Orders of the Day — Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th May 1962.

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Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East 12:00 am, 17th May 1962

I assume that my right hon. Friend might also read it. My level is about that of the Evening Standard. In a short break during the debate I picked up a copy of today's issue in the tea room, and found these words by a well-known Conservative journalist I have never known the Conservative Party to be so unhappy since Suez. Nothing at the moment seems to be going right, and it is suddenly beginning to be felt that we are not suffering merely from a momentary unpopularity but rather have gone into a permanent decline. Nobody seems to know what to do about it. All I can say is that the contributions that we have had from the benches opposite today are not really likely to repair that state of affairs. I would say to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) that if the standard of education given in the independent school for which he is responsible is indicated by his own speech, and its standard of self-discipline is indicated by the length of his speech, I cannot feel great confidence in the education provided.

The one thing on which all of us who are interested in education are agreed is that we are facing a period of the most serious possible crisis. The figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary are not new to most of us who have been studying the matter, but they emphasise the extreme seriousness of the state of our education and the position facing us in the next decade.

This is not, I repeat, new. This state of crisis has been foreseen for a number of years. We have been making various estimates of the number of pupils likely to be in the schools at various ages, the number of teachers required and the number of university places needed. It is, therefore, astonishing that we have had to wait until 1962 for the Ministry to begin to take seriously the question of research and intelligence. It is only this year that the Ministry has set up a division for research and intelligence. Surely, if we are fighting this battle for education this is something which ought to have been done long ago.

A debate was initiated on 19th April by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden), than whom no one is more knowledgeable on this subject. I do not wish to traverse the ground again, but I must take up one remark of the Minister in the course of that debate. He said that it was a mystery that educational research had been neglected compared with other forms of research. Why should it be a mystery to the right hon. Gentleman? He was Minister of Education from 1954 to 1957. We then had a short interregnum. The noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, who is now Minister for Science, was at the Ministry for a while, and he ought to have had some interest even then in research.

There was then the rather lamentable intervention of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. G. Lloyd), but we had the present Minister back again in 1959, and he has been there since. Why have we had to wait until 1962 for what everybody would have supposed to be the natural preliminary once it became clear that the increase in school population and its associated problems was not just a post-war phenomenon, but was likely to be with us for generations to come? I feel very strongly about this. However, we welcome even this very belated conversion on the part of the Ministry.

We welcome also that, at long last, the statistics branch of the Ministry has been strengthened and we have some statistics now which are not three years out of date. I hope that every hon. Member of the Committee who has not done so will obtain one of these volumes of Statistics of Education, 1961, Part I, and study it. At last, we have in usable form the basic information without which one cannot plan or adequately criticise the plans, or lack of them, in the education service.

Unfortunately, we have only Part I. We have still to wait for Part II. Part I gives us certain information about the school population. It gives us some statistics about teachers, but nothing about teacher training. We have nothing as yet to match the statistics of school population which are projected to 1980, and we are not given information as to how this projected school population will be dealt with between now and 1980. In this volume, we are presented with the problem but we are not given the solution.

If one studies the statistics, one realises that the problem is quite terrifying. I remind the Committee that the peak year in our primary schools as a result of the post-war growth in population came in 1957. That was the highest point in the total numbers in the primary schools. In our senior schools, the peak point came in 1961. But what has faced us in the past is nothing to what is to come.

By 1966, we shall be back to the former peak level in the primary schools at the time when they were disastrously overcrowded. Then, in the next two years, we shall add more than 250,000 children to the primary schools. In the three years 1966, 1967 and 1968, there will be not far short of 400,000 additional children in our primary schools, above the former peak level. Translating that into terms of buildings and teachers, that is the problem which will hit us in 1966. No wonder the Minister is worried.

Of course, a comparable situation will arise in the senior schools a few years later. We shall be back to the 1961 peak figure in about 1970 and then, in 1972, 1973 and 1974 we shall have well over 300,000 extra children in the senior schools. In other words, in just over ten years we shall have 500,000 more children in the senior schools.

The problem is desperate. It is a problem partly of buildings, but much more of teachers. There is deep disappointment felt in many local authority areas about the cuts in the school building programmes and the holding back of programmes. The Minister gave a sort of defence last Monday evening in reply to the Adjournment debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King). There are many local authorities which feel badly hampered in their efforts to deal with their school problem. I have the figures here for the 1963–64 programmes in my own country of Wales. Out of 17 authorities, eight are to have no allocation whatever. They cannot be very happy about that.

In the design of school buildings, the work started by our late colleague George Tomlinson, when he was Minister, in investigating methods of design has been carried on by his successors at the Ministry, and I think that we all agree that in design a good deal has been done. But, hard as it is to teach in an inadequate building, far more serious is the teacher supply problem.

I come now to what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary. We on this side of the Committee have hammered again and again at this subject of teacher supply and teacher training. I make no apology for referring to it once more. A few weeks ago, the Minister himself said in the House that he recognised that this very year there were a number of qualified candidates who wished to go to teacher training colleges, but who will not find places. We have recently seen members of the Association of Teachers in Departments and Colleges of Education who gave us a figure of 24,000 applicants for 15,000 to 16,000 places.

Some of those applicants will, no doubt, find places in technical colleges or universities, but the fact remains that we are undoubtedly losing at this moment, in the face of the prospects before us, possible teacher material, people who ought to have training and who will not receive it.

It is no good the Minister suggesting that the Ministry has been straining every nerve to get every possible place for teacher training in the past few years. That just is not true. I know from my experience. I am connected with certain teacher training colleges. We have had to bombard the Ministry with letters to get consent to expansion, particularly in the training of women teachers who are so scarce at present, and we have had the greatest difficulty. The expansion will not be made in those colleges until 1965 although we would have been perfectly willing to do it sooner.

