Education.

– in the House of Commons on 29th March 1923.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Colonel Leslie Wilson.]

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

Before the House rises—and I hope before the House is counted out—I desire to call attention to the present position of public education in this country and to the attitude of the Board of Education towards educational progress as illustrated by recent departmental action. I well understand that at this time hon. Members do not desire to be offered any flowers of rhetoric but are much more concerned in getting away to seek the flowers of Spring, and therefore I do not propose to speak at length or elaborately, but to content myself with calling attention to a number of definite matters which I think ought to be raised before the House separates.

This is a subject which has hardly been mentioned since the Session began. It is a subject on which we have had no debate either in Government time or at the instigation of private Members, and at the same time it is a subject which lies at the root of domestic progress. It constitutes a main element in the strength and the influence of our country throughout the world, and it calls for the urgent attention of the House and of the public. Since the Session began we have had six debates on the Ruhr: we have had several debates on unemployment and on housing. The House will not grudge, therefore, a short time to consider how this matter of educational administration now stands.

The recent action of the Board of Education in two or three matters to which I wish to call attention is action in directions which seem to me to retard rather than to promote public education and to justify some challenge and to call for some defence. The urgency of the matter is increased by the circumstance that the Education Act of 19TS, with which the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Fisher) will always be honourably associated, was admittedly the greatest educational advance of the last 50 years. It is common knowledge that important parts of it are in a state of suspended operation. If, indeed, the betrayal of the ideals expressed in that Act were to take place, that would constitute the gravest of all the backslidings of the last four years. The position is this: The proposals of the Act of 1918, and still more the spirit in which those proposals were conceived, became involved in the general ruin which overtook elaborate schemes of all sorts when at, length the extravagance and the waste of recent years in every direction frightened the country into a fit of indiscriminate economy.

It is a literal fact that, if everybody who is really devoted to the cause of public education—convinced, as every educationist must have been, of the importance of securing educational progress—if every educationist two or three or four years ago had joined in the crusade to provide money for useful social services by cutting down with an unsparing hand unproductive waste in other directions, then the story of public education during the last few years would have been very different from what it is. As it. is, the most vital and the most productive of public services has sustained a serious set-back owing to the general outcry against unproductive expenditure. It appears sometimes almost as though in these latter days the Board of Education was acting merely as an outpost of the Treasury, cutting down and limiting educational standards, and putting forward, indeed, definitely retrograde proposals. I am all for seeing that the money spent on education is not wasted, and that the objects to which it is devoted are objects which can be justified by the circumstances of the time. But it is lamentable, if it can be shown to be the fact, that the Board of Education should be promoting changes which are retrograde rather than progressive. Let me give an example.

Shortly before the War, at a time when the Minister of Education was, I think, Mr. Pease, the present Lord Gainford, the Board of Education took so strong a view as to the educational inefficiency of a system of unduly large classes that it proceeded to fine the London County Council; it deprived the London County Council of a substantial part of what would otherwise have come to it; that is to say, deprived it of an amount of £10,000, because of the undue size of the classes in the Metropolitan area. The London County Council then set to work, in consultation with the Board of Education, to remedy that state of affairs. Under pressure from the Board and in consultation with the Board they settled a scheme, which was to operate for 15 years, to reduce the size of classes in Metropolitan schools and to increase the number of schools. The scheme was that the maximum size of a class of boys or girls should he reduced to 40, and in the case of infants to 48. What has happened? The London County Council bought the sites for building additional schools; they were forced to buy the sites. They made their plans for this new development, and they were in course of carrying out the scheme when matters were suspended by the War. Now that the War is over now that we have had four years of so called peace, the Board of Education itself will not permit the London County Council to resume the carrying out of the very scheme which was previously urged. The London County Council has the sites, and the Board of Education will not permit the Council to build upon them.

You have this situation—that whereas some years ago the Board of Education was imposing a very severe penalty on the Metropolitan authority, fining it £10,000 in order to secure that, a better system should he adopted and applied, the Board is now saying in reference to that very system that it will not permit the London County Council to carry through its plan. That seems to me to be an illustration of a very serious change in outlook and tempez. I see my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education opposite, and I ask him, am I not right in saying that the Board are vetoing the proposals for smaller classrooms in certain new schools which must be built on new housing estates? One would have thought that if there was any topic in educational arrangements where there was really no room for dispute it, was this, that large classes not only operate against educational efficiency, but, if they are allowed to become too large, become a positive scandal of educational inefficiency. The statistics of public education for England and Wales for the last available year were published the other day. I think they are for 1920. If you take the view that 40 boys or 40 girls is the largest number that can be efficiently taught in a single class by the same teacher at the same time, half the classes in the country are too large. If you take the view that 50 children in a class is more than can be efficiently taught by a single teacher, more than one quarter of the classes in our elementary schools throughout the country are definitely too large.

The returns show that the total number of classes in elementary schools in England and Wales was 350,559. The classes consisting of boys and girls from 40 to 49 numbered 39,039; classes of between 50 children and 59 numbered 31,204. There are even classes containing more than 60 children, to which an unfortunate teacher is expected to give one and the same lesson. There are apparently classes of 60 or over in no fewer than 6,970 eases. All of us, I hope, would desire to see every effort made to secure that public money is prudently spent on education. Waste is no more justified in education than in anything else. The worst of all waste is to spend large sums of money on education under conditions which cannot possibly produce satisfactory results.

I take next, as a practical illustration of what I mean, the provision of free places in our secondary schools. What is the good of talking about the ladder of education and about the supreme importance of securing that even the poorest child, if it has sufficient ability, should be able to pass from the elementary school to the secondary school and from the secondary school to the University, unless we preserve to an adequate extent the system of providing free places for children in our secondary schools? The old principle used to be that 25 per cent. of the places in a secondary school which is assisted from public funds were to be free places. That used to be the minimum number. But. 25 per cent. is no longer the minimum number; by recent regulations of the Board of Education it has in effect become the maximum number of places. An answer was given two or three weeks ago to the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander), from which it appeared that the Board of Education were authorising the provision of places substantially fewer than 25 per cent, in a large number of secondary schools assisted out of public funds. I have extracted these figures from the answer: One - hundred - and - fifty - five secondary schools now receive State grants, although they offer less than 25 per cent. of free places. Out of those 155 secondary schools, no fewer than 98 are in receipt of aid from the local educational authority as well as from the Board of Education.

In the West Riding of Yorkshire, I was told the other day, you might take secondary schools in one of the areas there as offering education which cost about £30 per child per annum to provide, but the fee which is charged to the parent sending his child there is not at all £30 but is more like £9 or £10 per annum. In view of the fact that education in secondary schools is, in any event., to a large extent the subject of subvention from public funds it seems to me more than ever wrong to cut down the number of free places which are, available for the children of the very poor. I do not want to see any child getting an exceptional advantage merely because that child comes from a poor home, but I do want to be sure that the system which we are now following does not. penalise the child who comes from a poor home, but gives the most deserving child the opportunity for further advance and gives an equal chance to all children from whatever sort of homes they have come. Let us consider the ladder of education at the other end. The Board in the course of the last two years has abolished or perhaps, I should say, suspended, the award of State scholarships tenable in the Universities. I have here the actual announcement which was made: The Government have decided that no new award of State scholarships shall he made in the financial years 1922–23 and 1923–1924 hut that the question shall be reviewed at the end of two years. Anybody who has gone to a University with the help of a scholarship realises the big hardship which is imposed upon a child who may come from some humble home, a child, it may he, who succeeds in winning a scholarship or exhibition from a college of the University, but who, none the less, does not get that additional assistance which enable a child to take advantage of its own success. It seems to me there is no possible justification, whatever be the hard times through which we have to pass, for breaking down for the time being this ladder of education, which in any case is so precariously poised, by cutting out at the one end free places in secondary schools and at the other end threatening the scheme for providing State scholarships. Everybody appreciates now, though they did not soma years ago, that it was necessary we should pay for the War ourselves. My submission is that however we do that, however great the burden may be, we have no right to make the children of this country pay for the War.

In the third place, may I take what appears to be a definitely retrograde policy which is being followed in dealing with special classes of children who need special treatment and special teaching. The English educational system has undoubtedly led the way in some parts of the country, as regards the provision of special schools for the blind, for the deaf, for the mentally defective, for the physically defective and for the tuberculous. I do not know any better system of schools in the world than that which is to be found in London for these special purposes. They are the best organised in the world, and they are linked to a system of medical inspection and sometimes medical treatment for which the Board of Education must be given the greatest credit and which has done a great deal to make the money spent on education better worth while. As against that, a circular was issued by the Board of Education on 29th January last which threatened the efficiency of these special schools not only in London but in the provinces. It is a circular which, as one can well appreciate, may be insisted upon by the Treasury officials, but I think it will strain the ingenuity of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, to suggest that it is a circular which the Board of Education can justify. It is a circular which, in effect, aims at increasing the size of the classes in these schools, and if there is any kind of class which needs not to be too large, it is a class under special teachers trying to deal with afflicted children. The circular also aims at the introduction of unqualified persons as teachers. I do not believe any Minister of Education would really seek to justify the handing over of these afflicted children in larger classes to teachers who have not been efficiently trained for the purpose of dealing with them. In the same way, the dilution of the teaching profession by unqualified teachers is going on in many of the infant schools of the country. It is easy to say that any intelligent woman can do all that is necessary in the teaching of very small children, but it is not true. The whole result of educational science and of the application of psychology to the business of training the infant mind, goes to show that there is no branch of educational service where it is more important to secure that the teaching is done by people who know what they ought to aim at doing and who are trained in the way to do it.

