Orders of the Day — MRS. I. Braganza (Teaching Qualifications)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th November 1964.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Whitlock.]

9.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Thompson Mr Richard Thompson , Croydon South

I propose to use my good fortune in the ballot to raise a matter of essentially constituency interest. Indeed, I had hoped that this evening when I was raising the case of a constituent it might also he the position that I was to be answered by the Minister of State who happens also to be a constituent, but as it turns out that it falls to the lot of the Joint Under-Secretary to deal with this case, I wish to say that I am perfectly happy to be dealt with by him, because of course we are old opponents when on opposite sides of the House, and I know very well that he will look at this matter in a very fair-minded sort of way.

Mrs. Braganza, is a Pakistani lady, an immigrant to this country, a teacher of qualification and experience, now domiciled ill my constituency. Her troubles arise because the teaching qualifications which she has, and which she acquired in India and in Pakistan before partition, and before independence, are not considered sufficient for the grant to her in this country of what is known as qualified teacher status. In other words, she is a teacher, but her qualifications seemingly lack something which enables her to do the best in her profession and to acquire the best kind of appointment here.

The House will realise that that greatly restricts her usefulness as a teacher, and greatly restricts also the type of job and the amount of responsibility for which she can apply. As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, I have dealt with this matter at some length in correspondence with his Department, but perhaps I might briefly touch on one or two of the salient aspects of it.

The history is that when Mrs. Braganza first applied for an immigration permit to come to this country she was actually given priority among all the people who want to come to this fair land. I ask the hon. Gentleman to note that fact. She was given priority because she was a qualified teacher. Everybody knows that we are short of teachers here, and it therefore seemed right that she should have priority. In fact, the Ministry of Labour issued her with an employment voucher straight away, which clearly implied that her qualifications as a teacher would be fully acceptable in the United Kingdom.

I well understand that the Parliamentary Secretary may say that what is done by the Ministry of Labour and what is done in Pakistan are no great concern of his Ministry. On the other hand, a potential immigrant cannot be expected to distinguish between Government Departments, and if she gets priority because she is a teacher with qualifications, surely she is entitled to think that after the expenditure of a considerable amount of money for the passage, and after she has made a long journey, pulled up her roots and settled in England, those qualifications will be real and acceptable.

Let me say a word about those qualifications. They were verified by the employment exchange of the Pakistani Government and certified by the Director of Education of Pakistan in Karachi. Indeed, a certificate to that effect was forwarded to the Department and should be in its possession. I can quickly summarise Mrs. Braganza's qualifications to teach. She completed a three-year teaching course at St. Xavier's College, Bombay, and gained her diploma in teaching from that university. A Bombay degree is considered to be one of the best obtainable in India. In saying that I am not merely repeating what has been said to me. I spent many years of my life in India and Pakistan. Indeed, I was born there. I know the cachet and reputation which attaches to Bombay.

I will not say that the fact that this diploma was obtained in the days before partition adds to its force, but it may well mean that the standards then were perhaps even closer to what is acceptable in this country than is the case now. It was a good degree then and it is a good degree now. In those pre-partition days it may have been even closer to our standards.

Judging from the correspondence that I have had from the Department, the difficulty in fully acknowledging Mrs. Braganza's qualifications at the start seems to have arisen from a misconception. It seems to have been thought that the course that she took at Bombay University was only a part-time course. That is emphatically not so. It was a full-time, three-year course. A certificate to that effect has been made available to the Department, and I hope that when the hon. Member replies he will not base his argument on the view that the course that my constituent took when she was a student was not full time.

There is another reason why I find the rejection of Mrs. Braganza's qualifications surprising. It arises out of the experience of a friend of hers, whose name I have quoted in correspondence to the Department, who also came from Karachi and who had exactly the same teaching qualifications. She had a teacher's diploma at Bombay University, through the very same college—St. Xaviers—and was granted qualified teacher status. That is an important point. Of course when I dealt with this matter by correspondence I drew attention to it, and I am bound to say that very fairly the Ministry, through the hon. Gentleman's predecessor, admitted to me in a letter dated 10th July—

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Whitlock.]

