Orders of the Day — Teachers, Birmingham (Shortage)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th July 1956.

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Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham All Saints 12:00 am, 6th July 1956

I wish to raise this afternoon a matter of very great importance to the City of Birmingham—the inadequacy of the supply of teachers in that city. I think it an understatement to say that an educational crisis is about to fall upon Birmingham.

In saying that, I want to emphasise that in my opinion the local education authority has followed a very cautious, indeed an ultra-cautious, path over the last few years. It has been most anxious not at any time to say anything which would frighten teachers away from the city, or to say or do anything which would create any alarm. Not until now, with this impending crisis a few months away, which we expect to be fully with us next September, when the educational term commences, not until this eleventh hour has the Brimingham education committee ventured to bring all the publicity and all the arguments fully out so that the public and Parliament might well understand them. I am among those who feel that the committee has been too cautious in this matter, and that it ought to have made its perturbations felt very much earlier.

I am also of opinion that, having stated all the relevant facts, the education committee of Birmingham has used all the ingenuity that it possesses to try to meet this serious crisis. I believe also that a word of very sincere thanks ought to be said for those old faithfuls who, notwithstanding the flood of teachers away from Birmingham, have stood firm and carried on teaching, with burdens far in excess of those which their colleagues in other parts of the country have to bear.

The Minister of Education, who is receiving a deputation of my Birmingham colleagues next week, must not think that he can put the blame on the local education committee. I shall give details of the steps which have been taken by the committee and the suggestions which the right hon. Gentleman has made. He must not think, when the crisis occurs in September, that the blame can be put on the education committee and that he can escape.

Under the 1944 Act the Minister, just as much as the local education authority, has an inescapable duty to provide education for the Birmingham children, and when, in September, the children of Birmingham are in some cases getting half-time education and in other cases are sitting in classes of over 50—in which case the teachers will be minding them and not teaching them—the responsibility, if he fails to take any action at all, will lie fairly and squarely upon the Minister's shoulders.

I want to give a few figures to illustrate the present staffing position and the school population in the city for this year and for last year, and estimated figures for next year. In January, 1955, we had in our primary schools 123,345 pupils, and we had 3,271 teachers. The figures for this year are 120,318 pupils and 3,268 teachers. The estimated figures for 1957 are 118,877 pupils and 3,170 teachers. For secondary schools the figures for those three years are: 1955, 58,061 pupils and 2,469 teachers; 1956, 63,353 pupils and 2,586 teachers, and for next year it is estimated that there will be 67,623 pupils and 2,524 teachers.

The national teacher-pupil ratio in England and Wales in 1951 was one teacher to 33 pupils in the primary schools and was one to 21 in the secondary schools. The Birmingham ratio last year was one teacher to 37·7 pupils in the primary schools, and one to 23·5 in our secondary schools. This year the figure is one teacher to 36·8 primary pupils and one to 24·5 in the secondary schools. Next year the number of pupils per teacher will be 37·5 and 26·7 for primary and secondary schools respectively. It will be seen that the ratio is well above the national average. Those figures give some indication of the pressure that exists now and which, I must emphasise again and again, is expected to grow worse in the next few months.

The position in the secondary modern schools is that in 1955 there were 43,608 pupils and next year it is estimated that there will be 49,368. There were 1,754 teachers in 1955, and the estimated figure for next year is 1,600. The difference between the position this year and next year in the secondary modern schools—and this is where the main crisis occurs—is that next year we shall have an increase of 3,144 pupils and a decrease of 154 teachers. That is the extent of the crisis in Birmingham's secondary modern schools.

In January this year we had a teaching staff of 5,854 but if we had been staffed on the proper national quota we should have had 6,663. It will, therefore, be seen that the present staffing, even if nothing worse happens, represents a deficiency of 809 teachers. Next year this deficiency is expected to be 1,128—unless an educational miracle happens in the city and the Minister can produce some rabbits out of the bag, of which there is no indication at present that he can.