I only mention in passing the subject of the feeding of school children. I know it is urged by the Board of Education that this is not primarily or properly an educational function at all. I do not mind who does it, as long as it is done with intelligence, with thoroughness and, of course, without extravagance. I would point out however that the House of Commons and the country are committed to the proposition that the local educational authorities have a responsibility in this regard. May I remind the house of the actual language of the Act. The act first requires that the local education authority shall be satisfied that children attending elementary schools within their area are unable by reason of lack of food to take full advantage of the education provided for them. Secondly, it lays clown the condition that the local education authority has ascertained that funds, other than public funds, are not available or are insufficient in amount to defray the cost of the food furnished in meals under the Act, and if these two conditions are satisfied then the local education authorities may apply to the Board of Education and that Board may authorise them to spend out of the rates, such sum as will meet the cost of the provision of such food, provided the total amount expended for the purposes of the Section in any financial year, shall not exceed…a rate of ½d. in the £. That is a deliberate policy adopted by Parliament and the announcement of an intention to cut down the amount so spent, calls for the special attention of all who are interested in the education of children. It is a horrible thought that we in this country should adopt the principle of compulsory elementary education, and at the same time not make effective provision to secure that the children who are being educated are sufficiently fed. If ever there was an example of the misdirected use of public funds and of the waste which may be involved in mistaken forms of economy, it is to be found in a failure to secure that children who are being taught are reasonably well fed. I do not believe there is any single item in the Education Estimates which involves so serious a cut as the cut in the special services, and I call the attention of my hon. Friend to the anxiety which so many people feel as to the present situation in that respect.

Without saying more about the special schools may I take as my fourth and last illustration, the indications which I do not think can very well be disputed of friction between the Board of Education on the one hand and the local education authorities and the teaching profession on the other. It is, of course, a matter which the Minister will lament as much as anybody, but if one examines the history of the last three months, if one looks through the "Times Educational Supplement" I do not think it can he disputed that during the last few months there have been some very unfortunate and increasing indications of friction and of failure to agree as between the local education authorities—who have the administration of education in their hands, and who represent a very strong stimulus throughout the country of a strictly educational character—and the Board of Education, which ought to guide and promote educational progress. We can all see that the task of the Board of Education in responding to Treasury demands for reduction in public expenditure is very difficult, and the Board runs the risk of unpopularity whatever it may do. But I believe there is widespread and genuine alarm because the Board is suspected of using the present situation to obtain control over educational policy and, indeed, over local educational administration. That is not the real function of the Board of Education at all. Its main function is to initiate and Stimulate educational progress— of course within the bounds of reason, having regard to practical considerations. If it be true, as some of these recent actions rather suggest., that they have initiated retrograde proposals then that is a matter with which I will ask the Minister to deal when he comes to speak. One illustration is to be found in the enormous number of circulars which appear to be issued by the Board of Education in their efforts to direct and control and sometimes to limit the operations of the local education authorities. Can my right hon. Friend tell me how many circulars have been issued to the different local education authorities of the country or the different branches of the Board of Education, within the last three months? I am sure the House will be surprised at the number. The Association of Education Committees which contributes from time to time very authoritative articles to the "Times Educational Supplement" has an article in the Supplement of 24th March in which it is stated: The Board do not seem to realise that the practice now in force of daily interference with the exercise by authority of discretion and initiative is causing feelings of disaffection and revolt which are doing great harm to the cause of education. The article goes on to give an illustration with which I will not delay the House, and it concludes: It is only another of the examples, daily increasing in number, where Parliament has imposed upon local authorities a duty which the Board forbid them to discharge. 1.0 P.M.

Again I would ask the House to observe that the multiplication of such interferences does not in the end lead to economy in local administration. I have here an illustration from the East Biding of Yorkshire. A sub-committee of the East Yorks County Council issued a report in January last, in which it deals with various educational topics, and then continues in this way: The new system of Government Grants has brought into operation a larger measure of Government control, involving much harassing correspondence, the making of intricate returns, and the furnishing of information on all heads of expenditure. The introduction of the new scale of teachers' 'salaries created much work, and this will continue. The same remark applied to the working of the Teachers' Superannuation Act of 1918. Fader such conditions "— says the County Council— the increase of seven in the Clerical Staff appears justified. The expenditure in salaries has risen from £1,433 to £4,234. There you have an illustration of the way in which too constant an interference with the discretion and the initiative of the local education authorities, while it is designed, no doubt, in part to secure economies, actually results in increased expenditure, at any rate in staff. In the same way, let me illustrate by another circular, the number of which is well-known to the right hon. Gentleman—No. 1238. It was to deal with what are called Maintenanoe Grants. As the House knows, if you have children who have been attending elementary schools and some of whom, may go on, for example, to higher elementary schools and continue their education after the age of 14, since these schools are few and far between it is necessary for children to go much greater distances than is necessary in going to the ordinary elementary school, and if a poor child is to take advantage of the higher elementary schools some small provision—it may take the form of a tram or railway fare—is necessary in order that the child may be maintained at that higher elementary school. By Circular 1238 the Board announced: In view of present financial circumstances, it has been necessary for the Board to reconsider the question of recognizing for purposes of grants expenditure by local educational authorities under Section 24 of the Education Act, 1918, and Section 11 of the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act,:1907, upon maintenance allowances for children in attendance at public elementary schools. It has been decided "— I hope the House will observe what an extreme measure this was— that the Board's recognition of such expenditure must now be confined to cases in which awards of maintenance allowance have already been definitely granted by the authority for individual children and the parents have been informed before the receipt of this circular by the authority. That has produced, as you might have expected, a very considerable outcry, and I hasten to add that when it was challenged in the House last year the late Minister of Education withdrew that Circular and proceeded to announce conditions in much more modified terms. Is not that an illustration which goes to show that in the efforts which the officials of the Board of Education are constantly making to satisfy the very severe Treasury demands and restrictions the cause of education, it does seem to me, is only too likely to suffer.

Let me take in the same way an instance from the training colleges. The history of the training colleges, in outline, is, I understand, this. In the Act of 1901 it was found that the number of training colleges for teachers in this country was much less than was necessary if we were to produce a sufficient supply of properly trained teachers. The result was that under that Act, and under the Act of 1906, I think, the local education authorities were encouraged themselves to take part in setting up training colleges for the training of teachers, and many of the local education authorities have done so. They were assisted in their capital expenditure from central funds, and they were assured that they would receive adequate assistance from the educational grant—the central funds—in the carrying on of their training colleges. So matters went on until two years ago, and then, in the Education Act of 1918, a section was introduced—if my information is right—which was introduced and carried without much explanation and without any real appreciation of what it involved. That section is now being used for the purpose of denying to training colleges which were set up by the local education authorities the grant which is still given to the denominational training colleges throughout- the country. Whereas on the one hand the training colleges set up by the local education authorities merely get the fifty per cent. grant, on the other hand the denominational colleges are getting the very much larger provision, and the result is that the local educational authorities who at the invitation of the Board of Education have expended large sums in setting up these training colleges and are responsible for carrying them on are finding themselves at present very seriously prejudiced in the financing of these colleges by the decision recently arrived at and announced by the Board of Education.

Those are all illustrations, as it seems to me, of the last head with which I wish to deal, namely, instances in which the desires and policy of the Local Education authorities entered into with knowledge of local circumstances and with a real desire to promote education are being thwarted by the different view which is taken at headquarters, with the result, without question, that there is very considerable; and sometimes very serious, friction between the authorities on the one hand and the Board of Education -on the -other. This is illustrated by the many cases in which important and powerful education authorities up and down the country, after having their dispute with the Board of Education, get their way. For example, take Reading. It is only last month that the Education Committee of Reading won a victory against the Board of Education in defiance of a previous decision arrived at by the Board. The Board of Education in the previous September intimated that it was improbable that it would be able to recognise for the calculation of grants expenditure by the authority in the present financial year on the provision of meals for necessitous school children exceeding £750. Reading is, of course, a very progressive and very powerful body. They made representations as to the inadequacy of this amount, with the result that the decision has now been reached that the Board has stated that it is prepared to pay grants on an expenditure not exceeding £1,800 during the year ending 31st March last.

Photo of Hon. Edward Wood Hon. Edward Wood , Ripon

Perhaps I may interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, as I think there is some misunderstanding. In this case—I am not acquainted with the exact case, but I think they are all alike—the £750 represented a first ration that was imposed, and it was explained to everybody at the time that there was a certain margin of money that was left over and deliberately kept in hand to see how it worked over the various authorities in the country, and that if there was spare money over, as there was for some authorities who had been severely rationed, their case would be met as far as possible.

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want to make a- false point, but is it really a right policy to say that the extent to which we are going to secure by a grant of public money that necessitous school children are fed when they are compelled to attend school is to depend on some rationing process, and is not to depend upon what is the true extent of the need?

Photo of Mr John Jones Mr John Jones , West Ham Silvertown

Feed them on prison fare!

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

I do not want to use extreme language.

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

There are two ways of looking at this question. I would agree entirely with anybody who said we must exercise caution and not allow our interest in education to lead us into foolish expenditure, but I cannot believe it is economical to be so penurious in expenditure on this branch of education where the feeding of the child is essential if any good is to be got from the education the child is going to receive. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman may have that same explanation in the case of another instance I propose to give—that of Bristol. The Board of Education told Bristol, if I understand rightly, that they would be unable to recognise expenditure exceeding £3,000 in that area. As a result of subsequent representations, or it may be as the result of working out the balance to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, it now appears that the Board of Education is prepared to pay a grant on amounts not exceeding £3,995, or an increase of nearly £1,000, on the provision for meals for school children. In any case, my point is that while I thoroughly recognise and sympathise with the difficulties of a department which is faced on the one hand with the demands of the Treasury and on the other hand with its natural desire to promote education, I cannot but think that a case is made out that the policy now being followed produces a maximum of friction, and be it remembered a friction not only with the local education authorities but with the teaching profession as well. It will not have escaped the notice of my right hon. Friend that next week, when there is the annual conference of Teachers, held this year, I think, at Brighton, the first place at the public sessions of that great conference has been marked down for the purpose of resolutions in which: The Conference strongly condemns this attack of the Board by administrative measures on the facilities for the education of the children of this country, and it declares that the restrictions placed on educational progress are a serious menace to the public welfare. I will conclude by offering this reflection. Is not this the true position? What is needed is a conception of national education which realises that money spent on inefficient education is wasteful. That is the waste. The waste is to spend money on inefficient education, and the real alternative is an active pursuit of a wise educational policy as the best form of economy. The youth of the country at all times is the greatest of our national assets, and after the losses of the War it is more than ever necessary to make the most of it. The Geddes Committee-—

Photo of Mr John Jones Mr John Jones , West Ham Silvertown

The "Get-Us" Committee, you mean.

