School Building Programme

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th January 1948.

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Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek 12:00 am, 29th January 1948

I take this opportunity to raise the issue of school buildings in relation to the country's educational programme, because, at this moment, and at this juncture of the history of our country, I believe that this issue is of paramount importance. Unless this country produces a stream of highly trained and skilled boys and girls, and afterwards, by further education, men and women who are trained in technical and art colleges—and ultimately in the universities—this country will be in danger of losing its place in the social, cultural and economic leadership of the civilised nations. We must have a skilful nation. We must have an educated nation.

Under the new Education Act, which the Ministry of Education and both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for Education, working as a team, are doing their best to implement, we are now meeting with great difficulties, because of the White Paper Cmd. 7268 on Capital Investment in 1948. We cannot allow the future of the young children of this country to be shipwrecked once again on the rocks of economic crisis, or fear of war, or whatever it is that is being talked about. We saw the 1918 Education Act destroyed in the inter-war period by apathy and casualness on the part of the Government and people of this country. We can no longer afford to he casual about education in this country. We must jump into the lead in technical and scientific manpower if we wish to maintain our markets, our skill and our international prestige in this international system of trade.

Always after wars there is the battle of the "three Rs" against the "three Ms," against the issue of manpower, materials and money. I wish the Minister to assure me that the Ministry of Education will not give up the struggle against the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or anybody else, for a higher amount than the allocation of 1 per cent. of manpower, materials and buildings which is indicated in the White Paper. We want a far higher percentage than 1 per cent. of manpower and building materials de- voted entirely to this question of school buildings. The Government have made magnificent efforts to maintain their programme. No doubt I shall be given figures to show that in 1948 there will be a spurt compared with 1947. However, I am not so much concerned with a spurt in one period of 12 months. I want to see a steady stream of school buildings and accommodation of all types being erected now to relieve the burden on the mass of the primary school teachers and others.

They are a class of people often forgotten during the war. Much praise has been showered upon many types of people for their work during the war, but we have forgotten the struggle carried on by these people amid the shortages of the elementary materials of education. With the raising of the school-leaving age and the increase in the birthrate, these problems will become more intense. Sir Frederick Mander, a past President of the National Union of Teachers, once said, when speaking at a conference on school building: There is nothing wrong with standardisation. What we need is good standardisation. I fail to see how we can cope with the problem in front of us unless we are prepared for a large measure of standardisation. I, for one, am not prepared to immolate a whole generation of children on the altar of architectural aestheticism. The point I am trying to make is that if we cannot get perfect buildings from the aesthetic point of view, or from the point of view of space, light and air room and the saving of the energies of the teachers, it is essential that some types of building be allocated for the purpose of implementing the school building programme. Circular 145 of 6th June, 1947, distributed by the Ministry of Education, says: The rise in the birthrate will present the education service with problems affecting the supply of teachers, accommodation and furniture. The extent of these problems will vary appreciably from area to area. Below that statement, we have a chart which shows that there will be an increase in the school population from 4,869,000 in 1946, to 5,732,000 in 1952. In the age group from five to six years, there will be an increase of roughly 21.2 per cent. in the number of children who will he demanding primary education. It is no use having a high-falutin' scheme for magnificent universities and technical colleges, or building up a great scheme of nuclear physicists, unless we have the base of the pyramid in the primary schools on a firm foundation of great accomplishment in the shape of buildings in which the children can start their work.

On 2nd June, 1947, Circular 1943 on the subject of the educational building programme was issued. This asked local education authorities to review the position. I want the Minister to tell me what exactly is the position at the moment, especially in view of the White Paper, "Capital Investment in 1948." The present Chancellor of the Exchequer told us on 5th December that the estimated expenditure on the educational programme in England and Wales would be £20,250,000, and £32 million in 1948. In Scotland during the same period the figure would jump from £2,600,000 to £4,600,000.

The permanent building programme for 1947–48 is estimated at £50 million. Can anything be done to increase the allocation to the Ministry of Education? Can the Ministry do something about this £50 million that is allocated to permanent buildings, so that we can get up types of buildings speedily to serve the present demand? The White Paper, on page 14, says that the educational programme for 1947–48 has been designed to meet the following requirements: Places needed for raising the school leaving age to 15; schools to meet new housing developments; the maintenance of existing primary and secondary schools; including provision to meet the rising birth rate; school meals; further education; teacher training, and special schools for handicapped children. I would refer to the issue of school meals, which is well down the list. I would like to see school meals higher in the priority list. In March, 1947, the Ministry provided 40 dining huts. At that period, according to an answer given in tins House, they said that they were planning to provide accommodation for 115,000 children. How far have they gone in that direction? Are they going to allow this White Paper to limit that planned point?

There are two other points which I would like to raise. In this White Paper, I am astonished to see that all building of community centres, youth clubs, and adult education centres, is to be postponed, as well as major schemes for nursery schools and school meals. If we are asking at the present time the women of England to go into industry, then we should on no account prevent the expansion of these nursery schools. In the city of Stoke-on-Trent, we have hundreds of children now waiting to go into nursery classes. Something should be done about that, and the utmost pressure should be brought on the Cabinet to see that this part of the programme is implemented.

There are two local points about which I have written to the Minister. In my own area, we have some Church schools which were in a dilapidated condition, and I must admit that the Ministry and the local education authority in Staffordshire acted immediately and promised to do their best to see that these schools should be ready as soon as possible. I would ask the Minister what the officials of his Ministry are doing in a case like this. A Church school was given permission by the Charity Commissioners to sell their house, which had not been occupied within living memory, and which belonged to the school. The Ministry said that they could only spend the interest on the capital from that house, which must be invested. They want to spend £600 or £700 immediately, because there will be no new school there until 1960. I want the red tape cut at once and that school put into a condition in which the children can be comfortable in winter and have decent sanitary conditions.

I would also like to refer to difficulties in various areas where we have mining subsidence. I hear today that a complete school is to be left and the children moved to another district because of the mining danger of subsidence in a village called Packmoor. The Ministry must act quickly to help our harassed local officials in this matter. If we do not get these buildings, and if we have the 8,000 emergency teachers training in the emergency training colleges in 1948, I ask the Minister are we once again going to have redundancy in the teaching profession, because the buildings are not put there owing to our having sacrificed once again this issue of education on the rocks of a so-called economic crisis?