Orders of the Day — Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st July 1947.

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Photo of Mr Dryden Brook Mr Dryden Brook , Halifax 12:00 am, 31st July 1947

I want to confine myself to a rather limited field in this Debate. The Minister touched briefly on what must be looked upon as the coping stone of our educational system—boys and girls who have passed through primary and secondary schools, and are capable of going forward to university education—and I want to refer to the provision which is made, and which should be made, for that group of children. As a background to what I have to say I can refer to what both the Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) have said about the importance, in the present economic crisis, of having at our disposal, in research departments of industry, and in industry generally, the greatest amount of scientific knowledge we can possibly bring to bear. But I would be the last person to think that all our university education should be devoted to the acquisition of scientific knowledge. I would agree that in the present enormous amount of concentration on technical and scientific education generally, we are tending to lose sight of the importance of the arts in relation to the whole problem of education. I want to try to link together the relationship between university education and the complete life of our people. If we are asked: Is there a wider field of choice for entry into our universities than has hitherto been looked upon as being the case, we have only to refer to the report of the Barlow Committee, which says: There is only one in five of the ablest boys and girls actually reaching the universities. There is, clearly, an ample reserve of intelligence in the country to allow double the university numbers and, at the same time, raise the standard. If other argument is necessary as to the means of the provision in this sphere, I think we can look at the 1944 Act.

If we are to complete the broad highway of educational opportunities which that Act envisages, the logical conclusion is that university education must be free to all who are capable of profiting from it. If we look at the position as it exists today and the latest statement of the Minister, we see provision for 750 State scholarships which provide for full maintenance on a means-test basis. Accompanying that, we have provision for 100 technical scholarships and 20 matured scholarships. We have approximately, 1,200 university awards, supplemented in many cases by the State. We have 1,500 to 2,000 major scholarships provided by local education authorities, and we have approximately 2,000 teacher training grants made by the Minister. On top of that, there is the temporary wartime provision under the Further Education and Training scheme under which, I believe, there are this year some 14,000 grants, which also make provision for full maintenance and for wives and children; and there are 1,000 State bursaries. Under the decision of the Minister the last two categories will finish this year, and it is incumbent upon this Committee and upon the Ministry to formulate a permanent policy to take the place of what is disappearing this year.

The first thing one notices about the provisions I have mentioned is a lack of co-ordination, differing standards, and different provisions by the local education authorities, by the fact that the local education authorities do not all take full consideration of the ministerial exhortation. I happen to be still a member of a local education authority in a town with some 90,000 inhabitants. We have at present under the scheme submitted by the Ministry, 47 students actually at the universities. I tried to do a simple sum, and I found that if that provision were made throughout the country on the same basis by the local education authorities they would be providing between two and three times the number of scholarships which they are providing at the present time.

That means that we are making provision for some 5,000 or 6,000 students, independent of the scheme for Further Education and Training and the State bursaries. Of an approximate entry into the universities of roughly 20,000, and that entry should be doubled in ten years time provided we take notice of the recommendation of the Barlow Committee. Of that 5,000 or 6,000, some 2,000 are in respect of teacher training grants. It is obvious that there must be a large increase, and that there must be co-ordination and elimination of the anomalies that exist.

To name one of these anomalies, under the means test for a major scholarship, either through the Minister or through the local education authority, the parents' responsibility does not begin until the income is £600 a year; whereas under the teachers' training scheme the responsibility begins at £300 a year. Therefore, we have the anomaly, from the beginning, that whereas a parent with an income of £600 a year and a major scholarship will pay nothing, the parents with an income of £600 a year will be called upon to pay £35 a year under the teachers' training scheme. Anomalies exist in respect of the cost of maintenance. The day student, man or woman, at the London University is assessed for maintenance at £100 a year. The day student at a London or any other training college is assessed for maintenance at £60 a year or a woman at £48 a year. There we have brought in sex distinction. For the first time, we have the amazing anomaly that the cost of maintenance of a day student at a training college is less than half the cost of maintenance at the London or provincial universities.