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

The Geddes Committee per formed a most useful public service in many directions, but it cannot be regarded as the final authority as to the educational needs of the nation. I was very much struck with a leading article in the "Times Educational Supplement" of 13th January last in which this passage occurred: The Board of Education stands upon an entirely different footing from any other Department of State. It is not merely an administrative department created to guide and co-ordinate the administrative work of local departments of the same nature. The true: business of the Board is to watch over education and to be a perpetual source of policy, the mainspring of that policy being to secure a nation of men and women trained to think and act. The same article goes on to point out that The Board has ceased in be a source of inspiration, a and has devoted itself very automatic superintendence thumb. I should not like to sit down without saying that I gladly recognise, and in all quarters of the House there will be glad and full recognition of the fact that in some directions the Board of Education has served the cause of education in the last few years splendidly and well. They have raised the school age; they have introduced their policy of no leaving certificates; they have abolished half-time. It is a great thing to have developed physical education. It is a great thing and a great pride to the Board of Education to have set firmly on foot its system of medical inspection, and I hope they will be able to carry that further; but at the same time the underlying purposes of the Act of 1919 are very largely forgotten. It stirred for a time a feeling throughout the whole of the country in favour of education such as has not been felt south of the boundary between England and Scotland for many years. It was a response to the demand that England should be placed on terms of educational equality with its Continental competitors and its competitors in the new world, and I do not think, on a fair view of what is now happening, that it can be disputed that there is delay and retardation in pursuing that great ideal.

When you are dealing with the education of the youth of the country delay and retardation can never be made good. If this was a debate on the administration of the Navy then it might quite fairly be said that even though there had been failure to provide capital ships exactly as and when they should be provided, yet there was an opportunity of making up the leeway by increasing the output in subsequent years. If this was a debate on military provision, it would be quite true to say that even though there might have been failure to fill up the cadres of some unit or regiment, that could be made up by an increased effort in calling men to the colours later on. If it were a debate on finance, it would be true to say that even if we postponed our financial obligations or failed to raise money, there is an opportunity for repentance and change in some subsequent year. But when you are dealing with the subject of the education of the boys and girls of the country, once an opportunity has passed, it can never be possible afterwards to make good the contraction of educational facilities which ought to be offered to a generation of children. Shades of the prison house begin to close upon the growing boy, and we are failing to provide for the youth of the nation, on passing out into the world, that which is the best source of national strength and national progress, namely, the education which those who are devoted to the subject inside the Board of Education as well as outside it would gladly give. I have not forgotten that, when the House resumes after Easter, there will be a debate on the Education Estimates, but the topics which I have raised are topics which I hope the House will think it well to have raised in advance of that Debate. These are some at any rate of the lines on which the country feels very keenly, and we look to the Ministry of Education to-day and in the debate when we resume to give us an explanation and I hope to give us satisfaction on these matters which so deeply affect us.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , Mitcham

I am sure the House will extend to me its indulgence when I rise to address it for the first time especially when I have to follow one who has for so many years charmed its ear.

I am entirely a product of the public school system of this country. I first went to an elementary school and, owing to the sacrifices made for me by my parents and from the assistance granted from public funds, I was able to reach one of the old universities of the land, and therefore I can claim a more or less personal experience of each branch of the educational system of this country that is financed from public funds. I desire to raise three or four points very briefly for the consideration of the Minister in charge of education. First, I desire to draw the attention of the House to the serious issues now being raised from the failure of this Government and its predecessor to deal with the growing difficulty of housing the schools satisfactorily. I wish to give the House an example which I think is one of the most glaring. The school I first attended was a very old building then. Exactly when it was built nobody knows, but it first emerges into the light of history when it was used as a stable in which the famous racehorse "Eclipse" was stabled in 1780. About 50 years later it was no use for stabling bloodstock and so it was converted into an elementary school for educating the children of the poor in the principles of the Established Church. About eight years ago, the operation of the Act of 1902 was such that the Epsom Grand Stand Association no longer felt it necessary to subscribe to a school for inculcating these doctrines. Therefore one of my first acts as a, manager of that school was to hand it over to the county council. The local urban council has petitioned that this school should he replaced. The Surrey county council is also desirous of replacing it. It has purchased a site, and I do think that this is one of the instances in which the Board of Education should see that the children of this generation are taught in a building better than a disused stable.

It is not only in regard to elementary education that this trouble with respect to buildings arises. One of the most gratifying features of what happened in education during the War was the tremendous increase in the demand for secondary education. In 1914, on the outbreak of war, the Secondary Schools of Surrey accommodated 3,056 pupils. On the day of the Armistice they accom modated 5,036. There is a school on the southern side of my constituency, the Wallington County School for Girls, which had in 1914 157 pupils. It now has 421. This school is working under conditions that make it. exceedingly difficult for real secondary education to be given at all. The main building is a discarded Elementary School which accommodates 150 girls. Then there is a temporary wooden hut, which is too hot in summer and too cold in winter, which accommodates 124. There are two dwelling houses which have been adapted where the passages are very narrow and where the staircases are narrow and of wood. These rooms, although small, are made to accommodate 120 girls. We have a chapel schoolroom adjoining and that accommodates 27. We have no room in the school where more than half the girls can assemble at any one time, and the strain on the health of the staff and the difficulties of conducting and organising any corporate spirit in a school of that kind must be apparent to the House. The Surrey County Council, which is by no means an extravagant body, has purchased a site, and so keen are the girls attending the school that they have spontaneously subscribed towards laying out a sports ground for the use of that school. I appeal to the Minister for Education that it is time these and other urgent cases should receive his attention and he should be prepared to fight the Treasury on behalf of the Local Authorities who are willing to put this work in hand.

I desire to deal with the point which was somewhat touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). That is the question of the restriction of opportunity for secondary education. I dissociate myself most emphatically from the simile he employed, a greatly overworked and false simile, that of the ladder of education.

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

I did not use the simile. I was not referring to it in the sense in which the hon. Gentleman refers to it.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , Mitcham

I quite accept that. I would undertake to race anyone up the ladder of education if I could get my foot on it first. The secondary system of education suffers because we think of it in terms of the ladder. The present system of admission to secondary schools is merely placing a premium on precocity, and I suggest that precocity is not a thing to be unnecessarily encouraged. I desire to see the secondary schools so thrown open that the child of slowly-ripening intellect, the child who has suffered some loss of elementary school opportunity and some slight or continuous ill-health during earlier years, may get an equal opportunity. The scholarship system at present in vogue is an attempt to skim off the cream from the elementary schools, but I am afraid in too many instances, instead of the cream, we merely get the froth. This regulation which the right hon. Member for Spen Valley so criticised, limiting the number of free places in future to 25 per cent., is one that should be speedily withdrawn. The first place it was attempted on was Mitcham. The Mitcham County School for boys that was opened last year was the first school to which this order was applied. As showing that the whole country is not being frightened into a fit of indiscriminate economy, when, during the recent Election there, I went to a meeting of the women workers in the poorest ward of the parish of Mitcham, and asked what they would like me to deal with in the ensuing public meeting in that part of the constituency, they said they desired to know why the opportunities for their children in that secondary school were so limited.

At the present time a. school in one part of the county can only admit more than the 25 per cent. if the children in another part of the county are deprived of education. There is that saving Clause in the Regulations, that the Board will take into consideration what the authority is doing in another part of the area, but I do not think it is a very great satisfaction to any governor of a secondary school to feel that he is keeping out children from another school by getting them into his. The Epsom County School for Girls, of whose governors I am chairman, last year had the privilege of awarding three free places, and we instructed the head mistress that she was to make the fee-paying entrants take exactly the same examination as the free places. We thought it was only right that we should know how the various classes of entrants compared for ability and aptitude. There were 41 candidates, of whom three were fee payers. We could only give three free places. The first fee payer came out No. 8, the second came out No. 14, and the third came out No. 35. Those three fee payers were all admitted to the school, and I am pleased to say they are all doing well, but, as the right hon. Gentleman will see, there are 29 other children, who passed higher than the lowest fee payer, who have lost their chance of secondary education and who are presumably a better investment for the country's money than the lowest fee payer who managed to get in. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me quite rightly pointed out that even the fee payer only pays a very small proportion of the cost of this education. In Surrey the cost is about £30 a year. The parents pay £12, and public funds, the county and the nation together, provide £18 between them, and I think it would be far better for the State to say that it will pay the whole of the £30 and admit the children on their aptitudes rather than to give to some children a passport to secondary education because their parents can raise the fees, while excluding better children who are unable to find the money through their parents.

There is one other point that I wish to raise, and that is the question that was slightly touched on by the right hon. Member for Spen Valley, the question of the dilution of the staffs of the elementary schools, and I want to join his protest, and, if I may, to emphasise it, against selecting the infant schools of the country for this experiment. The infant school is, after all, the most important part, because if you put a child in the hands of an unskilful, untrained and under-qualified teacher in an infant school, you may quite easily give it a distaste for education that it will never afterwards lose. I recall my own experience during a singing lesson, being called upon, when I was about four years of age, to sing a solo, and I did it, I believe, very badly indeed.

