Education (Report of the Central Advisory Council)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st March 1960.

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Photo of Mr James Boyden Mr James Boyden , Bishop Auckland 12:00 am, 21st March 1960

The Crowther Report is remarkable in that it is unremarkable. It contains no new educational principles, like the Hadow or Fisher Reports, but it states the obvious with cogency, with supporting facts, and with so much clarity that it has wrung a statement of principle from a Tory Minister. What is this principle? It is that after nine years of Tory Government the Minister of Education proposes to start carrying out the 1944 Education Act in another ten years. This is sailing-boat progress in a jet age.

The problem of all-age schools is a very good example of Tory dither. The programme to abolish all-age schools started, stopped and restarted. The Hadow Report, which is the basis for the abolition of all-age schools, is thirty years old, and in two-thirds of the time since that Report was published in 1926 we have had Tory Governments with largish majorities.

The Youth Service is another example of Tory nigardliness. I asked a Question a few days ago about grants to the main voluntary bodies in the Youth Service. The grants were actually lower throughout the period 1952–59 than they were in 1951–52.

The Minister of Education cannot ride off on the difficulties of over-sized classes and the shortage of teachers. He has had plenty of warning of the difficulties lying ahead. I can well understand the present Minister's morbid fear of statistics. His Ministry's statistical approach to the problem of finding teachers has been out in several years. In 1957, the Ministry expected to find 6,000 to 7,000 teachers a year. In that year, the right hon. Gentleman got 4,400. In 1958, he expected a further 6,000 or 7,000 extra and he got 5,200. I am very glad to hear that he is overhauling his statistical department so that perhaps in the future he will get his statistics right.

But if the right hon. Gentleman did not particularly believe the statistics of his own Ministry he had plenty of warning in a more obvious way. Sir Geoffrey Crowther, in February, 1958, warned him of the need for extra teachers. We should bear in mind that reports are apt to be very gentlemanly and not to set out the facts so crudely as politicians set them out, but the Crowther Report said, of the finding of teachers, that … the present situation is not in our opinion due to any falling off in the numbers of potential teachers, but to failures of anticipation in the sphere of public policy, which may have been natural in the puzzling circumstances of the last few years, but which in any case are remediable by firm and prompt government action. I hoped that the Minister would have said today, "I accept a ratio of one in seventeen for classes; I will fix a date in 1965 or 1966, and will go for the 70,000 extra teachers required ". It would have been a bold statement. I really did not expect it. I hoped for it. If the right hon. Gentleman had done that he would have been exposed to criticism if he failed to reach the target, but how much better it would have been if he had tried and failed than that he should never have tried at all.

I want to be constructive and to suggest to the Minister some methods by which, even at this late hour, he can increase the supply of teachers. He should appoint a director of teacher recruitment. He can find a better name for the office, but he should appoint a high-powered officer to set out and get the teachers. He should look first for teachers among mature students.

In this connection, I wish to commend to the right hon. Gentleman the remarkable exercise undertaken by the College of Preceptors. The college circularised most of our schools and received replies from about 40 per cent., which was a very good return. It then analysed the reactions of the teachers to the main ideas in the Crowther Report under their different headings. I believe I am right in thinking that the Report of the College of Preceptors is now in the Ministry of Education. I ask the Minister to look at one which I particularly noted. This is the sentence in the Crowther Report to which I direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman: Special attention might be paid to seeing that training arrangements are sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of older men and women who are attracted to teaching as a career. That paragraph was readily accepted by the teaching profession. The columns of the questionnaire had headings as follows: "Accept", "Reject", "Accept with Reservation". The highest percentage of rejections was 4 per cent. and the lowest was 2 per cent.

I urge the Minister to give unorthodox and vigorous attention to this matter. I also urge the right hon. Gentleman to establish day training colleges in every large urban centre, not just Leeds and Manchester. Could he hurry Brent-wood? I believe that the Essex County Council is anxious to get going, but I think that it will take another two years. I understand that at one time the Ministry of Education believed that not a sufficient number of mature people would come forward, but I am told that for every 100 places at either Leeds or Manchester there were 1,000 applications and that the 100 accepted were of first-class quality.

I have had twenty years' experience of adult students in extra-mural classes; that is to say, students who left school at the age of 14 or 15 and who made up by experience and private study for their lack of secondary and university education. I am convinced from experience that many more of these admirable people could be found and recruited into the teacher training scheme. What admirable teachers they make. They come to the classroom with a wide experience of life, with a stability and keenness for teaching which makes them excellent for their task. I urge the Minister to consult the principal of Hill-croft College, who has had considerable experience in this respect.