Photo of Mr Richard Thompson Mr Richard Thompson , Croydon South

I was observing that the Department actually admitted in a letter to me that Mrs. Francis, the friend of my constituent, was granted her qualified status by mistake. I never exult when a Department of State confesses to a mistake. That is something we are all liable to do and we should be reasonable and generous about it. I am happy that the Department admitted that this was a mistake, but it makes it seem that the denial of qualified teacher status to my constituent is not maintainable in all the circumstances. I feel sure that the Joint Under-Secretary of State ought to re-examine this case and consider whether it is worth "digging in" on an issue of this kind. It is my contention that the qualifications required for qualified teacher status in this country have been satisfied by Mrs. Braganza.

There are her qualifications from the Bombay University and her experience as a teacher. Not only that. She has many years of experience as a practical teacher. I am sure that the Joint Under-Secretary would agree that although qualifications are vitally important and we must not under-rate in any way the practical experience of teaching, the ability to impart knowledge and control children in a sympathetic and humane way is a very important part of the equipment of a teacher. My constituent has those qualifications and that experience in a high measure.

Before leaving this point about qualification I might add that, in addition to having taken the same kind of course as her friend, who was successful in achieving qualified teacher status, she also acquired an additional qualification in physical training. Although I believe that this is not a requisite for qualified teacher status I submit that it is, so to speak, an added bonus which ought to stand in Mrs. Braganza's favour. I think that the Joint Under-Secretary of State and indeed all hon. Members of this House would agree with me that the educational plans for the country which are massive, far-reaching and which go long into the future depend for their success on an improved supply of teachers.

If this is so, and if I carry the hon. Gentleman with me, surely it is not sensible, on what I think is really a quibble, to deny qualified teacher status to my constituent when we think of how much we need the additional assistance of people who are teachers and who have gone out of the teaching profession for some years because they married or because they have been abroad, as in this case. Surely we ought not to lean too much on the letter of the law in such matters?

Successive Ministers of Education have urged and offered inducements to married women and older women who were trained as teachers and have left the profession for one reason or another, to come back in their middle age and help us over this "hump" until we have the benefit of the full fruition of future teacher training programmes.

It is my submission that Mrs. Braganza is just one of these people. By any standard her qualifications must take her to qualified status. I have shown how other people of equivalent qualifications, also coming from Pakistan, have been granted qualified status and are now practising, if that is the word, as qualified teachers in this country. Surely we ought not to stand on the letter of some regulation and prevent this valuable accretion to our teacher strength. I do not think that that would be sensible, and I hope I know the hon. Gentleman well enough to feel that he will make a great success of his early days in this important Department by cutting the red tape, and by saying, "Here is an absolutely common sense case; here is a way of augmenting the teacher stock; here is a way of doing the right thing, and doing it timely, too."

I have a feeling that he will not spurn that appeal, but will see the commonsense behind it. But of course I have to reflect that the powers of Departments arc very great. When the decision has been taken at some point in the chain that something must not happen, it is quite difficult to reverse it. I said earlier on that no one would think the Department in any way at fault if they had second thoughts on this. Far from it. We should consider that that was an honourable and sensible and humane conclusion to arrive at.

But just in case the hon. Gentleman may still be feeling a bit stubborn about this, may I suggest to him that if he does not agree with my case absolutely 100 per cent., which is perhaps possible, he should do something which I think might bridge the gap between us? Surely, if he does not propose to grant the fully qualified status which I think I have justified and which I think the situation demands, he could agree, perhaps, that Mrs. Braganza could be given a temporary or a probationary qualified status. Could she have something like that and could she then take a job with one of the local authorities—perhaps my own, in Croydon—and work for six months? If she satisfies them, as I am sure she will, then at the end of that period perhaps his Department, on receipt of a favourable report from the local authority concerned, could agree to confirm her appointment.

If he could do that, I am sure we should get round this rather ridiculous situation. We are calling out for teachers; we have the greatest need of them, and somebody with excellent qualifications has come to this country believing that she would count here, somebody who is not only qualified but also experienced. Do not let us maintain a situation in which, when she gets here and tries to apply for these appointments she is told, "No, it does not work. You were given the wrong information. You must remain a second-class teacher all your days".