I have a note from one of the best known local educational authorities in the north of England, which says: What is of interest is that as far as this authority is concerned all the pressure for providing extra teacher training places has come from the authority and not from the Ministry. It mentions, in particular, a day training college for which it had to agitate over many months before the Ministry would agree to its establishment. I repeat, it is just not true that in the past every nerve has been strained to get every possible teacher training place, although it is obvious that that should have been done.

We were told by the Minister that he has sent out today a letter asking local education authorities to establish more day training places. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), myself and others have urged again and again that day training colleges in urban areas are one of the solutions. We have also been urging what the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Montgomery) said, that the grants for mature men and women should be better so as to entice them into teaching if they have gone into some other occupation but feel that teaching is what they wish to do. We cannot expect older people who have taken on married responsibilities to accept an actual lowering in their standard of living for a couple of years' training. It is unrealistic. The grants for this training ought to be reconsidered.

I come to the proposals made by the Parliamentary Secretary. He pointed out that the latest advice received from the Minister's Committee is that with the present proposals for training we shall be left with 50,000 unfilled teaching posts in 1970 unless we do something about it. That is a staggering figure. Then the Minister said that all he could suggest to fill this was to bring in two types of auxiliaries. I should like to have further details from the Minister about exactly what is meant by that. I can follow the idea of the short-term commission. I understand that what is meant is that persons should be taken into training colleges and have presumably two instead of three years' training, then teach, and at a later stage complete their qualifications before being considered to be fully qualified teachers. Is it to be a condition that anyone who undertakes two years' training only should give a definite commitment to do a certain amount of teaching? If so, what terms are envisaged? Otherwise this will be dilution with no purpose.

The child minders idea is a most extraordinary proposition. The Parliamentary Secretary said that a short course of training of twelve to sixteen weeks was envisaged. If what is intended is that some relief should be given to teachers in the infant schools with the purely physical care of the children—looking after their meals and possibly the cloakrooms and playgrounds—there is some case for that kind of teacher aid, but sixteen weeks' training is not needed for that. If, on the other hand, they are to take part in actual teaching, sixteen weeks' training is quite inadequate.

It should be made clear what is intended. To have the proposition put to us in the unthought-out way in which it was placed before us and not to have a proper explanation of the conditions does not seem a very happy augury. I have just come back from a country where a Budget was placed before the people without adequate explanation and they burned down the main street. I do not know what the teachers will do if this sort of proposition is put before them in such a very inadequate form.

There are many things which we ought to be discussing in the deployment of teachers. For example, I have recently been in the United States and in the short time I was there I tried to inform myself of some of the experiments which have been going on in what is called programme teaching, using teaching machine methods, and so on, and in team teaching. It seemed to me that team teaching was one of the ways in which we might be able to use the highly skilled teacher to advantage. Time does not permit me to go into details, but that is a possible way of giving the less experienced teacher adequate opportunities under a very highly experienced and skilled teacher. I am speaking now not of the primary, but of the secondary schools where, for some purposes, we could enlarge the size, not of the class but of the group, and make them correspondingly very much smaller for other purposes. We might make good use of qualified married women in team teaching at secondary school level.

A great deal more could be done on this, but we should have had research and experiment long before now, not waiting till the crisis is upon us. We are faced with serious crises at all levels of education. There is the immediate crisis in primary schools, the forthcoming crisis in secondary schools, and the crisis which is now upon us—because the post-war bulge is now reaching university level—in the universities.

I do not know whether hon. Members have clearly in mind the position of potential university students. I do not wish to weary the Committee with too many figures, but it is alarming to see that between 1960 and 1965 the number of sixth form pupils will have almost doubled, and the number of younger people who will be hammering at the doors of our universities, trying to get in, must cause us the greatest concern. How, in a situation of this kind, can the Government be satisfied with the way in which they have treated the universities?

One after another our university vice-chancellors have given detailed reasons why their universities will be unable to meet the expansion target set for them. The Vice-Chancellor of Manchester said, on Tuesday, that this very year Manchester, which should have been taking in extra students, will not be able to do so because it cannot see its way, financially. This morning Sir Charles Morris, Vice-Chancellor of Leeds University, said the same thing. So have others, including Birmingham and Leicester.

Yesterday there was a debate in another place. It was remarkable that of the 12 speakers in the debate—it is true that there was an intervention from Lord Montgomery, which made it 13—but of the 12 serious speakers, 11 vehemently attacked Government policy and only one, Lord Hailsham, spoke in favour of it. Among those speaking were people like Lord James of Rushholme, the Principal of the new University of York, and others with experience and knowledge of these matters.

I do not want to quote statistics referring to international academic levels, except to say that this is one question which the new research team might take up. It might give us something really intelligible in connection with the different levels in different countries. I hope that this will be one of the team's earlier exercises.

But the serious problem at the moment is the fact that the Government have pledged themselves to 150,000 students by 1966 whereas the universal opinion among the academic leaders is that they cannot possibly reach that target with the means being given them by Her Majesty's Government. It is, therefore, fair to say that The Government are betraying the nation's interests. Our position in the world in future will depend even more than in the past upon the human material that we have and upon using the intelligence and brains of our people.

We have not very many possessions left in the world. We are no longer a great imperial Power. We must live by our wits. Lord Boothby made a very striking comparison when he said that we are being betrayed in this matter as an earlier Conservative Government betrayed us in matters of defence in the 1930s. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That was what Lord Boothby said; it is not my remark. That is one of the most dramatic ways of putting what many of us feel, namely, that the Government are betraying the future of this country by their failure to give adequate support to oar educational institutions.