Photo of Mr John Jones Mr John Jones , West Ham Silvertown

You are singing well to-day, anyhow.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , Mitcham

The teacher, an under-qualified, supplementary teacher, that is, a young lady over 18 years of age who has been vaccinated, hearing a crow outside, remarked that the crow's performance was better than mine, and from that moment I have lost all interest in singing. But I suggest to the House that the infant school, from that point of view, is really the most essential part of a sound educational system. There you have to in- terest the child in education. As it goes on, the child who has some aptitude begins to interest itself, but to place in an infant school a diluted staff is to strike a blow at the efficiency of the whole system that it will take many years to repair.

I desire, lastly, to deal with the question of the relation of the Board with the local authorities. The Surrey County Council, of which I am a member, received about 12 months ago a gift from the gentleman who is now its Chairman, who desired to mark nine years' association with the Education Committee by presenting to us one of the disused forts on the Hog's Back as a place where the children of the county could be taken for a fortnight's open air study during term time, and the Board, although we had this gift, refused, and still refuses, to recognise any expenditure on it for grant, and at first said it would refuse to recognise the attendance of the children there as attendance within the meaning of the Education Acts, so that if we had under those circumstances, accepted the gift of our Chairman, we should have been compelled to prosecute the parents of the children who accepted our invitation to attend there. The expenditure was small—only about £157 for the whole year —but it was an educational experiment of the greatest value. The very psychology of the place, taking a building that was built for destruction and turning it to one of the most useful occupations to which it could possibly be put, was in itself a great method of education for the children, and I hope that this year where local authorities are desirous of carrying out such experiments as that, the President of the Board will see his way to recognise them and to give them that measure of assistance that the Education Acts imply that they should receive.

I am well aware that the only answer that can possibly be given to the pleas put forward from these benches is that the nation is too poor at the present time to afford to give the children these opportunities that the Education Act of 1918 said should be theirs, but I want to point out that this morning I had an answer from the Under-Secretary of State for War that there are nine officers who daily use the Guards' mess, and for that mess Army Order 95 of this year says there shall be a special mess allowance of £2,500 a year. Last year the figure was £4,000 a year, but I suggest that, if we can afford to spend £50 a week on providing a special mess allowance for the Guards' mess, we ought to be able to provide some money for dealing with the necessitous school children and the sons of the men who fought, we will say, in the East Surreys. I urge on this House that, although we may be poor, the real measure of our poverty is not the size of the National Debt, but is the fact that we lost during those four years of war a million of the bravest and noblest and the best that this country could produce. The money we can replace; those lives have gone, and whereas pestilence and famine take the aged, the infirm, and the weak, war took our noblest, our best, our most alert, and those children who are in our schools to-day have not merely to shoulder the ordinary burdens of British citizens, but they have to shoulder the burdens that will come to them from a generation that has been depleted by the loss of these million men. This generation, which has to shoulder its personal responsibility for what took place during that War, is only doing its duty to these children if it gives them the fullest possible opportunities for bringing to the task that confronts them an alert intelligence and a sturdy frame. John Milton said: War has made many great whom peace made small. If after being released from the toils of war, you neglect the arts of peace, if your peace and your liberty he a state of warfare, if war be your only virtue, the summit of your praise, you will believe me, soon find peace the most adverse to your interests. Your peace will be only a more distressing war; and that which you imagined liberty will prove the worse of slavery. Unless…you clear the horizon of the mind, you will always have those who will bend your necks to the yoke as if you were brutes, who, notwithstanding all your triumphs, will put you up to the highest bidder, as if you were mere booty made in war; and will find an exuberant source of wealth in your ignorance and superstition…Unless you are victors in this service, it is in vain that you have been victorious over the despotic enemy in the field.

Photo of Sir Henry Craik Sir Henry Craik , Combined Scottish Universities

I hope that I may be allowed, with all respect. most heartily and sincerely to congratulate the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Ede) on the speech which he has just delivered. As one who has spent a lifetime in education, I listened to that speech with the greatest interest.

His experience is wide, and although the results of that experience do not in all respects agree with my own, yet I feel that he has earned by that experience a right to speak with authority. I recognise also in his, speech a power of graphic and humorous reminiscence, and, if I may, I will condole with him on those ambitions of vocal celebrity, which were so roughly broken by the harsh criticism of that unfortunate schoolmistress. I turn to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J.. Simon), who told us he was aware that next week there would he an opportunity for the discussion of educational questions, but who, nevertheless, at portentous length and, I must say, not always with the avoidance of some rather commonplace sentiments on the subject of education, opened the whole question at this juncture. I could not help feeling that in the great oration of the right hon. and. learned Gentleman there was something of an appeal to the electors and that there were thoughts of that meeting which is to take place next week to which he referred.

The right hon. Gentleman assumes, like many of those who speak in the same sense, a sort of monopoly of earnest devotion to the cause of education. I assure him that in merely pleading for and defending extravagance, or complaining of certain efforts in the direction of economy in administration of education, he is not always doing the best work for education itself. I shall not, like the right hon. Gentleman, survey the whole range of education administration, but I would like to touch very shortly on one or two points which the right hon. Gentleman raised. He said that one proof of the decadence of education by means of this economy was the enlarging of the size of classes are hon. Members quite certain of their ground? If they are acquainted with schools, they will surely know that it is sometimes not: at all a bad thing to collect a very considerable number of pupils together in a class room at a time to be all taught together. It arouses their interest and their keenness. [Interruption.] Will hon. Members take my experience as well as that of the hon. Member for Mitcham? My own experience, when I was a boy of fourteen, in the University of Glasgow was to attend classes of 150. No classes in the whole of my long experience were more stimulating and more rousing than those classes. We had to do our best to distinguish ourselves, we had the rivalry of one another, and it was like fighting our way through a very hard fight, but we were tremendously stimulated as the result. Do not think that you are doing a very great thing if only you cut down classes always to little handsful of children, who get tired of looking at one another's faces, and know each other's character and disposition by heart. Children in large classes are not perhaps always the worst for it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman took up another subject, and that was restriction on the number of free places in secondary schools. Is my right hon. and learned Friend fully persuaded that you can always benefit every boy by driving him into what is called the higher education of secondary schools? You are wasting a far more valuable thing than your money if you take boys who are unfit for secondary education. There is nothing derogatory in saying that they are not suited for prolonged school education; they may be fitted for striking out ways of life for themselves elsewhere than in school. But you are spending what is far more valuable than your money if you are taking the best years of the lives of these boys which they may want to spend in active and energetic pursuits of their own, and shutting them up for bookwork. which they do not want. Really it is an extraordinary thing that a pedant like myself, a university man trained in education all my life, should have to try to tell hon. Members opposite who say they are better than university men that there is something worth doing and some stimulus worth having outside schools and universities.

Photo of Mr John Jones Mr John Jones , West Ham Silvertown

There are university men here.

Photo of Sir Henry Craik Sir Henry Craik , Combined Scottish Universities

I know that, and they may have equal knowledge of universities with myself, but they have a far greater knowledge of the outside world than I have.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also thought that a great evil was being done in somewhat restricting the feeding of children. I am old enough in this House to remember all the fights for the feeding of children by the education authority. I think my right hon. and learned Friend was present in the House during these discussions. Does he remember the attitude of all the local education authorities in Scotland to that question? They were one and all opposed to it, and thought that the feeding of children should belong to the duties of the poor law authorities and not of the education authorities. I will mention one lady, Miss Louise Stevenson, a prominent member. There was a lady member of the Edinburgh School Board who was strongly opposed to this, and strongly sympathised with those of us who fought against the extension of this feeding of children, and the handing over to the School Boards of the functions of the poor law authorities as regards the feeding of the child. I foretold at the time the relief was given that overlapping and trouble would arise, and it has come true. If your poor law authorities are not doing their duty; if they are not sufficiently liberal in feeding their children, why not change them? Why give over their work to other people?

Another point raised was with regard to interference with the extravagance of local authorities. I think of the right hon. and learned Gentleman knew as much as I did about that extravagance, he would think some check might be placed upon it. Within the last 40 or 50 years the whole management of schools has changed. In former days it was by no means bad management, and I know that because I at the central department had to deal with it. It was very fine, very intelligent management, and it cost the nation absolutely not a penny. It was entirely voluntary work. What is it now? We are spending millions a year on local administration, and yet we are not by one penny reducing the expenditure of the central authority. We have handed over a great deal of the administration from the Central Department to the local authorities. The moment you hand over a new bit of administration, the local authority adds perhaps three or four clerks, and certainly one or two superior supervising officers. These supervising officers go about to a great extent interfering with the teachers, trying to tell the teachers how to carry on their own profession, which they know very much better than these directors of education.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned the training colleges in the hands of local authorities. I have always thought myself that the placing of the training of teachers in the hands of local authorities, whose business was not the training of teachers but the providing of schools and the educating of children, was a mistake. I would go further. I would rather have a curtailment of these training colleges for teachers, and send the teachers to get their education at the ordinary places of education, along with their fellow-men. It would, I think, greatly benefit the education of the country, and greatly benefit the profession of teachers. It is no good catching boys when they are 13 or 14 years of age, pouring money out on their training, giving them scholarships, fostering them like hothouse plants, and then training them in a little group of men whose all interests and their very fashion of thinking are formed in one mould. Do you think that makes good teachers? Far better to get rid of your training colleges; let your teachers go and find their training in the ordinary way, and then bring back the results of that wider training and let them do their best by their own independent means to attain the high positions of their profession. Of course they must get a certain technical training in the art and profession of teaching. But I do not attach too much importance to these things. I think if hon. Members will look back upon their youth, as I do, they will find that their most efficacious teacher was not always the best trained teacher, the most methodical, the most conventional in his method, but the man who could inspire you with some element of originality, who had a character of his own, and whose oddities even, sometimes made an impression upon you that lasted with you the whole of your life. Do not think you can get advanced education merely by spending lavish sums of money and by establishing separate training colleges and training all your teachers in a close compartment.