I do not think this right or sensible and I do not think it is the kind of conclusion which would commend itself to the Joint Under-Secretary of State.

10.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I am obliged for the welcome given me by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) and for the reasonable manner in which he has, quite rightly, represented the case of his constituent. I am sure that it is a novel feature of a speech in the House for it to suggest that a Member speaking from the Government Front Bench for the first time should in some way drop his sense of objectivity to placate even such an agreeable hon. Member as the hon. Member for Croydon, South.

The hon. Member understands that all these events took place under the previous Administration and that the representations which he made were to spokesmen of the previous Government. He will, nevertheless, be glad to know that, having the responsibility of dealing with the debate, I have gone meticulously through the correspondence and the case. I have, however, reluctantly reached the conclusion—one is always reluctant to reach the conclusion that one's predecessors were ever right, especially when they were of a different political flavour—that on this occasion my predecessors were right, although I hope that at the end of my speech will be found something to meet some of the hopes which the hon. Member expressed.

It may help the House if, first, I give the two great criteria which should be applied in this case. On the one side we have the overriding interest, which he properly put forward, to get as many people as we can into the teaching profession. All of us engaged at the Department of Education and Science are aware of that great need. I might add, although he did not mention it, that the great problem of immigration means that there is an added inducement to try to get people from the Commonwealth, who can give very special help in this connection. One therefore starts immediately from a desire to be extremely helpful in such a case as that of Mrs. Braganza.

There is, however, a second signpost to which one has regard—the interest of the children being taught. There is an overriding responsibility upon the Department to see that teachers in our schools are properly qualified, in the interests of the children, but also, and not less, in the interests of the teaching profession, who quite rightly would be seriously concerned if there were any dilution of teaching standards. The Department has to steer a course between these two signposts, and that is what we have tried to do in this case.

Let me turn first, to the question of permits. I must take issue with the hon. Member here. Mrs. Braganza was given what is known as a category B voucher. This does not mean an automatic entitlement to come into this country and to begin teaching as a member of the teaching profession. Prior to 1963 it was always the practice, when these vouchers or permits were obtained by a Commonwealth citizen that the standards in his or her own country were accepted for the issue of a voucher. But since 1963 this has been changed. There has been a lot of controversy in the House, of which the hon. Member is aware. Since 1963 it has been the practice for the Department of Education and Science to examine each of these cases upon its merits. Most of us would agree that that is the proper procedure.

I cannot agree with the hon. Member in his suggestion that a category B voucher gives status guarantee. It does not say to an applicant, "Your qualifications are such that you have absolute priority". But it recognises that such people are to a degree better qualified to come here and are more likely to find reasonable work when they get here. That was the position in respect of Mrs. Braganza.

All applicants from Pakistan and every other Commonwealth country are told immediately they get a voucher—incidentally, it is from the Ministry of Labour and not from the Department of Education and Science—that they must approach the appropriate authority before coming here to see whether their qualifications will be acceptable here. This is extremely important, because one does not want to put Commonwealth citizens through the unfortunate experience of paying a great deal of money to come here, only to find when they arrive that their qualifications are not acceptable, and that is precisely why this is done.

It was certainly done in the case of Mrs. Braganza. She wrote to the then Ministry of Education before leaving Pakistan telling us what her qualifications were and asking whether she would be given teacher status here. She was told that this would not be the case and she wrote a further letter on 7th August, 1963, in essence appealing against that decision.

As evidence of the helpful attitude of the Ministry of Education, she was told, in reply, that she could not be given teacher status in what I will call a State school, but she was told that the regulations did not apply to independent or private schools and that, therefore, if she came here she would not get employment in the State sector of education but that she could work for an independent or private school, outside the jurisdiction of the Ministry.

It is clear, therefore, that before Mrs. Braganza left Pakistan this information was made available to her and that, when she left Pakistan, her eyes were wide open to the facts. She knew what the situation was and I do not think that she can have any complaint that she was got here on false pretences or anything of that sort. She received a reply from the Ministry on 9th September, 1963, confirming the position and telling her exactly where she stood.

I will deal briefly with the question of two of Mrs. Braganza's friends. I recall that the hon. Member mentioned only one of them.

