Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th July 1949.

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Photo of Mr Herbert Hughes Mr Herbert Hughes , Wolverhampton West 12:00 am, 5th July 1949

I fully appreciate the point the hon. and gallant Member made about priorities. I am seeking to secure from the Opposition some statement on how far education is involved in the policy they are placarding round the country, of a rapid decrease in Government expenditure, because in my view a rapid decrease in Government expenditure on education at the present time would be disastrous. I should like to hear from the Opposition whether their general campaign against Government expenditure includes a campaign against educational expenditure, which is, of course, running at a very high level, but a high level which is necessary if we are to carry out even a part of the projects of the 1944 Act. Even with the budget figure given by my right hon. Friend in opening the Debate, it is obvious that priorities must be very carefully selected. If there are to be any cuts in the education budget when another crisis comes along, we may as well pack up the idea of carrying out any real educational reform in this country.

I should like to put one or two considerations to the Minister on some of the central issues he raised. First, teachers. As I understand it, at present the Ministry's budget for teachers is calculated on the basis of trying to get classes of 30 in secondary schools and 40 in primary schools by about 1951. Well, 40 is still a large class, and I should like to know whether the Minister sees any chance of getting the primary school classes on a parity with secondary school classes. I was sorry that the emergency training scheme was wound up as soon as it was on the male side. I have seen something of the emergency training colleges, and I have been very much impressed by the quality of work they were producing.

One specific question to which I should like an answer is this: now that the emergency training scheme has been wound up, what is to be done to carry out the recommendation of the McNair Report, that there must always be open an avenue of entry into the teaching profession for people of more mature age than the normal entrant and with experience outside the education world? I am sure the emergency training scheme has proved that adult entrants with a little wider experience than the normal entrant have a good deal to contribute to the profession, and I should like to be sure that that channel is being kept open for them in future.

On buildings, my right hon. Friend had an impressive story to tell. While I am very glad to see that capital expenditure on education will be up to £50 million by the end of this year, about £40 million of that is needed to preserve existing conditions and to cope with the new housing estates and the rising birthrate, which leaves very little over for any kind of educational reforms—for pulling down the old schools, and all the other things that are necessary. In 1946, an official committee said that if we are to carry out the 1944 Act we need an expenditure of something like £70 million a year for 15 years. That was in terms of 1946 costs. I am afraid that even the figure my right hon. Friend gave today indicated that it would take a great deal longer than 15 years to carry out the main projects of the 1944 Act.

The Minister did say recently that in 1949 to 1953 he needed capital expenditure of "a quite different order of magnitude"—those were his words—from the capital expenditure of the last year or so. We do not know what the Chancellor will say tomorrow, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will go on pressing for a much higher priority in capital expenditure for education in the years that lie ahead. At the end of the war we had to concentrate on the housing problem, but as we overcome the first difficulties of housing the Ministry of Education must come along and agitate for a higher proportion of capital expenditure than they have had even in the last few years.

The main subject I wish to speak about is the Minister's statement on the implemendation of the Working Party's Report on University Awards. I welcome the fact that the Minister announced that he is able to implement the recommendations in Chapter IV on the new scale of assessments and the new all-the-year-round maintenance awards. I should like him to assure me that Chapter IV is going to be implemented in full. There were no reservations in what he said. There are a lot of specific proposals in Chapter IV, and if there are any reservations I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to indicate what they are when he replies to the Debate. I hope I am right in assuming that the Minister said that the full recommendations are to be carried out.

I also welcome the fact that State scholarships are to be increased by another 100 next year. I recognise that the Further Education and Training Scheme will still be taking a large number of places in the universities, but the implementation of the working party's report implies a great deal more over the next few years than a slight increase in the number of State scholarships. The Ministry is only one of the partners in preserving the present proportion of aided students in the universities, and the target is to get State scholarships up to 2,000. The universities and the local education authorities have also a great responsibility in implementing the working party's report, and I should like to know what is being done to ensure that the working party's recommendation is carried out, and that the number of students aided by the universities should rise from 1,200 to 2,000, and by the local education authorities from 4,500 to 7,000 in the period in which the Further Education and Training Scheme is running down. That will take a good deal of organisation and administration. Recently a P.E.P. Committee asked in its report on university scholarships what was going to happen if the local education authorities did not get up to their 7,000. The P.E.P. report points out: If the L.E.A.'s are unwilling or financially unable to cover the university expenses of all these students, what happens to them? Three courses are possible:—

