account of the special requirements of art schools. These really cannot be compared with universities, and classed with other academic disciplines. Fine art and design is more individual; long periods are spent on it. Studios and workshops are in use for long periods in a week. Much more staff supervision is required, not only because of the variety of the work, but also because arts and crafts students often use potentially dangerous machinery and equipment.

I gather that the ratio is calculated on a student working week of 18 hours, but all art colleges work a 30 to 40 hour week. Concern about this proposal, and the insensitive lumping together of all disciplines, irrespective of what work is entailed, has most understandably been expressed by the N.C.D.A.D., and also the working party set up by the Conference of Heads of Education in Art and Design. Already some education authorities, such as Kent, have decided to implement the proposals, and Maidstone College of Art intends to cut down on staff. I believe also that art teaching staff are being reduced at the Brighton Polytechnic. The Principal of Chelsea School of Art—my own old art school—tells me that they would lose just under half their teaching staff but that, fortunately, they are safe as the school comes under ILEA. The first to be made redundant will be the part-time teachers, as most full-time staff are on long-term contracts.

I do not think that the Government or the Pooling Committee can have any idea of the importance of the part-time teacher. Students prefer to be taught by practising artists, and they usually make the best teachers. I can vouch for this from my own experience at Chelsea, where I had the good fortune to be taught by both Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland, among others. A further fact is that part-time teaching helps to provide a livelihood for artists, particularly at the earlier stages of their career.

These are ill-judged proposals, resulting, presumably, from a wish for administrative convenience at all costs and from the evident intention to cut down on art education. They seem to have been put forward by people who have little experience of art education. Indeed, one wonders if some of them have ever been inside an art school. It is a great pity that the Government have dissolved the National Advisory Council in Art Education, and I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said on this point. The Council was composed largely of artists and designers and gave experienced advice at a high level. Now that the Government are busy reconstituting some of the other useful bodies which they so impetuously dissolved on first coming into office, perhaps they will reconstitute the Art Education Council. They could call it by another name, if they preferred to do so and if it would make it easier for them.

I regret also that the proposed amalgamation of the N.C.D.A.D., which deals with art schools and colleges, with the C.N.A.A.A., which deals with Poly- technics, will mean the loss of an independent body for assessing art and design study. This is all the more important at present when it is the policy to absorb art colleges into polytechnics, where they will be dependent on the latter for finance and will also be subject to their course-planning requirements. I think it a matter for regret that no polytechnic director has an art and design background. This is a great disadvantage, which I hope will be rectified in future.

It is a mistake to think that art and design have only a minor role in this technological age. In the last few decades, Britain has produced artists and designers who are second to none in the world. They are the products of a sensible system of art education which is the envy of many other countries. If we tamper with it, we shall stifle the artists of the future, to our national detriment.

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their kind remarks, and particularly to my brother in Holy Orders on the Liberal Benches for arranging my Friday baptism. If one is to be baptised into the Department of Education and Science, I suppose that the two hot potatoes of student grants and art colleges are as good as any other medium with which to start. I am grateful to my two noble friends beside and behind me for remaining in my support.

In answer to the first part of the Question of the noble Lord, I should like to say that my right honourable friend is grateful to the National Council for Diplomas in Arts and Design for responding to the invitation which she sent them in April, 1972, to consider the conditions of entry to courses for diplomas in art and design, the field for which it is responsible, and to do so in the light of the Coldstream Report of 1970 (not 1960, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi said), and her own Circular of 1971, No. 7/71.