I am as keen as my right hon. and learned Friend on education and I was working at it, I think, before he was born. In former days you had a great ally in education, and a great fulcrum in education in the enthusiasm of the parent, and of the country, and that did prevail at least in my own country of Scotland. All your systems of compulsion, all your Acts of Parliament, all your rules and regulations, all your forcing people to follow a particular course, and, above all, if you give the impression to people that they are being asked to spend too much money on education, that efficiency in education is identified with extravagant expenditure, let me tell you by all these things that you will inevitably kill that enthusiasm. If you do anything to foster that extravagance, you are not the true friends of education, but you are doing it an indelible injury. Appeal to the enthusiasm, the ambition, the effort, and the faith of your fellow-countrymen, but do not make them think that this vast expenditure upon educational administration, that the mere building of fine palatial schools, that the mere curtailing of the numbers in classes, that the mere spending of money in technically training your teachers will really build up the missionary impulse of a great educational movement in the country. Be saving, be careful, be economical; you will not be Less efficient.

Photo of Mr John Murray Mr John Murray , Leeds West

I hope I shall profit by the warning given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik) not to wander over the whole, field of education, but rather to confine myself at this late stage of the Debate to certain things which, in my opinion, are important. One has already been mentioned, namely, the situation of the training colleges; and. I venture again to mention that because I have the honour to represent a division of the City of Leeds, and Leeds of all the cities under educational authorities in the country, has the biggest grievance against the Government in this matter. The grievance arises from this. Led on by the temptations offered by the Government in 1906, Leeds has indulged in building the biggest training college, and in undertaking the heaviest financial burden on that account. For the years 1917–18–19, the charge upon the rates in Leeds amounted to an average of £4,000. For the three succeeding years, 1920–21–22, that charge grew at a bound to £23,000, and over these three years Leeds has been subjected to an unjust burden of practically £57,000. In 1922, it amounted to a rate of 2½d. The injustice to Leeds lies particularly in this, that in the years since the training college was established, the percentage of Leeds trainees has ranged between five and 15. That is to say, the City of Leeds is paying £1,000 for every man or woman of its own in this college. The City of Leeds, like all other cities burdened in this way, realises the difficulty of the Board of Education, but feels that those difficulties and the negotiations in this matter have gone on too long, and hopes that the President and the Board will be able to produce a scheme quite soon to let them out of their present difficulty. The other matter about which I wish to speak is also a grievance, and in my opinion a bitter and heavy grievance. It is not the grievance of a powerful educational authority, or of any public body, but the grievance of individuals, and they are not very numerous—and certainly weak. I refer to certain grievances which have been within the last few weeks, so far as I know, placed on women teachers, who, when the war came volunteered for war service, obtained the leave of their authorities to go to war service, and came back from the War, took up their old educational work anew either under their old authorities or new authorities. They were given to understand that their years of war service would count under the old scheme for increments of salary, and would also count towards their pensions. In some cases increments have been given upon that basis. Now, however, by the action of the Board, instigated perhaps by the Treasury, a rule has been made whereby although the men who rendered war service have got the years of their war service counted for pensions purposes and for the purposes of increments of salary, the women who did the same, who are few in numbers, and the weaker sex, have had that privilege, or rather the right, withdrawn from them.

I should like to give the House a particular case. A lady was employed under the Scarborough Authority as a teacher of domestic subjects. In 1915 she left, with the leave of that authority, to take up war service. She spent four and a half years in it and rose to be the chief controller of a works. She came back to educational work, and has been employed by the London County Council for two years. She has had two annual increments of salary given on the basis of recognizing her years of war service for salary purposes. Within the last few days she has been warned that, owing to the action of the Board of Education, these increments will be withdrawn. She will be seriously reduced in salary, and she is led to understand that the same prejudice against women who went to the War is operating in depriving her of the benefit of her years of war service towards her pension. These were the points I desired to address to the House: the one being the question of the Leeds Training College and the other being the attempt to differentiate between the men and the women who equally went to do war service now that they have come back, now long after the event, both in respect to increments of their salaries, and in respect, to the date on which they will become entitled to pension rights. The, second is an incredible meanness and a. perfectly savage financial economy that ought never to have been applied in any educational matter whatever.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

I desire to draw the attention of the House to two definite defects in the Board's policy towards the rate-aided secondary schools. There is a very great shortage in the accommodation at these schools. The demand for accommodation has been growing from year to year, and at the present time the supply is utterly inadequate. The first defect to which I wish to draw attention is the way in which the children are selected for admission to these rate-aided secondary schools. The present method was described by a head mistress to me as consisting of a large centralised examination for thousands of children. This examination takes place when the children are 11 years of age. The result is that in the opinion of the most expert head mistresses and masters you do not get the right type of children into these rate-aided secondary schools. Of course, a certain number of the right type do get in under the system, but the effect of the centralised examination is to enable a large number of children who develop precociously and who are relatively advanced in knowledge at the age of 11 to obtain the privilege of getting into the secondary schools, while a very large number of those who in the long run are more qualified for secondary education are denied the advantage altogether.

The second result of this centralised examination is that it plays into the hands of those schools who cram children for this preliminary examination, whereas those preparatory departments and schools which develop distinct and individualistic methods of their own—the type to which my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Crain) referred to as the ideal kind of education—are unable to get their scholars into these free places in the secondary schools because, they have not given the machine-made education and the machine-made preparation for the examination. The ideal thing is to trust your head masters and your head mistresses; to give them some power of selection of the children who are admitted to these free places. A great many of these rate-aided secondary schools have built, up great traditions for themselves. There are cases where mothers have been at the school and desire that their daughters should follow them, and there are cases where the elder sisters wish their younger sisters to follow in their footsteps; but waiting lists are impossible in these schools at the present time. The head mistress of one of these told me that it was a heart-breaking business to refuse admission to the children of former scholars, and to younger sisters, because there was no room owing to the shortage of places. This examination to which I have referred makes impossible now free selection on the part of head mistresses.

The Board of Education, I suggest, should see that something is done to remedy these defects. It would be a great thing for head masters and head mistresses—I am speaking more particularly of the head mistresses, because I happen to know some of these heads of girls' secondary rate-aided schools, and one of the principal schools in the North of England happens to be in my division—and I am told there that what I have described is a very great handicap, and that if the head mistress had some powers of selection in the case, of certain of the girls it would he a very great advantage. I think the Board of Education might very well consider, too, the case of scholars whose parents are well off, whether it would not be as well for these children to take honorary scholarships? That is to say, we ought to encourage parents who are well able to pay the fees to accept for their children the status of scholars, but to waive free education. There is no doubt about it that a great many parents in our great towns who at the present time enjoy the benefit. of free education for their children are well able to pay the fees. There are 25 per cent. of free places in rate-aided secondary schools and a much bigger percentage of free places in the normal secondary municipal schools of our great towns. If the parent who can afford to pay fees paid them, there would be a larger income for the purposes of this education and more, accommodation in the secondary schools; this great difficulty of having such large classes would also be met if, I say, there was more revenue from fees.

The second point to which I wish to call attention with regard to the schools is what has been described as the increasing stringency of the regulations of the Board of Education. There are something like 1,300 persons employed by the Board of Education in the work of regulating, inspecting, and supervising education. While these persons have all the virtues of bureaucrats they have also all the vices. Some of those, who have spent their whole lives in first-hand contact with the children in our schools and in regulating the curriculum and the life and occupation of the children from the time they enter the school till they leave, have to do what they know to be wrong in regard to there children. That comes about in this way: The Board of Education lay down regulations as to how many hours per week have to be spent in the study of special subjects by the children of particular ages; That policy no doubt is very good as to its general lines, but regulations of that sort being hard and fast prevent the teacher exercising that function for which the teacher is particularly fitted or should be particularly fitted, namely, the power of finding out what is most useful for the child to do, what subjects the child should specialise in and what other subjects the child should leave alone. It must be an advantage to give this power of selection and determining the curriculum for the children to those competent persons who as head masters and head mistresses have most to do with their up-bringing. T cannot believe at all in a system which fixes education in this way for the whole of the country, without referring to the individual capacities and aptitudes of the boys and girls, and without referring to the particular standards in the particular neighbourhoods. I think it would he a far better thing to trust the experts on the spot, that is to say, the masters and mistresses rather than to place this tremendous power of regulating the work of every child in the country in the hands of a small group of bureaucrats working from Whitehall.

Everything in education depends upon spontancity. The progress that has been made in education has come from individual effort and individual initiative. You have only to think of the great educative agencies of our generation like the boy scouts and the girl guides to realise how little bureaucracy has really had to do with the main lines of advance pursued in the upbringing of the boys and girls in our day. I think the report of the Committee on the question of whether the same curriculum should be imposed on boys and girls in exactly the same way favours a distinction between the curriculum required for the boys and the curriculum required for the girls. This again illustrates the mistake of laying down hard-and-fast lines of curricula, in all eases and for all circumstances. The greater freedom you give to the individual head masters and head mistresses in the choice of subjects and in the decision as to what curriculum the boy and girl should pursue in his or her school, the better prospect for our country's education.

There is only one other point that I wish to make, a point which has nothing directly to do with the administration of the Board of Education. It is, however, perhaps worth putting. That is the idea that the Minister of Education might consider whether it would not be possible from time to time to advise the Prime Minister in making his recommendations for honours to consider the claims of some of the head masters and head mistresses of these great schools. I am told that in spite of the profuse and undiscriminating gift of honours and of awards of the various grades of O.B.E.s in recent years, those people who have spent most ungrudging and devoted lives in carrying on the work of-secondary education in our great towns, and have proved their value to the State by their great services as heads of big schools, have never had a place in any Honours List or at all events very rarely. In this House we may not attach much value to these distinctions. We know too much the way in which the thing is arranged, and in which "British Empire" honours are awarded. But that is not the case in the country. The House knows that. Immense importance is attached in the localities to these various distinctions. There is no doubt about it that it does heighten the status of an individual in a town—in any unsophisticated town—to bear these trappings and insignia of distinction. I venture to think that there are very many cases where a recognition of this sort will do something to raise the status of the school teachers. That is a point which the Government might very well regard with favour as to those whose schools are very often the beacon lights of civilisation and education in our great towns. It would suggest the worth of their work and show the State's recognition of their many virtues.

