Education

Part of Orders of the Day — Civil Estimates and Supplementary Estimates, 1954–55 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th July 1954.

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Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead 12:00 am, 26th July 1954

I will leave my right hon. Friend who, I believe, is winding-up the debate, to speak for herself on that point. I think I am justified in pointing out to the hon. Lady that the minor works programme approved by this Government is substantially higher than that approved in any year by the Government which she supported.

All these very remarkable figures—the increase in the number of teachers, the vast increase in the number of school places provided, the expenditure met out of public funds, larger than ever before—all this is being attained despite the financial crisis of 1951, which we fortunately survived, and despite the pressure of an unprecedented defence programme on men, materials and money.

I hope that we shall not have later in the debate any suggestion that the solution for all educational stringencies is a drastic reduction in the defence programme. The schools cannot be insulated from what is going on elsewhere. The most shattering blow which our educational system ever sustained was the war of 1939 and the evacuation of the schools which was then thought necessary. It certainly brought forth the magnificent powers of adaptation and improvisation which both teachers and local education authorities, but particularly the teachers, possessed, and it provided some memorable incidents in the history of education; but any Government action which might in the least degree increase the risk of war by neglect of its defence programme would be a grave blow to the future of British education.

Education is a living part of the nation. I am troubled when I hear people at educational conferences and elsewhere arguing that we ought to go on doing all that we want and providing everything that is needed in the educational sphere, whatever cuts that might necessitate in other directions, and whatever the total demands on our national resources. I think that there is great truth in the saying: We shall not be able to make much progress with these tasks as long as our livelihood as a nation is insecure. I quote that from "Challenge to Britain." It seems to me exactly to express the situation which my right hon. Friend and her colleagues had to meet in 1951. At that time our livelihood was insecure. It is now far more secure, and we are seeing the fruits of progress.

I come to the second part of the hon. Lady's speech about the future organisation of secondary education. My own belief is that up to 1939 we tended to concentrate too large a proportion of our efforts on the secondary grammar schools, and that one of the great problems which needed to be tackled after the 1944 Act was how to give full educational opportunity to those boys and girls who were not of grammar school type.

For that purpose all kinds of experiments were clearly desirable. When the hon. Lady expressed her regret that comprehensive schools had been brought into the realm of party politics, I was reminded that it was her party that did it, by laying down that the meeting of the need for new secondary schools by comprehensive schools, and comprehensive schools alone, was their party policy. Inevitably that made it a party issue, because we on this side think that, before the comprehensive school has been tried out, it is educationally wrong to say that by no other possible way whatever can the problem of providing good secondary education for the non-bookish children be solved.

I have seen some new secondary modern schools built by various authorities which believe in them, and I am certain that they will give a first-rate education. I have seen places where the education authority have taken over old senior elementary schools, adapted them intelligently and created what are in effect new secondary schools, of which both teachers and children are proud. I want to see those experiments continuing along with the experiments on comprehensive schools which my right hon. Friend has sanctioned.

The hon. Lady astonished the House by saying that my right hon. Friend had sabotaged Kidbrooke, and that Kidbrooke would not now be a typical example of a comprehensive school. Kidbrooke as planned by the London County Council could not have started off as a typical example of a comprehensive school. The idea of the council was to give Kidbrooke a flying start by bringing into it the whole of the grammar school tradition, with the transfer of a whole existing grammar school of girls. That is not a normal comprehensive school. It will not be possible all over the country to create comprehensive schools by destroying a grammar school at the same time. These new schools must stand on their own feet. They must not stand on the legs of grammar schools.