The National Council, as both noble Lords will know, is an autonomous body carrying full responsibility on its own shoulders for its own decisions in this field and not subject to any directions from my right honourable friend. I think that both noble Lords will have seen the memorandum containing its recommendations and there is no need for me to go through much of it verbatim. However, I will go through the significant part—paragraph 4—to some extent, to remind the House that among the things it said was that, with effect from such date as as the Council shall determine"— and that date is not before September, 1976, so we are not talking about anything precipitate— the nomal minimum— not the invariable— educational requirement for entry to three-year and four-year sandwich courses leading to Diploma in Art and Design shall be one of the following three: the General Certificate of Education with passes in five subjects, including two subjects at Advanced Level, equivalent qualifications listed in the Award Regulations and such other appropriate equivalent qualifications as the Council, with the agreement of the Secretary of State, may in due course determine. I want to make the point straight away that we are not dealing with something which is on top of us now, nor are we dealing with a single qualification for entry. It will be seen from what I have said and from other parts of the memorandum that the National Council does intend that there should be alternative acceptable entry qualifications. In the first place, there are the commonly recognised equivalents to two "A" Levels which my right honourable friend already specifies in her Award Regulations as qualifying, eligible students on first degree courses, courses which she designates as comparable. I do not think that we need go into those in any great detail.

In addition to those provisions, the Council added the rider that it would wish to preserve the right to provide for exemption from the proposed entry requirements, so that still remains. This is a right which it is prepared to exercise at present in the case of students of exceptional talent who have not obtained the existing minimum requirement of five "O" Levels. One would not want them to be debarred for that reason. Thus, I think that it would be wrong to think that the Council wishes to narrow the future entry to a strict two-"A" Level qualification. There is nothing in its memorandum which leads to that conclusion. However, it does have it in mind as a measure of the normal future standard —and this is clearly a different and higher standard than that which has existed up to now of five "O" Levels coupled with completion of a foundation course—a higher standard.

I would stress three other points: first, the date of the change. The memorandum says that the Council considers that it would be inappropriate to require before September, 1976, the new conditions of students entering Dip. A.D. courses, so that, as I say, nothing precipitate is proposed. Secondly, there is the position of the foundation courses, which both noble Lords mentioned. While the council is proposing these changes in requirements it expresses the view in its memorandum that, until alternative provision elsewhere has considerably improved—I think that this meets the point that the noble Lord made, that there is room for improvement, and it may not be possible in every case to make the improvements easily—foundation courses are likely to remain for many students a necessary preparation.

Thirdly, there are the possible other equivalent qualifications for entry. The Council says that it hopes to be able to specify these, but it has not yet done so. The Council has indicated that it will wish to formulate these in agreement with my right honourable friend, and she, for her part, I know, will be glad to respond. It is clearly desirable because, as both noble Lords have recognised, if the National Council wishes to introduce alternative entry requirements not among those prescribed in my right honourable friend's Award Regulations, action as well as agreement on her part will be necessary if students possessing these qualifications only are to be eligible for mandatory, as distinct from a discretionary, award of grant. She will therefore have to consider and to consult with the local authority associations about such proposals for alternative entry qualifications, such as the National Council may put before her. But, until it has put them before her, I cannot say what her attitude to them will be.

I would end my reply to this part of the Question by making the point to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that it is not so much for my right honourable friend as for the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design to state its views as to what should be the entry requirements for courses leading to diplomas for which they are responsible. My right honourable friend has asked the Council to make such recommendations, and it has done so in the memorandum to which his Question refers.

I turn now to the other part of the Question, which I think comes from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. The short answer to him is that a major review has been, and is still being, undertaken. The Coldstream Report, to which he refers, of 1970, was the first fruits of it. My right honourable friend's first response to that was Circular 7/71, with which he will be familiar. Among the other things which we have already discussed, and several other things which the Coldstream Report suggested, was that there should be a central body responsible for reviewing and planning a national pattern of so-called design technician courses. I do not think that either of the noble Lords mentioned that, but my right honourable friend decided to establish a working group to review the pattern of courses in this area, and my right honourable friend hopes shortly to receive the working group's report upon it. That will give her a basis to carry further forward her consideration of matters relating to vocational courses.

Both noble Lords have anxieties about the Pooling Committee. The memorandum from that body contained recommendations for student/staff ratios in advanced further education. It was produced by the committee of local authority representatives, for which the Department of Education and Science provides the chairman and the servicing.

