Orders of the Day — Educational Expenditure (Priorities)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th April 1951.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Ealing South 12:00 am, 17th April 1951

That is precisely the sort of assurance we are seeking from the Minister. We all know from experience that some authorities complain that they are having difficulties about this matter. We want to know if it is a local problem or if it is spread all over the country.

I think it would be disastrous if any change had to be made in the age for entry or leaving. I would not for a moment consider lowering the leaving age unless it were essential. But it seems that it is now respectable to discuss this problem, since the Chancellor stated in his Budget speech that he had discussed it with the Minister of Education. Now no one will not be shouted down, if he raises it, as being someone who wants to slash the social services. May I therefore suggest that there may come a point of inevitability at which one has to accept the fact. We may come to the point at which we can only find places in primary and secondary schools by lowering standards, so that the whole of education becomes a mockery. We have not got to that point yet, and we desire to be reassured that that point is not within sight.

Last July, when my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) mentioned the difficulties in cities and large towns, the Minister complained bitterly that we were very pessimistic and said that he was tired of people raising bogies about what would happen next year, the year after and in 1953, and that he had his hands full with the problems of today. We sympathise with that view to some extent, but we must realise that that is precisely the kind of thing in respect of which the Minister, if he does not look ahead, is not planning and has no right to be a Minister in a Government who are always priding themselves on the virtues of their planning. We think that the primary schools are the first priority.

We should also like the Minister to tell us his idea of the priority which should be accorded to the grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary modern schools. I and some of my hon. Friends are rather worried about the secondary technical schools in particular. We still think that they are tending to be squashed up into the corners of technical colleges and are not getting the recognition they deserve or attracting the support from parents and children that they might receive. I am not at all sure that at a time when grammar schools are finding it increasingly difficult to get science and mathematics teachers—and I am not at all sure that the new Burnham scales will solve these problems—the secondary technical schools may not have to play a most vital part in advanced technological and technical education.

That brings me to my last point. There is a great risk that parents may, with the best will in the world, make the problem of the Minister, the local education authority and the teacher very difficult, and far more difficult than it needs to be. In my view there is now perhaps more than ever before a continual pressure from parents to make education up to the age of 15 a vocational training. The dangers of this appear to me to be enormous. We were told, for example, that the abolition of the school certificate was largely designed to do away with the continual pressure from the universities and elsewhere to make specialised courses in secondary schools into pre-vocational training. My information is that since the general certificate of education was introduced this pressure has once more become apparent. The universities and the professions are beginning to lay down standards of requirements, which will mean that this problem will be once more before us.

In many cases parents are the worst offenders. They set their minds on a certain job for their children, and they ask continually that the precise requirements of the professional institution or the university, or whatever it may be, should be met in the secondary schools. We are again seeing the start of this pressure on the schools which will, it seems to me, end in doctors taking the first M.B. at the age of eight. In the primary schools that tendency has been pushed further and further back in our lifetimes. Until everyone concerned in education says repeatedly, loudly and clearly that education up to the age of 15 is only in part a vocational training, that it is a pre-vocational training, that it is designed to implant in children interest in learning, interest in culture and a desire to continue learning, we shall never really be able to make our educational system what it ought to be. That is the first priority that I would urge upon the House.