Photo of Mr Charles Ammon Mr Charles Ammon , Camberwell North

The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down made one suggestion with which I hardly agree. I do not think it would be wholly welcome to a large section of the teaching profession that showers of O.B.E.'s, and so on, should descend upon them. I cannot imagine, for instance, that the position of the headmaster of a great grammar school in Manchester would be in any way enhanced if any of these titles were conferred upon him. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik) does tempt one to follow him. He deplored the days which are gone by and which we hope will never again return; but, having regard to the limitations of time, and to the fact that this afternoon we are principally concerned with the question of administration, one must forego the temptation, though I am bound to say one always listens with a great deal of interest and pleasure to the right hon. Gentleman when he treats of his favourite subject. One is struck by the fact that education at the present moment is largely being spoiled and "spiked," to use a common term, not so much by the local education authorities as by the action of the Board of Education itself in relation to those authorities, and the pressure it is bringing to bear upon them. It would not be so bad if the action of the Board were uniform, and if they did not adopt, if I may use the simile, the course of action with which a bully is often credited, namely, that when someone stands up to them they gave way and yield, while imposing their will upon those who take it a little more quietly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has already mentioned how Reading and Bristol, on taking a certain line, have at any rate secured a larger grant than they otherwise would have secured if they had been as passive as some other authorities.

I have also a similar instance in connection with the East Ham Borough Council. They estimated for a sum of £4,500 for school meals, and the Board of Education informed them that they could not have more than £2,500. The East Ham Borough Council decided that they would take no notice of that. They wanted this money spent on the feeding of the children, and they spent it. They then fought the Board, and received no less than £4,177 as a result of their action. I do suggest that. it adds no dignity to the Board of Education, and does not inculcate confidence in the local education authorities, if they find that, after certain rules and suggestions have been made, then, when any local authority determines to fight them and puts up a sufficiently vigorous opposition, the Board of Education will "cave" in. One is glad to find that authorities do put up a resistance, and one only regrets that others do not do the same, and, perhaps, circumvent the action of the Board of Education in cutting clown facilities as they have been doing. A good deal has been said about the ladder of education, but we are not concerned about the ladder of education; we want a broad highway on which all sections and everyone capable of profiting by education shall have a chance to proceed to the highest university in the land. With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities, there are tens of thousands of people in the humble homes of these cities who would take advantage of it, and would only be too glad of the opportunity, while the real wealth of the nation would be greatly increased if they were able to do so.

I understand that some steps have been taken—perhaps the Minister will say presently whether I am correct in this— with regard to certain manual training instructors who are likely to be very seriously hit by cuts in their salaries. For instance, one man whose case I had before me—and I could give many other instances—whose salary at the present time is £375, is, by the action of the Board of Education, cut down to £175. I would ask the House to consider exactly what that means. When a man has his salary cut down by more than one-half, it must mean an absolute revolution in his whole system of living, and is not at all conducive, I should imagine, to his giving the best of his services to the State or the municipality. Again, there are such mean things as stopping the grants for the supply of milk to necessitous children. I have a complaint from Battersea where children who were actually tubercular have been deprived of their milk owing to the grant not being forthcoming. I also desire to touch upon the action of the Board of Education in bringing pressure to bear in connection with the employment of unqualified teachers in the schools. That is more serious than it looks, for it is the first step towards cutting down the whole standard of the educational and teaching profession of this country. People talk about finding someone just to mind little children, but even that is not the easiest of jobs. Thousands of pounds have been spent during recent years in the study of the psychology of children, and in putting experts to be trained and to write treatises and so on, and then we take steps such as are now being taken under the direction or pressure of the Board of Education, with the result that, at the most formative periods of their lives, children are going to be deprived of the best possible training and education that they can have. If it is thought that there is no feeling on this outside, I would remind the House, not for the first time, that the by-election that brought me into this House was fought absolutely on that one plank, and a working-class constituency demonstrated what they felt by sending a representative to these Benches with an overwhelming majority. I hold in my hand a letter signed by a number of working women living in south-east London, in which they protest at what they feel is going to be a very grievous hurt to their little children by their being placed in the care of these unqualified people. It is written in the singular though it has a number of signatures, and this one quotation from it will suffice: Having had a large family to bring up, I fully appreciate the difficulties in training one child at a time, and realise that only a qualified and trained person could deal with forty. Unhappily, it is not forty just now, but is running up to 60 and 80, and it means that these little children simply are not going to have any proper foundation laid for their educational years. That is not the whole of the story, because, so far as education is concerned, the restriction and loss is irretrievable, for these children will not be able to pick it up in future life, and it means that the nation as a whole is going to lose tremendously in the next generation by their growing up without the chances of education that it was hoped they would have. Education is not a luxury, it is essential; and it is doubly essential at a time like this, when we are struggling to hold our own among the nations of the world.

The point to which I desire particularly to call attention is what I think is, perhaps, the meanest of all things of which the Board has been guilty, namely, the cutting down in connection with special schools. These schools were designed for the treatment and training of children who enter into life handicapped by some physical or mental deficiency. I raised with the right hon. Gentleman the other day the question of the increase in the number of blind children in school classes. Blind children are being educated and trained in certain occupations, and, surely, it is not necessary for anyone to demonstrate in this House that 15 blind children are as many as any one teacher can be expected to cope with and train. Every child needs individual care and individual attention. To increase the number of these terribly handicapped children in a class from 15 to 18 is, I venture to say, one of the meanest things that has ever been perpetrated by any Board of Education, and one will be interested to know what sort of defence can be out forward for it. This kind of thing occurs in other schools as well. The Geddes Report stated that. a saving could be effected in the special schools and the medical and social services, and then this Circular 1297 was issued, which calls for cutting clown in such schools to a very large extent. Over the whole country there are no fewer than 26,000 of these children in our schools, 15,000 being mentally defective and 11,000 physically defective. About 11,000 of them are in London, and the whole financial saving will amount to £30,000, which is, at the most, 5 per cent. of the total expenditure. Is it worth while, for the sake of this paltry sum, to send these thousands of children into future life thus handicapped. to be a burden on the community and to lose all possible powers of moral, mental, and spiritual development, for that is what it really amounts to? It is worth noting that, of all the children who go out from these schools, 80 per cent. go out self-supporting and able to earn their living. If they are lumped into classes like this, merely to be kept quiet and out of the way during a certain number of years, without having proper, and specialised teaching, we are going to turn these thousands of children out in the near future to be a charge on future generations, a misery to themselves, and a tremendous loss in actual wealth to the community. I suggest that there can be no justification or warrant for any such thing as that. The President of the Board of Education the other day, in answering a question put by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. P. Morrison), attempted to defend this by saying that: The aim of the Board, as stated in the first paragraph of that Circular,"— that is to say, Circular 1297— is to facilitate the production of such economies as, while not impairing the efficiency of the schools, will enable a larger number of children to be eventually provided for. That is always the sort of defence that is set up whenever any attack is going to he made on the provision of educational or similar facilities for the public. It is simply a euphemistic way of saying that larger numbers of children are going to be crowded into these classes for fewer teachers to deal with, and they must of necessity suffer very considerably because of that deprivation. The children who are specially dealt with in these schools are blind, partially blind or myopic, deaf and partially deaf. mentally defective, physically defective and tubercular, and we are going to save a paltry £30,000 at their expense. Let me examine the matter a little more closely. In the Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer I find the following statement: There is no question of more truly serious importance for the future of special school work than the training of teachers. In London and the larger cities the main difficulty is solved by appointing none but certificated teachers…in any event the special school opens up new problems, educational and psychological, which a new teacher has at once to face. In spite of that, it is now proposed to bring in partially trained teachers, teachers who have no proper qualification for dealing with this class of children, and it does not need an expert to point out how necessary it must be to have specially trained teachers to deal with children who are affected with blindness, who are deaf and dumb, or are suffering from any other deficiency. Then 15,000 mentally defectives. Mainly these children are not mentally defective in the sense that they are insane or bordering on insanity. Many are cases of slow development, and I could quote numerous instances of children who have been to these schools and by the specialised attention they have been able to receive they go out into the world as skilled artisans, and in some cases they have actually won scholarships and have done well in after life. But if they cannot get this special attention during these years of their lives when they are most severely handicapped they are going out into the world probably when they will be mentally defective in the real sense all their lives, and I do not imagine that there is anyone in the country who wants to save a paltry sum of money at such a cost, imposing as it will such a tremendous loss on the community as a whole.