The main point I want to make in answer to the noble Lord's anxiety is that this memorandum had a special word to say about art colleges, and recognised their special character and position. The attainment of the ratios it was talking about in general within the recommended band could put particular strains on some of the art colleges whose present student/staff ratios are, for various reasons, a good deal more generous than the average. Therefore, it recommended that authorities should consider sympathetically the present circumstances of art and design and the special difficulties that some colleges might face in moving into the appropriate ratio band. My right honourable friend and I support this approach and hope very much that authorities will heed the advice about art colleges, and particularly will note what the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said about part-time teachers.

Both noble Lords commented on the position of the National Advisory Council on Art Education. I cannot yet go far beyond what my right honourable friend said in answer to a Written Question in another place about 18 months ago. She said that it was not her intention to reconstitute the National Advisory Council immediately but to consider, as future needs arise, how best to draw on opinion and guidance in this sector of further education, but she will continue to keep the matter under review while the implications of its last major Report, and the subsequent conclusions on it, are still being worked out, as they are at the moment.

Both noble Lords referred to the proposed merger between the N.C.D.A.D. and the C.N.A.A. The proposal for the merger comes from the two Councils themselves. In February of this year they issued jointly a statement saying that they had decided in principle that they wished to amalgamate, following discussions between them since their respective decisions in February, 1972, to explore the possibility of a merger. The statement expresses the conviction of the Councils that an amalgamation on a basis mutually acceptable to each of them would enrich higher education and yield substantial benefits for many colleges and students. It sets out several matters of substance on which the Councils have already agreed and with which I think noble Lords will be familiar.

The statement speaks of a proposed merger in September, 1974. Here, again, there is time for further consideration. In any case, before the merger could occur there would be various processes to go through. Changes in the Charter of the C.N.A.A. would require the approval of Her Majesty's Privy Council. Amendments to the Statutes would need to be approved by my right honourable friend. A scheme for the N.C.D.A.D. would need to be made under the Charities Act. In fact, the arrangements for any amalgamation will not be possible without Government agreement, as the joint statement makes clear.

The last questions that I still have to cover, to answer the two noble Lords opposite, deal with art colleges and polytechnics. I am advised that the present position is that, of the forty centres in England originally approved to offer courses leading to the Dip. A.D., seventeen are now in polytechnics. The remaining twenty-three are outside, as are some forty other local authority art schools and colleges, which mostly do non-advanced work. Recently, two further centres have been approved by both my right honourable friend and the N.C.D.A.D. to offer Dip. A.D. courses from September of this year. One is a polytechnic at Teesside and the other a proposed polytechnic at Preston. There are no current proposals originated in or received by the Department of Education and Science to bring any more art colleges within the polytechnic system.

Where art colleges have been incorporated into polytechnics in some cases there may have been initial problems arising from the need to adapt to a new situation—teething troubles—but there is no good reason to believe that the polytechnics which have them will not derive growing benefit from their art departments. Students in the art departments will find, we believe, that the polytechnics offer all kinds of potential for wider opportunities of study. Thus, both through what the art and design work can give by its influence on other areas of the polytechnics' activities and through the advantages that can be expected to some aspects of art and design study from a closer association with other disciplines. I believe that these mergers can fairly be seen as full of considerable promise from both points of view. Nevertheless, an important place remains for the separate art college, a category still accounting for more than half of the approved diploma centres to date. Circular 7/71 made it clear that in the context of eligibility to submit new Dip. A.D. course proposals there would be no differentiation between existing Dip. A.D. centres, whether in polytechnics or not.

My Lords, to sum up this brief debate. My right honourable friend and I are glad that the National Council has been able to formulate up-to-date conditions of entry to the courses for diplomas for which it is responsible. My right honourable friend looks forward to participating in the consideration of whatever further alternative qualifications the Council put forward to her, as it has indicated it will do. As to the second part of the Question, I confirm that the review initiated by the Coldstream Committee is being carried forward, particularly in those aspects and in those ways to which Circular 7/71 referred. We look forward in particular to receiving quite soon the report of the working party on Vocation Courses.

House adjourned at twelve minutes past three o'clock.