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 George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth 12:00 am, 17th April 1951

I have not the figures for the whole county, but they are not exceptional, as far as I can ascertain at present. In such areas as the Forest Division and Clacton, the present position is said to be a temporary phenomenon. I would not say that there are no children out of school at five years of age, and I would not say that some have not been left out until nearly five and a half years of age before they were admitted, but I would also say that there are no more today than there have been at any time in the history of our educational development. This problem is no worse, and I realise the necessity of seeing that it gets no worse, if we can avoid it. It is necessary to see that these schools that are programmed, and that can take the children where they are coming in greater numbers, shall be pressed forward. One of my objects is to see that the programming is pressed forward, in spite of difficulties.

Naturally, the hon. Member passed on to the cost. We have heard a good deal this afternoon about the costs of education, particularly, from the ratepayers' point of view, the increasing costs. I am not prepared to say that the costs are not increasing. There never has been a time in the whole of the 40 years in which I have been interested in educational organisation when people did not question whether we were getting value for the money in the education we receive. Costs have always been rising. We started from nothing and therefore they had to rise. People who were living in those early days will know that the rate they paid for education was very small and, as hon. Members know, they got very little for it. I hope that as the expenditure has grown, the return for the expenditure has been greater.

We cannot meet the increased requirements of the children without increasing the programme. As the hon. Member went on to point out, and as the Amendment which is before the House points out, if we are to meet the requirements of the children who are coming along in increasing numbers, we must of necessity have increasing expenditure to meet the greater need. Everybody realises that when there is only one in the family it does not cost as much to keep the family as when it rises to six or seven. That is one problem that we have not been able to solve, with all our teaching and learning. The children who are coming into the schools are calling for more money.

Another question is whether, in the circumstances, we should give priority to primary education. I will give figures later which will demonstrate that, without waiting for this House to pass a resolution urging us to give priority, priority has been given to primary education. The needs of the primary children have had the first consideration because of the fact that they needed attention first. Therefore, it has been given to them. By way of illustration, I would say that last Friday I had the privilege of visiting the city of Bristol and that I opened nine schools at once, a record for any Minister of Education. I shall be very pleased when anybody breaks that record and opens more than nine schools. Of these eight were primary schools and one was a secondary school. That demonstrates the principle of priority.

The mover of the Amendment asked about economies. He referred to the new community centres and suggested that we might go easy in setting up youth centres and appointing youth leaders. It may be that we shall be compelled, as we have been compelled in other directions, to cut down on this kind of service, which some people regard as part of the frills but which I regard as very important. I have expressed the hope on more than one occasion that where new secondary schools are being built in areas which are new and where there are no community facilities, the large halls which are being provided in those secondary schools should become, to all intents and purposes, community centres for the area.

On the question of further education, it is desirable that we should retain all that we can. It may be that we shall have to limit our activities to some extent in what are regarded as the frills, but I hope that we shall not limit them where that can be avoided. The hon. Member gave us a facetious illustration of two lectures on the arrangement of flowers being given in one little village in one week. That may be overdoing it, but I hope that no one will detract from the necessity of some teaching in the arrangement of flowers. I am not an expert in that but I happen to be the individual in our house—there are only two of us—who does it. It may be one of the frills, but it is one which I believe to be worth retaining, and J hope that talk on those lines will not be spread abroad just for the sake of saving money. Furthermore, there had not been a lecture on that subject before, so they would not have got more than they were entitled to, in having two in one week.

The hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. A. Maude), asked how we could develop an educational system on the cheap, and answered it by saying, "We cannot." That is my answer, too. I hope I was wrong, but I seemed to detect in his speech a suggestion that he was desirous, given so much money, of choosing how he would spend the money as between individual children if called upon to economise, and whether it was worth spending it on one set of children because they were not capable of developing to the full extent when others were. I may have been wrong in reading that into his speech. The proposition I laid down earlier that all children belong to somebody and are all part of the State means that, to the best of our ability, we have to bring them all along.

He laid down what I consider to be an essential, and said that I have no business to be a member of a Government which prided itself on planning unless I believed in planning for the future. I certainly agree with him. In these circumstances and in these days I do not think that anybody is fit to be, or ought to be, retained in any position where provision of this kind is made unless he looks to the future and sees the problems which are coming forward. I believe I can demonstrate in a few moments that we have done just this.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley), spoke about smaller classes. That has been in all our minds. Nobody has to convince me, at any rate, of the necessity for smaller classes if and when they can be obtained. I have had that idea for a long time. I think it is a waste of money sometimes to train teachers and then pay them just to prevent children from breaking the furniture, although I understand that it is believed today that if they do not break the furniture when they are youngsters, they will break something else when they are older. However, I do not want to be drawn into a discussion on psychology.

I believe in the necessity for smaller classes, but two things have to be remembered, one being that the only way in which to get smaller classes is to improve and increase the accommodation and the other being to increase the number of teachers. Those two things are inevitable, and up to now it has not been possible to make the improvement that we desire, although some improvements have been made. In a few moments I will say something about the provision of both school buildings and teachers.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall) would like to see some change in the Exchequer method of computing Education Estimates with a view to cutting out the provision of milk and meals and such things which are regarded by some people as being outside the educational curriculum. Although I realise that these are social services which could be associated with other Ministries, I am one of those who believe that the provision of both milk and meals has what might be described as an "educational content" and that there is something in the services which is of more value because of the fact that they are given in schools than there would be if they were dissociated from the education authorities. So long as the money is found, as it is at present, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I do not think it matters.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam also spoke of the complacency of the Minister and said that I did not stand up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and had not got all that I wanted. I do not remember anybody getting everything he wanted from any Chancellor in any Government since the days of Gladstone. The figures speak for themselves, and when cries for economy have been coming from all directions, I am satisfied with the proportion that I have managed to obtain.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell), spoke about housing and the relationship between it and education. Nobody can dissociate housing from education because of the problem which housing brings in regard to the provision of new school buildings and the condition of housing in relation to the conduct of the children and what I would call their "teachability," and the improvement that takes place as a consequence of good conditions in the home.

The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) and the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam spoke of the position in Surrey. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said that he knew of children of six and a half and seven being out of school. The hon. Member for Guildford brought the age down to five and a half, and I thank him for that. I am sorry that another hon. Member for Surrey did not speak for he might have brought the age down to the real figure. My answer with regard to Surrey is the same as the answer I gave for Essex, that there may be pockets here and there. If the problem postulated by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam came into being, it would be a different proposition. If there were no private schools, it would be the business of the Surrey Education Committee to provide for those children. The fact that there are private schools, means that they have not had to provide for them, but it is no excuse for the authority which has children out of school to say that there are private schools to which they are hoping someone will send them.