Education

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th May 1950.

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Photo of Commander Sir John Maitland Commander Sir John Maitland , Horncastle 12:00 am, 4th May 1950

Hope that the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks in detail. I want to raise a somewhat different point, because today we are talking about the Estimates. We are discussing the provision of money. I want to raise the question of the finance of education in the future. I believe, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), that today education is facing a grave crisis. It is largely a financial crisis. In his Budget speech, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer deliberately drew attention to that when he said: …many of our social services are expanding automatically so that the cost increases every year, as for instance with National Insurance and education."—[OFFIcIAL REPORT. 18th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 61.] Anyone who thinks about that for a moment must realise that it is a necessary fact. If we are to follow the road that we have chosen, and if we are to try to put the Butler Act into efficient service, then it is inevitable that in the next few years the cost of education will increase.

That is a fact which we must face. We should tell it to the people who will have to bear the burden. It is unfair for us in this Committee to attempt in any way to conceal from the people the fact that the cost of education is likely to rise. That is particularly true because it is the local authorities which bear at least half the burden, and, through them, the ratepayers have to pay. Of a local authority's budget, probably from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. is taken up by the cost of education.

I wish to draw attention to this because unless the people fully understand the point, they will not realise to the full the necessity to make vital and necessary economies so that we can get the best and achieve our aim. I should like to develop that point, but time is against me and I must leave it; but the general financial aspect is that there will be an inevitable rise in cost because of the rise in the birth rate, the necessary provision of more schools and the building of improved schools. This will have to take effect however slowly we implement the Butler Act. It must be made plain to all that, if we are to stand to our guns and to develop our education as we should, so that our children have a proper opportunity, the cost of education will rise.

I should like to discuss one point which must put up the cost of the educational budget, in addition to the points I have mentioned. A subject which has been much discussed is that of teachers' salaries. I have not sufficient time in which to develop the reasons why I think it is essential that the basic scale should be raised. The position is pathetic. We all have instances from our own constituencies of men and women teachers who have to go out to other work in order to be able to live and to have the privilege of teaching. We often hear of students in America working their passage in order to gain education, working in their spare time to be able to pay their fees. Surely, it is a complete anomaly that teachers should have to work in their spare time to ensure that they have the privilege of teaching our children.

There is one type of teacher for whom I plead in particular and that is the graduate teacher, particularly the graduate teacher who is teaching the sixth form. It is of great national interest that the sixth form should have the best available instruction. I do not believe that that is the position at the moment. In the last 10 years we have considerably increased the numbers in the sixth form. I have recently seen figures for 500 girls' schools where the numbers in the sixth form had increased by 47 per cent. On the other hand, the number of teachers with first-class honours decreased by 5 per cent., and there was an increase of only 38 per cent. in second-class honours teachers. It is quite obvious that the standard of these very highly qualified graduates in charge of sixth forms is going down, and it is undoubtedly going down because of the standard of salaries which they receive.

One headmistress of a well-known school said to me the other day, " I used to make short lists of assistant teachers, but now assistant teachers make short lists of headmistresses." That is what is happening, and, while it may be a good thing for the teachers, it is not a good thing for the children concerned, and particularly those of the sixth form. We can all give instances of the difficulties of headmasters and headmistresses of grammar schools in their endeavours to obtain masters and mistresses in science, mathematics and the like. They can be produced in countless numbers, and I will not weary the Committee with that point I should like, in the last ten minutes remaining to me, to suggest a positive way in which we might help the present situation. We have got to face the fact that, in present conditions—we may call it full employment or what we like—the standard of teachers in this country is not as high as we would like it to be, and particularly in regard to some of the higher forms. That must be inevitable under present conditions. Numbers are one thing, but quality is of far greater importance.

I believe there is a way in which we can help. There are various mechanical aids which I do not think myself we have understood sufficiently clearly in this country. I refer particularly to visual aids. I have had a good deal of personal experience of these visual aids and I know from what I have seen in schools for which I have been responsible how greatly improved results can be achieved by their employment. Of course, visual aids can never replace good teaching and teachers themselves have to be instructed how to use them properly and in their technicalities. When this is done, it is really astonishing what an improvement there can be. I have tried to find out, and I think my figures are correct, what we have spent in this direction, and I discovered last year we spent only £30,000 on buying films for educational purposes for the whole of England and Wales. During a similar period, New Zealand, with a population of somewhere about two million, spent £50,000. Those figures help to make one realise that there is an opportunity here to help the teacher in his difficult task.

I want to quote from a very interesting book by Lancelot Hogben called " From Cave Painting to Comic Strip." I cannot go all the way with the author, but what he says is certainly challenging and deserves attention. He wrote: In this matter, as in the full use of the film as an instrument of enlightenment, we should not shirk the obligation to emancipate ourselves from a mental muddle perhaps less prevalent in America than in Britain, where it is still fashionable to proclaim the need for better teachers and for smaller classes. Education in a democracy signifies education on a scale so vast as to exclude the possibility of maintaining a high level of originality or talent in the teaching profession without withdrawing gifted personnel from necessary productive activity; and the call for small classes is merely an echo from an age when a few rich parents could employ private tutors. The brutal truth is that men or women with an outstanding gift for exposition are few, and of such few, very few would willingly embrace the boredom of continual association with children. The author then goes on to say that all the expository talent which a modern democracy can afford should be engaged in exploiting the new instruments of visual education at our command, and adds: In short, hopeful educational innovations are such as make good teachers and small classes less necessary. Those are very challenging words. No one in this Committee would agree with all of that, but they are challenging, and they should certainly be investigated together with the whole of our programme for developing the visual side of our education at this time in order to help our teachers in their difficulties.

I had meant to make a proper speech, but I have been cut down to a few hurried and very badly expressed remarks. I started on rather a pessimistic note because I thought it my duty to impress on the Committee the inevitability —I am not afraid of that word—of a rise in the cost of education if we intend to keep it at even its present standard, and, of course, we all want to see it improve. I believe that unless the people of this country realise that fact, and unless they are given the opportunity by the Minister and by the local education authority to see what they get for their money, they will not face it in the future. If they know the position, they will be enabled to make the necessary economy. Be that as it may, I still believe that any nation which sells the future, as represented by investment in education, for the desirable things of the present does not deserve a future at all.