Another point I should like to touch upon is concerned chiefly with the question of training colleges. In the old Board of Education days they were not allowed to have training colleges. The London County Council, to mention the authority of which I have most knowledge, have no fewer than five such colleges and we received until a short time ago no less than 75 per cent. towards the cost of sites and buildings and other expenses connected therewith. Under the recent administration of the Board of Education, following on the Act of 1918, whereby grants are only given in connection with those students in the county itself, a tremendous additional burden is being placed upon the local authorities, with the result that they will be bound to reduce the facilities in the training colleges, which will shorten very largely the supply of teachers or will bring them from non-municipal colleges, which are more favourably treated in this respect. I only refer to it now in passing. An opportunity will be given to deal with it more fully when the Education Vote comes on. There is another point in connection with the Superannuation Act. The Board of Education issued a circular on 22nd September last and they invited local education authorities to make observations on the statements contained in it. Amongst, the local education authorities which replied was the London County Council, and they put forward certain cases pointing out that the retrospeetive action proposed by the Board of Education was going to adversely affect many schoolmasters and teachers who had not been teaching all their lives, and they asked that consideration should be given to their case. No reply has yet been received from the Board of Education. Surely we have a right to ask that important local authorities should he dealt with more expeditiously. These points I have put forward as the result of the administration of the Board of Education not so much bemuse of the local authorities themselves, but because the Board of Education had brought pressure to bear upon them, and has done everything it can to order them to reduce facilities for education. We are treating in a barbaric manner little children who are already entering into life with a serious handicap. These things should not be the work of the Board of Education. Rather they should be doing all they can to stimulate the local authorities to the utmost expenditure on education in order that we should be equipped later on to recover our position among the nations, which we are in danger of losing.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

On a point of Order. Am I to understand that the Debate on education is now closed?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

Not necessarily. The Minister is entitled to reply.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

The point I wished to bring to your notice was that never during the whole course of the Debate has one speaker been called on to deal with the Scottish side of education, which differs in essential respects from the English side.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

Another Minister replies for Scotland. I have had no notice that anyone wished to speak on Scottish education.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

I and other Scottish Members have waited at some considerable inconvenience, because we understood that the Debate to-day was on the general question of education affecting the whole of Great Britain.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

Had the Hon. Member seen me, I could have disabused him of that idea. I have had no notice from any Scottish Member.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Is it not in order for any hon. Member on a Debate on the Adjournment of the House to raise any question of administration, without necessarily telling you, Sir, beforehand the subject to be raised?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

I do not dispute that at all. I have to arrange the subjects desired by hon. Members as best I can.

Photo of Mr Dugald Cowan Mr Dugald Cowan , Combined Scottish Universities

I gave in my name to-day as one desiring to speak because the questions raised to-day affect Scotland as much as England. All the economies practised in England, whether wise or foolish, have a repercussion in Scotland. We lose an equivalent amount for every penny that is taken off expenditure in England, and the reason for Scottish Members wishing to speak on an occasion like this is that if we do not express an opinion now, we might as well stay away from the Debate on Scottish Estimates so far as education is concerned, because there they have to do, not with any additional grants to be secured, but only with rationing out pro rata.

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

Is it not a fact that the Opposition have chosen the Education Vote for the first Supply day after the Recess. Will there not be a whole day for hon. Members to debate these questions, and cannot they keep the subject alive, so as to have a second day if they require it?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

That is a matter to which I have some regard, and there will be another opportunity shortly for raising educational questions. It is my duty to distribute the time fairly among the different subjects which different Members desire to raise. There are several other subjects to be dealt with to-day.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

The Estimates which will come on are again English Estimates, and I have already been informed that the Scottish Estimates will receive at the most only two days, so that we are being cut out of the general discussion on education, and we are being cut out of the Estimates also. I think it is grossly unfair.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The arrangement of the Estimates does not lie in my hands.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

To-day, I understand, is in your hands.

Photo of Hon. Edward Wood Hon. Edward Wood , Ripon

I can assure hon. Members I have no wish to stand in their way, but I thought it might be for the convenience of the House that, as we have had a large number of points raised, and our attention has been directed over a very wide field, hon. Members were entitled, after nearly two and a half hours' Debate, to have some reply from this bench on the many matters to which my attention has been drawn. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, and who was courteous enough to give me notice of the main subjects on which he was going to address us, reminded us that this was the first occasion in the present Session on which this matter had been before the House. That is true, and I certainly make no complaint, indeed it has rather inspired a feeling of gratitude to him and his friends for having brought it before us. The Debate we have had, although it has necessarily been somewhat discursive in character, does not inaptly illustrate the difficulties that beset the path of anyone who is fortunate or unfortunate enough to be Minister of Education. We had, to begin with, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), who rose to great flights of eloquence towards the end of his speech, and urged us to believe that any measure of retardation of educational development was a loss that it was never possible to make good and the same view has been expressed by one or two other speakers. Then, on the other hand, we had my learned Friend the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik), who was rather inclined to take the other view, and there is a considerable measure of support, not perhaps so much in the House as outside it, for the view that the large sums of money which are at present spent on education are, if not largely wasted, largely misapplied, not only because the holders of those views may disapprove of education, because gentlemen with these views now are rare, but because the main objective and the manner of reaching it are largely misconceived. Therefore, the task of a Minister of Education is to endeavour to steer his path as far as he can between those two sets of conflicting views.

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I tried to deal fairly directly with the various points which have been put to me. There is one which has attracted attention from almost every speaker who has attacked the Board in this Debate, and that is the question of the feeding of school children. The right hon. Gentleman approached the subject first and the hon. Member who spoke last addressed himself to it in terms which were very forcible and not, I think, entirely well informed. I think he can scarcely have been in the House when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley allowed me to interrupt him to inform him that the fact that the Board had been able to increase the ration which had been originally allotted to local authorities in connection with this service was not to be taken either as a proof of the Board's weakness or the Board's partiality, but that it was in pursuance of a policy which had been quite deliberately adopted. On the main question of the policy of imposing a ration on this service, I think the right hon. Gentleman was unconsciously something less than just. He appeared to think it was a very mistaken and unreasonable point of view to be prepared to contemplate poor underfed children remaining unfed and thereby being unable to profit by their school instruction. That is not the point of view from which the Board approached this question or from which I judge it. I, not less than he, should be concerned if. I was informed that school children, as a result of the Board of Education's attitude, were unfed. I do not think it is right that an undue burden because of this should be thrown on to the education rate, where it was never intended by Parliament that it should be put, as against being borne where it ought to be borne, namely, by the general rate under the discretion of the guardians. I am concerned in this matter to endeavour to save all the money I can for the service of education, and to see that every service that ought properly to be borne elsewhere is borne elsewhere, rather than being thrown on the education rate.

The hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Ede) in the congratulations on whose speech I wish to be permitted to join, has made an interesting contribution to the Debate. Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to say that, however mixed may have been the feelings with which we heard of his arrival in this House, those feelings have been substantially modified by his speech. He spoke with a great measure of first-hand knowledge, and he interested those who heard him by his ingenious association of the spirit of horse racing with theology. He also drew our attention to the state of the bricks end mortar in the case of a great many schools. I have no doubt that in many cases they are very bad. The reasons are obvious. A great many necessary repairs were in arrear before the War, and during the War they went further and further into arrear, and since the War there has been the further difficulty of finance, affecting managers of voluntary schools and the local authorities. I think I can reassure my hon. Friend in some measure on that point. In spite of the difficulties of finance, in the last 18 months or two years the Board have been engaged in the task of encouraging those concerned to catch up with the arrears of repairs, wherever they have felt it possible and right to do so, and I can assure him and other hon. Members that as far as oar powers go we, shall continue to pursue that same course. Upon the other point that he raised, I am afraid that I have no direct information, but I will undertake that it shall be examined and explored. The hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. J. Murray) raised a point which has been raised by other hon. Members at different times, namely, the fact that women teachers, by the issue of a Circular, are not allowed to rank their service during the War for the purpose of increment or pension. My hon. Friend appeared to be under the impres sion that there was some particular injustice inflicted upon women as compared with men in regard to this matter. That is not so. When the whole question was considered, I think in 1919, by the Board, in conjunction with the Treasury, it obviously raised rather wide and far-reaching questions and, as the result of long deliberations, a decision was ultimately arrived at that the only war service that would count for this purpose was actual war service with the colours. That kind of service was only open for men. As a result of that decision, the service that men gave in munition works or in other forms of national service carries the same disability, if disability it be, as that to which my hon. Friend referred in the case of women.

I turn to the principal points to which the right hon. Member for Spen Valley addressed himself in opening the Debate. I will say one word of general introduction. Necessarily, minor economies are inevitably bound to he annoying. They are, as sometimes happens in private life, often regarded as being ridiculous. We all laugh at one another's private economies, which really achieve nothing, such as a man writing his letters on the half-sheets he tears off his dinner invitations, and things of that sort; but, however critical we are in regard to the economies of somebody else, if we search our conscience closely enough, we shall find that we have one economy of our own. The paint that I wish to make in general is that, however true that may be, the fact is that if particular economies stood alone they would elicit criticism on the ground that they are not worth making, but in the aggregate they amount to a very substantial sum. In so far as the economy is possible without loss of efficiency, it does release so much more money for the purpose of carrying on our system of education.

I do not at all quarrel with my right hon. Friend's definition of economy and efficiency towards the end of his speech. It is totally misleading to assume that expenditure is identical with efficiency. It is not less misleading to assume that Economy is identical with inefficiency. There is a line that lies between both. As I conceive the duty of the Board of Education in these days it is to endeavour to pursue economy, having regard to the general exigencies of the public service, in such a way that the system of public education is not impaired, and that. when times become easier the original position can at once be resumed. It is inevitable that in these days we must be prepared to see a certain marking of time, a certain retardation of expansion, to use my right hon. Friend's phrase. However much we deplore it, it is not primarily damaging the efficiency of the system if we preserve for ourselves and the country the power and capacity to jump off again as soon as the opportunity comes.

A good deal of attention has been focussed on the question which arises as to the size of classes and the number of teachers. Speaking generally, I do not think that there is the least cause to be apprehensive with regard to that. In the last few months the Board of Education have been conducting an inquiry by means of their inspectors, and with the willing co-operation of the local education authorities, into the question of staffing all through the country. They have found that there were some authorities whose staffing was based on a rather extravagant scale, not necessarily by way of design to be more efficient than somebody else, but rather as the result of somewhat loose administration. They found other places where the staffing was below what seemed to be the requisite standard. The Board has applied a common remedy. Where the standard has been too low we have encouraged them to raise it, and where it has been too high we have encouraged them to reduce it. The result has been that, in the main, it has been the less well-qualified teachers where reductions have been made that have been displaced.

