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 Christopher Chataway Mr Christopher Chataway , Lewisham North 12:00 am, 26th March 1963

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Before turning to general questions of priorities and gross expenditure, I should like to give a little more of the detail of the two main subjects of the debate —teacher supply and school building.

I take first the question of the supply of teachers, because it is here—in securing for the schools enough teachers of the right quality—that my right hon. Friend places his first emphasis. In common with, I think, every other developed nation, we have today a situation, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, in which the demand for teachers substantially exceeds the supply. Overlarge classes, particularly in some of the primary schools, as the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend have said, are a big hindrance to equality of opportunity. They place a burden on teachers, an obstacle in the way of many children's full development, and undoubtedly involve a waste of talent, particularly of talent which is less than first-class.

It is with these considerations in mind that the Government have embarked on, and we are now in the middle of, an expansion of teacher training colleges which is not only without precedent in this country, but has few parallels, if any, anywhere else, Our prime source of supply of new teachers lies in the teacher training colleges. There are now 142 general and specialist colleges, plus four concerned with technical teacher training. They are of critical importance.

As the House knows, we embarked upon a major expansion of the training colleges in 1958. It seemed to me that some of the hon. Gentleman's criticisms —I do not say all of them—would have required estimates from the Registrar-General or from my right hon. Friend's predecessor as to the way in which the birthrate was likely to move, which seems to me unreasonable. The expansion which we embarked on in 1958, half of which was completed last year, was designed to add 24,000 permanent training places. We have supplemented this effort by keeping on certain premises due to be given up, by opening, as we are in the process of doing, a number of day units, some of them in improvised premises, sometimes attached to existing colleges and in other cases as separate colleges.

I draw particular atention to the special day provision which has been made in the larger centres of population for older students. There are now eight day colleges specially catering for their needs, and they are proving a great success. With all these measures to date and the good use to which the colleges are already putting their accommodation, the total number in the colleges has already risen from 28,000 in 1957–58 to 48,000 this year. Of course, much more accommodation is yet in the pipeline. We were, therefore, able to look forward to a total training college population of 65,000 by 1966–67.

But we have not been content with that, and, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, North cursorily mentioned, my right hon. Friend recently announced the Government's decision to accept in full the recommendation of the National Advisory Council on the Training and Supply of Teachers that we should aim to raise total numbers in the training colleges to no fewer than 80,000 by the end of the decade. This is by any standards a very large undertaking indeed. It will involve something approaching a tripling of numbers in twelve years—less if the time taken in planning is omitted—and I think that the House would be interested if I dwelt for a few minutes on some of the issues involved in this exercise.

In carrying out this further expansion, my right hon. Friend has laid particular emphasis on the need to derive the greatest possible advantage from investment by intensive use of the places provided. We have gained much experience of these possibilities as colleges have responded to the pressures of numbers already put upon them, and we believe that still more can be done. Various methods have been canvassed by the National Advisory Council and others. One of them—the possibility of keeping a college open all the year round—has been mentioned in debate before.

My right hon. Friend hopes that there will be a readiness to experiment, but has taken the view that the precise method to be adopted is for colleges themselves to determine in the light of their own particular circumstances, and they are, of course, rightly anxious to preserve the quality of training and to avoid undue pressures upon the students. At the moment, it looks as if the most useful and most fruitful methods will be found in some expansion of the size of teaching groups, still more intensive use of lecture space, and an extension of the formal teaching day.

Although more students will be accommodated in lodgings, or living at home, the colleges will make a great effort to ensure that they share to the full in the communal life of the college. If these measures are to have full effect—and this could be considerable—there will undoubtedly be cases where selective additions to accommodation will be needed, whether in teaching, library space, or communal accommodation, so that the whole may be used to the full, and we expect to devote many of the further resources that are available to projects of that kind.

We also hope to use this opportunity to increase certain colleges to a considerable size. It has been the intention to expand the size of these colleges. In 1958–59, there were only six colleges with 400 students. Already, there are as many as 47 of that size. We hope now to take this process further both as a result of intensive use and also by building up a significant number of colleges to the 1,000 mark.

Throughout this expansion, emphasis is still placed on training for the primary schools, but as total numbers go up increases will be possible in secondary training. In particular, we shall ensure that specialist provision which is made in science and practical subject is used to the full. The colleges have offered every co-operation in these efforts and the implications of expansion to so large a total are far-reaching for them, as the House will appreciate. I cannot pay too high a tribute to the way in which they are tackling a gigantic job.

The expansion comes at a time when there has been marked improvement in the qualifications of candidates entering the teacher-training colleges.