I am convinced that if the Minister adopted an unorthodox approach and ran one-year general residential courses for mature people, and then gave them a one-year course in education, he would recruit hundreds, possibly thousands, of this type of student and would be able to make them effective teachers. The Crowther Report also states that the teacher supply problem is essentially one of pump priming. Cannot the Minister take hold of the pump even harder than he is proposing?

I asked the Durham County Council, when I was chairman of the education committee for a short time before coming here, to undertake a small investigation into the number of non-teachers who, in the bad old days in Durham of junior instruction centres, joined the centres and ultimately went into the education world. The figures are small, but remarkable. Out of 22 people who could be traced, 17 with no previous experience of education went into teaching. Three of them became principals of technical or training colleges, three became head teachers, two became educational organisers, and at least half of the total were in senior educational positions. I know that circumstances today are different from what they were in those days, when people were driven into almost any job. Nevertheless, these figures bear out my contention that there are many more mature people who would make excellent teachers than the Minister realises, and I beg him to get after them.

Professional and industrial people are in a rather different category from the men and women I have been talking about, but often in middle life many get tired of a sordid grubbing for money and would be inclined to go into the teaching profession, with its satisfying opportunities, even on a slightly smaller salary. Therefore, the Minister might do well to look at the question of the recruitment and training of those with professional and commercial qualifications who might want to change their work.

The Crowther Report makes recommendations about this short service commission idea for married women. The Minister should look at that and see whether, in an unorthodox way, he can make changes which will recruit people of that sort. The College of Preceptors supports this idea of recruiting in an unorthodox, flexible fashion.

I want to say a word about 1962. I think that the Minister would recruit more graduates into the teaching profession in 1962 if university departments ended their diploma course in May. One of the reasons why post-graduate students are somewhat reluctant to take on the extra year of training to secure their diploma is that they will not earn money for a whole year. There might be some compromise which would attract more graduate teachers, and this should be tried.

If one had fears that the departments of education would not be fully occupied from 1st May, they could undertake refresher courses for married women or other types of person to whom I have been referring, who might be able to enter the teaching profession in a way other than the orthodox. I hope that it will not be long before there will be much greater flexibility in getting teachers into universities for short periods, for a term or so, linked with an orthodox approach to the problem of teacher-training.

There is one very obvious source of supply of teachers which, I hope, the Minister will consider in a different light from that in which it is sometimes considered in the House. Many over-65s are available. They need a financial inducement. Retired teachers are having a rougher time with regard to pensions than they had a right to expect. I should have thought that as a temporary measure, perhaps till 1967 or until the teacher crisis is over, it would be possible to enable teachers of over 65 to continue teaching for four or five years and add greatly to their pension entitlement. I appreciate that there is the very serious problem of the Civil Service rules about this, but I think that this is an exception which would justify special treatment.

The problem, in essence, is the improvement of teachers' conditions. What I have been speaking about are first-aid measures which ought to be tried, and I believe that they would produce substantial results. But there is no doubt that teachers ought to have a higher starting salary. The scale should be shorter. I have never understood why men and women should have to reach nearly middle-age before getting to the top of their salary scales, and I never really felt that the man at the top of the scale, after twenty years, was so much better than a young man of four or five years' experience. The inquiry of the College of Preceptors bears this out.

The teachers seem to be unanimous about the part of the Crowther Report which says that it is necessary to do more than is being done to attract men and women of the highest intellectual calibre into teaching. The number of schools which have accepted that range well over 90 per cent., and mostly 95 to 97 per cent. I would ask the Minister also to bear that in mind. We need much more sabbatical leave and much readier overseas secondment. I admit at once that recently the Ministry of Education has been very far-seeing in this way and has made overseas secondment much easier and attractive.

When I was in Sierra Leone, about three years ago, I was impressed by the possibilities there for teachers, male teachers particularly, to have one or two years' experience in overseas conditions. There are some local authorities which are not very helpful about this.

Also, refresher courses for teachers should be free. There should be none of the rather miserly approach to teachers who want to take a refresher course. It is true that this would involve expenditure of money, but there should be much more easily made available laboratory technicians, clerks and assistance with school meals. Further, responsibility allowances should be given to key teachers and teachers with particularly difficult jobs. The Crowther Report recommends that difficult groups, in particular, should attract for the teachers responsibility allowances. It is absolutely vital if teachers are likely to be faced with 15 to 16-year-olds.