Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th July 1961.

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Photo of Mr John Ainsley Mr John Ainsley , North West Durham 12:00 am, 17th July 1961

I assure the Minister of Education that we on this side of the Committee had no difficulty in selecting the subject of today's debate as one of the subjects to be discussed on one of our Supply Days. We feel that education is the basic problem that we are facing nationally and that this is a subject which will affect all our economic, social and industrial problems not only now but in the years ahead. We therefore regard an education debate as one of the primary and most essential debates from the national point of view that can be held in this Chamber.

I was shocked at the Minister's complacency and evasiveness when he came to face the issues put forward and the challenge made in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate and I do so mainly with one specific object. On 9th May, 1960, we had half a day's debate on primary education. The Minister, in winding up that debate, said: The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) referred to the problem of reorganisation in his county. It is about the worst in the whole country. I do not know the reason for that but, if I remember aright, I think the county council has been fairly consistently in the hands of one political party."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May, 1960; Vol. 623, c. 95.] The Minister was introducing party politics into a debate on education. We have been told over the years that party politics should be kept out of local government, but the party opposite has been engaging in party politics in local government for centuries, and in that debate the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to admit that party politics do enter into local government. I can assure him that there would have been a debate on that statement of his had not he hastened to add that we were all involved in solving the problem.

Soon after that debate, the Minister received a telegram from Durham County Education Committee, and he agreed to receive a deputation. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) and I came with that deputation, but many of our friends on it were not aware of the background against which the Minister intended to deal with the problem. However, in a joint statement he came half-way towards us, and admitted that education was a two-way partnership and that he himself was half responsible for the County of Durham. I reminded the right hon. Gentleman then that I would be reporting back to my colleagues. I have waited for one year to reply to the right hon. Gentleman's slanderous statement, which I feel I must remove from my honourable colleagues in Durham, many of whom have served the county for many years.

I was serving on the county education committee even before my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland joined it. Over the years I have brought deputations to see the late Miss Ellen Wilkinson, the late Mr. George Tomlinson, Miss Florence Horsbrugh—as she then was—and also the right hon. Gentleman in his first term as Minister of Education. I have thus met Ministers of Education from both sides of the House, and I can understand why the Minister in the 1951 Conservative Government left County Durham facing problems which are still affecting it today.

Our own educational expenditure was limited in the bad old days because of the public assistance which had to be paid out—and here I pay tribute to the work of the county treasurer, who is second to none. After the beginning of this century, we established twenty-two grammar schools in the county. Early directors of education were art masters, and, although we in Durham were dependent entirely on the mining industry as an outlet for the aptitude and ability of our young people, it was only through the grammar schools' stream that they could find further education, and after receiving it, many left the county. That is why we find Durham men and women in prominent positions not only in this country but in many others. Their success is tribute to a generous education authority in Durham.

In those days, however, the grammar schools were unable to take all those of ability, and thus a trickle of boys and girls who wished to take up even technical education had to find their opportunity in Darlington or Sunderland or Newcastle. Yet it was the Ministry of Education itself which was stopping the development of technical education in the county, despite the changing circumstances of industry, which was demanding more technical education.

I remember meeting the Ministry's regional officer in Newcastle. He was anxious to open a building in South Shields with the aid of students from County Durham. I said, "Not on your life will I sell the birthright of the county any longer." That was why we were able to start technical education, on condition that we gave it a mining bias.

The first college was in Stockton, and I remember Mr. Tomlinson asking the education committee, "Another authority has fallen down on a project. Can you take a second college?" That is why we added Billingham during that same financial year. We built Stockton and Billingham, and although we also built Hebburn, further developments in technical education were in the face of objections from the Ministry.

Immediately after the 1951 General Election, there was a standstill for three months in education and industrial building. The Prime Minister, who was then Minister of Housing and Local Government, carried out his election promise to build 300,000 houses a year, at the expense of schools and other social development. Education building was brought to a standstill for three months to allow him to build houses.