The result of the measures taken up to now is not without interest. I cannot give the House the exact figures now, but they will get them in a few days. Before the Education Estimates are taken, I intend to lay a rather comprehensive White Paper, giving many details and financial figures. In that White Paper hon. Members will see a very instructive and interesting table, which gives the average number of children per teacher over a term of years, and they will be astonished to find that in spite of the various economies that have been made, we have not gone back to where we were just before the War, or in 1917. I hesitate to give the exact date. The reason of that is that, in spite of one of the most beneficient laws. to which my right hon. Friend referred, namely, the extension of the school age to the end of the term when a child is 14, there has been a marked reduction of child population owing to the fall in the birth-rate as a result of the War. I ask hon. Members to examine these figures with some care, because they will largely reassure them on that point.

I now come to a matter of great concern to a good many hon. Members, and that is the staffing of special schools. I want to tell the House quite frankly what my difficulty has been in regard to this matter. I fully recognise the force of everything that has been said from the opposite side on this question. Nobody with a heart could fail to share the sympathy that has been expressed with the children for whom these special schools are devised. Nobody could wish to see the service so reduced in value, with these inevitable reductions, that it fails in its object. The difficulty is that we do not know what are the numbers of these children who demand this special treatment all over the country. I do know that we are not making provision by any means for them all. The reason is because, as it has been conducted hitherto, the provision made has been so expensive that it has riot been extended up to the limit of the needs.

3.0 P.M.

The Board of Education are not the only people concerned in this matter. The local authorities are also concerned. During the short time I have been at the Board of Education I have had considerable evidence of the reluctance of local authorities, in these days of high rates, to increase this necessary provision at the existing high per capita rate. I have an example here from Ipswich. I need not trouble the House with it beyond saying that the statement sets out in the clearest possible terms that the local authority would like to add another school to develop the work, but as things are the cost per head is so great that they cannot afford to do so. The choice therefore which confronts anybody who has to deal with this question is, "Are you going to try to give the best possible education to a limited number of the children who suffer from these disabilities, or are you going to give an education that, as I am advised, in the main essentials will not be prejudiced, to a much larger number of children and hope indeed to be able to cover the whole ground? "Anybody who takes the trouble to go into the figures will see the large number of mentally defective children or children with other disabilities who want special accommodation, who are filling places in our public elementary schools and doing no good to themselves, and probably doing considerable harm to the ordinary school education.

This leads me to a matter which concerns what is really a very large and fundamental question, the question, if I may use the phrase which has been adopted in debate, of friction between the Board and the local authorities. There again, I do not for a moment deny that the wheels of the administrative chariot of education obviously run much less smoothly when money is very tight than when money is fairly easy, and everybody is willing to see somebody else spend it. The result of that position has been to cause a considerable number of injunctions to be issued to the people who actually do the spending by the Board of Education, which is responsible to the other people who do a part of finding the money—the general body of taxpayers. But it is not quite as bad as the right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think. when he challenged me if I could say how many circulars have been issued during the last three months. I have made inquiries from those whose business it is to know such things, and I was rather apprehensive that it would work out to something like one per day. But the result is much more favourable. During the last three months only seven circulars have been issued, which I think is a very modest number considering the range over which educational administration moves.

But the main point to which I wish to direct. attention—I will not expand on it now, as I may have something to say about it afterwards—is that matters of this kind really raise a fundamental question as to the system under which you give your grants to local authorities on the 50 per cent. expenditure basis. I am not going to discuss that now, beyond saying that experience goes to support the view that though in fairly prosperous financial times that expenditure basis is far more convenient and agreeable to all parties, and provides a satisfactory stimulus to educational development, yet when times change and finance becomes the great difficulty, it automatically brings in its train a much greater measure of control than is administratively desirable. That is obviously a grave objection. As the House knows, the whole question is now under the consideration of Lord Merton's Committee. I therefore do not enlarge upon it, as I may have something to say about it at a later date.

Now I wish to say something about the question of free places in secondary schools. I do not want to say a great deal about it beyond this. It is certainly true that during the last Government my predecessor felt himself compelled to make the actual provision of free places for the school year ended 31st July, 1922, for the time, the static allowance of free places. But in some quarters there seems to he a misunderstanding about this. The Board never reduced what was then the existing proportion of free places if the existing proportion was above 25 per cent.. Where it was above 25 per cent., the schools have been allowed to keep the benefit of that excess. All we have done is to prevent whatever was the position on the 31st July being enlarged, and that has been dictated inevitably by the financial necessities of the time.

Photo of Mr Albert Alexander Mr Albert Alexander , Sheffield, Hillsborough

In spite of the increased demand.

Photo of Hon. Edward Wood Hon. Edward Wood , Ripon

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that one of the ironies of the present difficult situation is that it should have been necessary to restrict the facilities for secondary education at a moment when, as he truly says, the demand for secondary education is very much intensified. But the point which I was about to bring out was this, that if there is a limitation of money at all it is necessary for the Board of Education to see that there is fair play and that the money is divided fairly between all local authorities. For instance, if one local authority in this country were to pursue a policy of completely free secondary education, and if another local authority were not so disposed—I have actual cases in my mind—the result of the policy of the local authority that pursued a free secondary education would be to attract to itself, under our present system of grants, a much larger amount of grant than that available for the authority that was not pursuing such a policy. That may not matter where the money coming from the Exchequer is unlimited, but it does matter very much where the money is limited, because it obviously becomes a case of one authority trying to take too much out of a pint pot, and the pint pot only holding a certain amount. That is therefore where the Board comes in. When you have said all that, however, the fact remains—I want to leave this in the mind of the House—that since the War, as compared with before the War and now, the number of places in secondary schools on the grant list is almost exactly double, and that, in that mathematical change, the free placers have had their almost mathematically accurate share.

The only other thing about which I want to say something, is the question of training colleges.

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

In the White Paper, which the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say he was going to publish, will it be possible to set out the figures to which he has just referred, and to show how the free places have, as a matter of fact, moved up proportionately?

Photo of Hon. Edward Wood Hon. Edward Wood , Ripon

I am not sure whether they are in the White Paper, but I think I shall certainly be able to have them added, if the right hon. Gentleman so desires. With regard to training colleges, I do not want, at this moment, to say more than that I am, of course, alive to the representations that have been made from different quarters, and to the difficulties that the local authorities who run training colleges feel, I cannot admit what, I think, has been suggested more than once, that there has been a breach of faith in this matter with the local authorities on the part of the Government. I will not give my reasons, unless that statement is challenged, but I quite agree with the local authorities that if they could spread the burden over other local authorities who do not run training colleges it would be very desirable. I also agree with them that the present system, on which they are charging very high fees to outsiders, is educationally open to considerable objection. As I have said before, I am using every effort that I can to find some means to ease the situation, and to afford a solution of what undoubtedly is a grave difficulty.

I have dealt with most of the points that have been made, except that, which has been pressed, about the iniquity of suggesting that young children under five or six should be taught by unqualified—using the word in a technical sense—teachers. I have been at a little pains to inform myself about this question. The result of my research is that the complaint, on the ground upon which it has been based this afternoon, namely, that the youngest children require the best teachers, is really not one that effectively stands examination and criticism. I do not think it is one that the teachers themselves have the right to advance, because, when they are in charge of their own school, and are given considerable liberty and discretion as to the allocation of the teachers to the particular classes in the school, and so on, they do not, in fact, allot their best teachers to the infants' department. I see an hon. Member opposite shakes his head, but I would not dream of making a statement like that unless I were quite sure of my ground. What I base myself on is this. We, in the Board of Education, recently took the trouble to obtain particulars of all the departments in the West Biding of Yorkshire and in Lancashire in which infants were taught.. In the West Riding, our examination was concerned with 653 departments out of 775 in the Riding. In those 653 departments, the lowest class was taken by a teacher of the lowest qualification serving in the department. In Lancashire, the figures are that, out of 644 departments, only in 78 are the lowest classes taught by trained certificated teachers. Therefore, the argument that the youngest children require the most highly-trained teacher is one that does not, on examination, appear to be supported, even by the teachers themselves who advance the argument most loudly.

Photo of Mr Albert Alexander Mr Albert Alexander , Sheffield, Hillsborough

Are your figures for the rural areas of the West Riding and Lancashire? Are they for the county areas, or do they include the boroughs and urban districts?

Photo of Hon. Edward Wood Hon. Edward Wood , Ripon

I should imagine that they are for the whole of the West Riding, but I have not had an opportunity of checking them, as they have only been supplied to me since the point was raised this afternoon. The fact of the matter is, that one of the results of finance, in conjunction with the overdue though considerable rise of teachers' salaries, has been to produce a position of some difficulty. I think, among the reforms which my right hon. Friend, who was at the Board before me, was successful in effecting, there was hardly one more valuable than that which secured the reconsideration of the salaries of school teachers. That was, on many grounds, important, and had, indeed, the result, on that occasion—as I think the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to recognise —of coinciding with the period, immediately afterwards, of financial difficulty. The existence of comparatively high scales has led over-pressed ratepayers to look in one of two directions to try to save money. One direction has been to reduce the quality of teachers, and the other has bees to reduce the quantity of teachers. My right hon. Friend, I have no doubt, when confronted with that situation—which was, in the main, of having regard to the facts I have laid. before the House —thought it desirable to meet it by giving a Little bit at the bottom, in order to retain and preserve the best services of the best teachers at the top. In that conclusion, I think, in spite of what has been urged to-day, he was, broadly, right.

Photo of Mr Charles Ammon Mr Charles Ammon , Camberwell North

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer my question about superannuation? It was the last point I made. It was about the Order of the Board of Education in regard to retrospective action upon superannuation.

Photo of Hon. Edward Wood Hon. Edward Wood , Ripon

At the moment I have no information which.enables me to say why that communication has not been dealt. with, but I am sure that there must be same adequate reason. I am not prepared to answer a technical question offhand without further consideration of the facts of the case. As we have been reminded, we shall have further opportunity of discusing these matters when the Estimates of the Board of Education are presented after the Recess. Meanwhile, I hope that hon. Members will think that I have endeavoured, not at undue length, to deal with the questions which have been raised.