Orders of the Day — Educational Expenditure (Priorities)

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

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Photo of Mr Ralph Morley Mr Ralph Morley , Southampton, Itchen 12:00 am, 17th April 1951

Nearly the whole of that time. There was a fairly long period during the 50 years when the Liberal Party were in power. An excellent Education Bill was introduced by the Liberal Party in 1907, but it was defeated in the other place mainly by Conservative Peers. I do not want to go further into historical reminiscences. I would rather deal with the situation as it exists at present. We should not forget that overcrowding and large classes do not exist only in our primary schools: they also exist to a considerable extent in our secondary schools.

In dealing with this problem, we have to deal with what the military people call the logistics of the situation. I agree that a reduction in the size of classes is probably the most important reform that could be made in our educational system. Forty years ago one of the most brilliant journalists of his generation, Mr. A. R. Orage, the editor of the "New Age," said: There are three reforms necessary in our educational system—the first is smaller classes, the second is smaller classes and the third is smaller classes. What was said in 1910 is still true today; but to get smaller classes two things are necessary. We must have more teachers and more buildings. Unless we have a large additional number of teachers and more buildings we will continue to have very large classes and a considerable degree of overcrowding.

In this country there are 106,000 classes with over 30 children on the roll. It is generally agreed that the desirable maximum size of a class, whatever the type of school may be, whether primary or secondary, is 30. We have 106,000 classes with more than 30 children on the roll. Of these 106,000 classes, 37,000 have more than 40 children on the roll, and 1,700 classes have more than 50 children on the roll. A simple calculation shows that to reduce the size of classes in our schools to a maximum of 30 we should need about 25,000 additional teachers.

But, as has been pointed out already by the hon. Member for Chelmsford, in two or three years we shall have a million more children in our schools, because of the increase in the birth-rate shortly after the end of the war. We should need at least another 15,000 teachers to provide teachers for this additional million scholars if we were to keep the classes at a maximum of 30. That means that to reduce the size of the classes to a reasonable maximum we want another 40,000 teachers in the next few years. It is not impossible to get another 40,000 teachers. Today, there are 35,000 more teachers in our schools than there were at the beginning of 1947. In spite of wastages through death, retirement and marriage we have 30,000 more teachers today than we had in 1938.

A large number of these additional teachers have been made available as a result of the emergency training scheme. The author of the emergency training scheme was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who introduced it when he was Minister of Education in the Coalition Government, during the war. All credit must be given to the right hon. Gentleman for the initiation of that scheme, but the actual administration and carrying out of that scheme, the difficult task of finding the premises and sufficiently numerous well qualified staffs, fell to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education. I do not think that he has ever received sufficient credit for the fine job he did between 1946 and 1948 in getting the emergency training colleges working and producing the teachers. That scheme has produced about 35,000 additional teachers, most of whom are now in the schools, and a large number of whom are proving to be good teachers who, with the necessary experience, no doubt will make excellent teachers.

But that scheme has come to an end. After the new few months we shall have no further recruits to the teaching profession from the emergency training colleges. At the same time as the emergency training colleges were being organised, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education and the Parliamentary Secretary were expanding the provision of places for intending teachers in the two-year training colleges and in the university departments. The result is that today we have nearly double the number of places in the training colleges and university departments compared with before the war.

I should also like to point out to the hon. Member for Chelmsford and the hon. Member for Ealing, South, that the majority of these additional 35,000 teachers are teaching in the primary schools. The primary schools have had priority on additional teachers. If we could produce 35,000 additional teachers in four years, as we did in the last four years, it should be possible, if we are willing to spend enough money and to devote sufficient of the nation's economic resources to the purpose, to produce an additional 40,000 in the next five years. Then we should have enough teachers to enable us to bring down the size of classes in primary and secondary schools to the desirable maximum of 30.

But that would mean a considerable additional expenditure by the nation. I am bound to observe that during the recent Budget debates the general emphasis of Opposition speakers was upon the necessity for a reduction in Government expenditure. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot complain about large classes in the primary and secondary schools, and deny to the Government the necessary expenditure which would enable them to reduce the size of those classes by providing more teachers.