I remember telling Miss Horsbrugh on one occasion that at times she seemed to be no better than Molotov. There was deputation after deputation, leading only to frustration after frustration. The right hon. Gentleman can never claim that we are not anxious to get on with what he will allow us to do. But, as we have entered his office in deputations, we have seen the charts, and he has told us, "This is what I have received from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I must apportion it among local authorities. The money which we had for this financial year has been expended. I am sorry that we cannot help you."

That was the answer to deputation after deputation. Yet last year he turned round and said that the poor rate of progress was because Durham had been ruled by one political party for too long. That, apparently, is the approach of Members opposite. It was never my lot to be in the teaching profession, but I have served in the administration of education for many years. I slept on the 1944 Education Act, and worked almost night and day to bring it to fruition in Durham. The great problems we were facing in Durham were those of mining subsidence and the sterilisation of coal. Coal was gold at that time and the cost of sterilising it would have been prohibitive.

Besides grammar schools we built secondary modern and technical schools. Because of mining subsidence we adopted the campus system. We were faced with the problem of finding suitable building sites, and this sometimes led to a delay of a month or six weeks in submitting our building programmes for approval. Each financial year we submitted 12 or 15 projects in order of priority. On many occasions the Minister altered this list of priorities, and I therefore claim that it was the Minister who was responsible for retarding the school building programme in the County of Durham.

The county was second to none in the payment of maintenance allowances, but when we submitted our proposals to the Minister he said, "Your allowances are too generous. You must bring them into line with those paid by other authorities". At one time more teachers were coming from the colleges than we required. The position was such that we took only young students and not married women. If necessary, I could name the young people who were offering themselves as teachers but for whom we had no vacancies. Such was the position in Durham under a Socialist-controlled authority.

What has happened since then? The Government introduced the quota system and altered the teacher-student ratio in Durham to that of the national average. This led to difficulties. The last report issued for the county shows that we are 167 teachers short. All this has happened in the last ten years of Tory rule. We have chosen this subject for debate today because the Government have failed to meet the needs of the young people of this nation.

I come now to the problem of teacher training. I remember opening Wynward Hall as an emergency training college, when the period of training lasted for two years. After the end of the emergency training scheme, the college continued to give two-year training. However, I am concerned not about Wynward Hall but about the fact that we are losing about 120 teachers a year at a time of national crisis. The Minister may say that he proposes to extend Nevilles Cross and create an additional 160 places for students. Is that how he proposes to make up our shortage of teachers?

I was denied further education as it is now called, but I have had the privilege and honour of sitting in on the committees of many administrative bodies dealing with education—the University Court, the University Council, the Institute of Education—and I have served on the North-East Council of Education Committees, the Northern Counties Further Education Committee, the Northern Counties Technical Examinations Council, and on the national committee which was set up to consider the problems of those going into industry and commerce.

I think that we are losing sight of the fundamental purpose of the 1944 Education Act. We are losing sight of the child in our midst. That is why the Minister gave the tilt and slant that he did to the present position. He referred to primary education and then said that the problem of juvenile delinquency arose in the secondary school. Is there none in the public schools? Why does he attack the State schools and allow the public schools to go free?

Many hon. Gentlemen opposite went to public schools. I am here to defend the State system. When I was chairman of the education committee in Durham, in all innocence I accepted the challenge issued by the public school in my county, but I was soon deluded. Public schools are not restricted when it comes to engaging staff. Almost every boy at a public school gets individual tuition. A lady once came to me and said, "My child failed the 11-plus examination. I wanted to do the best for her, so I sent her to a public school. I paid the fees for the first term, but at the end of the term found that the fees were to be almost double for the next term. Can you help me, through the education committee to keep my child at that school?" That system is wrong.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite are not concerned primarily about the welfare of our young people. To them the State system will always be secondary to the public school system. Conditions of employment in State schools are controlled by the Burnham Committee, but public schools are free to do almost what they like. That is why I maintain that State schools are unfairly treated. I hope that very soon the day will come when the private school system will be integrated into the State school system. There will then be equality of opportunity based strictly on aptitude and ability. When that happens, education will be based on a just social basis irrespective of the background of the children.