School Building and Teacher Shortage

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th March 1963.

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Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North 12:00 am, 26th March 1963

I beg to move, That this House regrets the further cuts in the school building programmes and the failure to take adequate steps to recruit sufficient teachers. This is not a debate about whether there should be an increase in our expenditure on education—the Government could not avoid that even if they wished to, and it is no part of my case to suggest it. We have only to appreciate that there are 1 million more children in our schools now than there were ten years ago and that there will be 1½ million more in the schools in ten years' time than there are now to realise that it is not only a question of numbers, but of standards, demands and needs, and that increasing expenditure on education is necessary for our national survival. Increased expenditure is not the issue: the issue is whether we are increasing it at a sufficient pace and whether we are devoting our resources to the right priorities.

No Tory Minister of Education has had such an opportunity as the right hon. Gentleman. What would Lord Eccles have given for the right hon. Gentleman's opportunities? That is a rhetorical question, because we know that that is why Lord Eccles went. But the right hon. Gentleman took office within sight of a General Election, and everyone knows that a Tory Cabinet turns a more favourable ear to education when there is a General Election in the offing. If I were to call the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. G. Lloyd) dynamic, he would probably challenge me to repeat it outside the House, but even the right hon. Gentleman, in the corresponding period before the 1959 General Election, introduced his White Paper, his five-year plan and his new drive for school building. The right hon. Gentleman the present Minister has an even greater opportunity, because this is education year, the year when the campaign for education is arousing interest throughout the country.

Surely, this was the Minister's opportunity. Even the Economist blurted out the other day: Sir Edward Boyle should already be twisting the Treasury's arm. What a hope! The right hon. Gentleman is the Treasury's Trojan horse at Curzon Street—that is why he is there. Only a year ago, in this House, he complacently tried to justify the completely unjustifiable. He tried to justify what the vice—chancellors—all of them—found profoundly disturbing" and described as devastating—the absolutely unprecedented rejection by the Government and the Treasury of the recommendations of the University Grants Committee. That rejection was, at any rate, made on grounds of economy, but now that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is removing the ravages of his predecessor and boosting public expenditure what is the right hon. Gentleman doing?

The Minister of Education has the two major responsibilities of promoting school building and providing an adequate supply of teachers. What is he doing? He is cutting back the building programmes and treating the teaching profession with the contempt which the Government reserves for the academic profession. The moral is that if we have a Tory Government we cannot afford to have a weak Minister of Education—and that is not an exaggeration by a politician or an expression of political bias.

I could call in aid many examples, but let me call in aid Education, which no one can allege is a party political publication. It is, in fact, the official organ of the Association of Education Committees. In its article on the building programme, that journal began: Is Sir Edward Boyle really Lady Horsbrugh in disguise? His actively misleading treatment of the building programme suggests that, as during the régime of his noble forerunner, there is a substantial cut taking place under the smokescreen of deceptive statistics about approvals and starts. As I have said, his noble forerunner was acting under the duress of economic crisis, but the article concludes: This is a shabby little episode made the more shabby by the shifty way in which it has been put across. If Sir Edward cares for his image he must not put himself forward as Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd and Lady Horsbrugh rolled into one. Fighting for the building programme is the Minister's first duty. If he fails so badly when capital spending is rising, how will he do when the cold wind blows? The position of school building is simply that, in spite of the new schools built since the war. a large proportion of our children are enjoying their schooling, eighteen years after the end of the war, in appalling conditions. Even today there are in use 100 schools which were blacklisted and condemned as long ago as 1921.

The recent report on a survey made by the National Union of Teachers shows that one in seven of primary schools completely lacks any water sanitation, one in six has no hot water supply, only 40 per cent. have separate dining rooms, only 50 per cent. have playing fields, no more than 60 per cent. have an assembly hall, and only 41 per cent. a separate staff room.

Let hon. Members try to visualise these conditions and picture the difficulties of teaching in them, and teaching, more often than not, over-sized classes. Then, bearing this factor in mind, let hon. Members realise that there will be 750,000 more children in these schools in 1970.

The position of the secondary schools is little better. We talk a great deal about science teaching. I notice that in its most recent survey the Association of Science Masters says that if we take only grammar schools and apply the standard applied by the Industrial Fund to independent schools only 1 per cent. satisfy their test in science laboratory standards. Against this background we have to regard the building programme today as inadequate. This is why, in spite of the economic crisis, we on this side of the House resisted cuts made at the expense of education.