  1. (a) For the universities to leave these places unfilled. This would be contrary to the present Government's policy, and to the universities' own plans.
  2. (b) For the universities to admit free-paying students at lower standards. This would also be contrary to public interest, since it would permit wealth to buy a place for the unworthy over the heads of better but poorer students.
  3. (c) To establish some system of State bursaries for those who could secure admission to a university but failed to secure a scholarship or a county bursary."
This partnership of the Ministry, the local education authorities and the universities in the scholarship system depends more on history than on logic. It is a cumbersome scheme, which can be made to work, but we do not want it to fall behind through any of the partners not fulfilling the targets and not reaching the expansion set forth in the Working Party's report. After all, this expansion is needed not on a large scale in the next academic year but certainly in the academic year which begins in 1950. There are, in fact, a large number of school-leavers who will be coming out of school this year and going into military service. They will be coming back in 1951 ready for the university. What is going to happen to them? They are not seeking places in the university this year. The Minister indicates that they are. If they are seeking places in the universities this year, then it is imperative that the new scholarship provision should be increased to meet their needs, because, although they do not want to enter the universities this year, they need their scholarships and their awards and assistance from the local education authorities before they go into the Forces, so that they will be available to them when they come out in 18 months time.

Those are the main points I wanted to make on that subject. I promised that I would be brief, but I wish to turn to a rather special problem, which I do not want to get out of its proper proportion, but which is of considerable importance. I have the honour to be one of the governors of the Educational Foundation for Visual Aids, as is the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall). The Educational Foundation for Visual Aids was set up just over a year ago with the principal object of securing the production, preparation, distribution and maintenance of visual aids in schools. This country has fallen behind in this matter compared with many other countries, and it is now the policy of the Ministry of Education, to use the words of the Parliamentary Secretary, that visual aids must be considered an important part of the equipment which every school must have. It is the task of the Foundation, in consultation with the National Committee which represents the teachers and the local education authorities, to try to stimulate the production of visual aids of all kinds and get them to the teachers, whose tools they are. As a result of a good deal of publicity on this subject, and of the setting up of these bodies a year ago, there is a good deal of expectation in the minds of local education authorities and teachers that this comparatively new form of educational aid will be coming forward in a reasonable time in much greater quantities than in the past. Local education authorities are in the process of setting up libraries of visual aids. There are now 36 in existence, whereas formerly there were only six, and they are looking to the Educational Foundation to supply them with films and to help them with equipment.

I must here make the point that the Educational Foundation was set up with the backing of the Ministry. It has inspired great hopes amongst teachers and local education authorities, but it is now suffering to some considerable extent from the rather strict attitude of the Treasury towards providing the financial assistance which is required for film production. As the Government know, that is an expensive business. Whereas the Government have put £5 million into the Film Finance Corporation, and have offered the British Film Institute, which has no responsibility for film production, the sum of about £100,000 a year, and the Central Office of Information has been given something like £750,000 a year for film production, the Educational Foundation so far has been unable to raise more than a sum of £30,000 for the production of educational films.

An educational film costs something between £600 and £1,000 a reel to produce at the present time, and if this Foundation is to fulfil the hopes to which its creation gave rise, it is absolutely necessary that over the next four years, at any rate, some further form of public finance should be forthcoming for film production, on terms which do not require repayment on a commercial basis. Unless that can be done, I am afraid there is very little hope of a steady supply of films coming forward to the schools and the teachers needing them. The Foundation so far has found a sum of £30,000. Of the 170 films which the teachers' organisations have asked to be made, less than half are in production at the present time, and the Treasury have cancelled sums which would have been available through the Central Office of Information and on the Ministry Vote if the Foundation had not existed. The result is that the Foundation's work at the present time is seriously hampered.

I bring this matter on to the Floor of the House not to criticise my right hon. Friend, but to indicate the urgency of the problem. People may tell us that these are difficult times and that there is a financial crisis. I would point out that educational films, properly produced under educational control are potential dollar earners. Some hon. Members have seen the film called "Instruments of the Orchestra" made under the auspices of the Ministry, with a special composition by Benjamin Britten. That film was distributed widely in the United States. There are some films coming forward at the present time which have an international appeal and could secure a wide market abroad as well as at home. Therefore, I trust that a wider view will be taken when the problem of finance for the Foundation comes forward in the future.

I have no time left in which to go into the broader aspects of education. We have a great way to go and a great deal of leeway to make up. The task of education is to develop three aspects latent in every child: the individual, the citizen, the producer. Without an efficient educational system we cannot have an effective democracy. Big as are the costs and great as are the competing claims, in particular for capital development, buildings and manpower, it is absolutely vital to the future of this country that we press on with the great reforms that were contemplated in the Act of 1944, and which the Ministry have been doing so much to carry out in the last four years.