Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th April 1955.

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Photo of Commander Sir John Maitland Commander Sir John Maitland , Horncastle 12:00 am, 26th April 1955

Except for his last few hectic minutes, it was remarkable how the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead). Yet it was perhaps not so remarkable. Surely that is what nearly always happens in our debates on education. It is rightly so, because the Education Act, upon the basis of which we have been working for many years, was the tremendous conjoint effort of the two political parties towards the end of the war. It is right that we should criticise the Minister if we so wish, but it is quite wrong that we should treat education in a party spirit, even though that may be understandable just before a General Election. I may do so myself before I finish, but it is probably not a very wise thing to do.

I should like to congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon) upon her promotion to be crown princess of education in her party. I will not go further than that now. Although one day she may sit on the Government Front Bench and speak from the Dispatch Box when her party is next in power, I sincerely hope and believe that that day may be quite a considerable way off yet.

At least three-quarters of the hon. Lady's speech was devoted to the comprehensive school. I remember speaking, either before or after her, on this subject in the 1945 Parliament and saying that I agreed with the principle of the comprehensive school. I believe that the comprehensive school is one of the tools to our hand in putting through our educational policy; but it is absolutely wrong to tie ourselves to a rigid doctrinaire attitude about it, as, I must frankly say, the hon. Lady's party appears to do.

I believe that there are many places in our educational system where the comprehensive school could be used, but to say that it can be used throughout, as it were comprehensively, is quite wrong. To abolish all the various existing schools, which would have to be done, to face the enormous expense of turning over to that system, and to slap the face and stop the advance of the existing secondary school is surely a completely unrealistic approach. That is why I do not agree with the hon. Lady's attitude in placing the comprehensive school first, foremost and almost all the time.

The hon. Lady said one thing in criticism of the present Government which interested me. She asked about the cuts and why we had made them when we came to power. We made them for exactly the same reason as the previous Government made the cuts before they went out of office—because we were involved in their financial crisis at the time. As she knows very well, there were a series of cuts in education during the time her party were in power. So all these things, which we all agree are desirable and necessary and which we want as soon as possible, are surely in the long run utterly dependent on finance; and the reason we are going ahead now is that this country is in a far better financial position than it has been for a long time. That is why I think it is a very good thing to have businessmen, like my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, in the Cabinet.

I should like, in passing, to refer to one small point which I think is important. It has to do with one of the many rather platitudinous things about which we are all agreed, which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), who talked about a good general education and a vocational education going together. I am sure he is right. I have no use for education snobs who say that it is not necessary or that there should not be any vocational element in our education. It is essential that there should be.

But this is the point to which I wish to draw the Minister's attention. Quite recently from two very good sources I have heard things which have made me anxious relating to the over-high standards which are being demanded by the universities for entrance to the science course. It means, in fact, that if children are to have any hope of taking these courses and getting into the universities they have got to specialise far too soon. That is a problem which is in the Minister of Education's sphere, and I should like to draw his attention to it. It is happening at the moment in the scientific field. I do not think there is any doubt about it.

Now I want to turn for a few moments to a very special point, which might be regarded as a small one, but which none the less is something I believe to be im- portant, and that is the way we are treating the children of the officers and men in the Services who have to go abroad or who get moved from station to station. The situation is that the parents of children who have to serve abroad are faced with a difficult problem. They may have an aunt or a sister with whom they can leave the children while they are being educated. But all of us who have families know that that may not be the right thing to do. It might be much better if the child went to a boarding school. Because it obviously happens in certain parts of this country, like the eastern counties, where there are many aerodromes, we find that this problem falls far harder on the local education authorities there than on those in some of the inland counties. They have to bear all the burden of sending these children to a boarding school, and they are not able to do so.

My hon. Friends and 1, and indeed hon. Members on the other side too, have on several occasions represented this state of affairs to the Government. I want to give my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary fair warning that when the Government are returned to office we shall redouble our efforts to get this injustice righted and will accept no refusal. It is time now to tell my hon. Friend that we are determined to have this matter of the education of the children of Service men attended to, and we intend to ensure that they receive proper justice.

In conclusion, I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for what he has done for the countryside. He has given a shot in the arm to rural education. He has restored many of the things that were taken away. For example, to take a very small one first, there is the question of the building of halls in Country villages. These things mean a great deal to the countryside, and he has enabled them to go ahead and repair their schools. What my right hon. Friend said was absolutely correct. From my own experience I know that the local education committees of county councils are out to a clinch in work, and happy indeed is the Minister of Education who can say that about all the local education authorities. As far as the countryside is concerned, we have now the best Minister of Education we have had for some time, and we are determined to have him back again soon.