Photo of Mr Richard Thompson Mr Richard Thompson , Croydon South

I mentioned one, and I agree that there was a second, who is at present employed at an L.C.C. school. I did not mention these details, because I thought them unnecessary to this case.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I have been so well briefed by my Department that I came prepared with, information about the other two cases. I am grateful to the hon. Member for not going into them. The other case that the hon. Member raised was that of Mrs. Francis, and he has been extremely generous to my Department and I appreciate it.

In this case there was a mistake. It was based on certain false conclusions which were arrived at about the value of the teacher training at St. Xavier's College, about which I will give some information shortly. There is no need for me to spend a great deal of time on this matter, except to say that I am sure that the hon. Member will agree, on reflection, that it would be wrong, having admitted one person into the teaching profession here because of a misunderstanding about the training which had been given in Pakistan, for us automatically to take the view that every other applicant with the same training should be allowed to qualify, and then to let in every applicant merely because the original applicant had been so let in.

Photo of Mr Richard Thompson Mr Richard Thompson , Croydon South

I did not say that. I do not want to debase or dilute our standard of education in any way. Nevertheless, the fact that it happens once makes it a little harder to exclude my constituent.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I understand that it makes it a little harder for the hon. Member to accept that his constituent should be excluded, but one must have regard to the consequences. If it became known that because of a mistake made a year or so ago every other person from this training college could then automatically expect to come in, that would have very unfortunate consequences.

Having freely admitted our mistake—and for it I apologise to the hon. Member, Mrs. Francis and Mrs. Braganza—I should point out that Mrs. Francis had an additional qualification which Mrs. Braganza does not have, a qualification which could and would make her acceptable here. Mrs. Francis is a licentiate of the Trinity College of Music, and, although we admit that we did not know this at the time, and that it was a mistake to accept her, because of that additional qualification Mrs. Francis would not be ruled out.

As to Mrs. Braganza's teaching qualification, the hon. Member will know that at the time of this case we required a two-year training course—now increased to three years. Therefore, in deciding whether to accept the course of an overseas training college we must have regard to whether the student has had the same sort of training there as she would have had here. I am informed that this is not the case, and that, contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has said, Mrs. Braganza did not have a three-year training course there. It would be very difficult to suggest that she had, because she had completed her training before she was 19 years of age. Such a situation would be impossible in any training college in this country.

Mrs. Braganza, I am informed, had one year at a training college, taking the St. Xavier's course for the university's diploma in teaching; this was part-time training, which certainly would not be acceptable here. Her training was part-time in the schools, and she also worked in connection with a physical training course, including some theory and practice in teaching, at the Bombay Y.W.C.A. Although we acknowledge that the work she did in the schools was good practical training, we cannot accept that it in any way compares with our standards here, of two years' training at the time of this case and now of three years. This is of very considerable importance in considering the case.

I must make it quite clear that the diploma in teaching at the Bombay University, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, is in no way to be compared with the Diplomas in Education that would be obtainable at a British university. That should be stated in order to avoid any confusion later.

The present position is that Mrs. Braganza has been teaching in what I call the private sector of education in this country. She has been told—as I think, the hon. Gentleman has—that it is not possible to accord her the "acting" status he has suggested but we have offered her, I think on one or two occasions, what we call "Temporary Teacher" status. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that we have been as helpful as we can, because we have told this lady that there is a way for her to become a qualified teacher, which is to approach some local education authority which would take her on as a temporary teacher. In the light of its experience of her as a teacher, that authority could then represent her case to us.

If Mrs. Braganza obtained employment in that way and did some practical teaching as a temporary teacher, and the local education authority, being satisfied with her, represented her case to us, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we would certainly give the most sympathetic consideration to according her full qualified teacher status. We do not want to close the door on this lady—indeed, it is not in our interests to do so. We want to get her into the teaching profession if she makes the grade according to the standards we now accept here.

I have stated the reasons why the previous Administration took this decision, and I certainly support them in that view. If Mrs. Braganza were now to accept employment with an education authority, did a stint there, and the local education authority asked us to accord her full qualified status, that would seem to be a very satisfactory solution of a very difficult problem. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able now to recommend that course of action to his constituent, on whose behalf he has very realistically taken up the cudgels this evening.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Ten o'clock.