First, there were the minor works, which were important because the improvement and modernisation of the old schools is so desperately needed. The value of minor works has gone up steadily over the years. In 1960–61, the value of minor works started was £21 million. No one for a moment, and least of all. Lord Eccles, regarded this as the ceiling. It was a satisfactory achievement, but it was only a stage towards far greater expenditure. The economic crisis came, and this was the particularly vulnerable part of education expenditure. It was halved and then more than halved. This was a mean and contemptible economy.

The present Minister, in a way which Education would describe as shabby and shifty, has created the impression that he has restored the minor works programme to £21 million. He has done nothing of the sort. He has brought it back to no more than £16 million. This takes no acount of the increased building costs and the greater needs caused by the fact that the programme was, interrupted by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor.

We have a five-year school building programme under which it is the Government's aim to get work costing £300 million started in that period. In 1961–62, actual works started were of the value of £66,400,000. The economic crisis came and Lord Eccles told us that he had been obliged to cut the programme back to £55 million, that is, £11 million less than the starts achieved in 1961–62. He informed the respective local education authorities and we on this side of the House pressed him to review the programme. He said that he could not do so and he could not increase the allocations made.

I therefore asked the right hon. Gentleman, as he then was, to provide the House with particulars of the programme. He gave us the particulars, but they did not add up to £55 million. They added up to £47 million, or £19 million short of what had been achieved in 1960–61. Lord Eccles, however, offered us one consolation. He said that he still believed that at the end of the fourth year he would have achieved four-fifths of the five-year programme and that we should have a £60 million allocation in the fifth year. Incidentally, he said that we should have this announcement in the late summer or the early autumn.

Lord Eccles went, the late summer went, the early autumn went, and we came to the late winter and with a flourish of trumpets the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister announced his school building programme. What was it? It was £55 million, not a penny more than Lord Eccles had been able to hold under the stress of an economic crisis. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer was saying that he wished to promote public building, the Minister of Education, after all this procrastination and delay, could promise no more than his predecessor had been able to hold under a Chancellor of the Exchequer who was imposing savage economy cuts.

It is, however, far worse than this. What was adequate in 1958 is no longer adequate today. I should like to give the House an illustration. We all welcome the encouraging trend of children staying on at school after the school-leaving age, but this is happening in far greater measure than it was happening in 1958. Again the position is far worse because building costs have gone up sharply since then. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that if we take into account building costs and cost limits the total sum would not be £300 million. He estimates that this is a programme amounting to a cost of £344 million. I do not accept this figure. I believe that it is an underestimate, but if we accept it the programme which the right hon. Gentleman has announced is not £5 million short, but £49 million short, of the programme which the Government announced as long ago as 1958. Worse still, all assumptions of the 1958 programme have gone.

When the right hon. Gentleman was at the Ministry as Parliamentary Secretary he spoke with some ebullience. He said he did not think that there would be unemployment among teachers in the mid-1960s, or that there would not then be a surplus of teachers. The Government were basing their programmes and assumptions on the belief that the child population in our schools was static. We know that the Government were l million or ¾ million out in their estimates. We must make provision for this in these building programmes, but even if we disregarded these factors the right hon. Gentleman has not even matched the targets laid down as long ago as 1958.

Again, just as with Lord Eccles, having waited for months, and having pressed the right hon. Gentleman to give us particulars of the allocations, we find that they do not total £55 million. They do not even add up to the £47 million of Lord Eccles's programme. They total only £42 million. The local authorities submitted programmes totalling, according to particulars given by the right hon. Gentleman, £187 million and probably a good deal more. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman had previously indicated that it was more. Against that we have this pitiful allocation of £42 million.

Let us look at the list. We find no fewer than 13 counties which have been told by the Minister that they have no need at all for new school building. They have been given no allocation at all. More than 30 county boroughs have been told that they shall have no school building whatsover. I name a few: Blackburn, Burnley, Derby, Dewsbury, Halifax, Huddersfield, Smethwick and West Ham. Can hon. Members envisage that in these boroughs, heavily concentrated industrial boroughs, there is no place whatever for new school building?