Orders of the Day — Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th February 1968.

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Photo of Mr Richard Buchanan Mr Richard Buchanan , Glasgow Springburn 12:00 am, 14th February 1968

My hon. Friend has misunderstood me. I am being sarcastic. I am stating the view of the educationist, the view which forgets the hundreds and thousands of education miracles which occur in our schools every year. Unfortunately, far too many of our education administrators—and I was the chairman of an education committee for three years—remember their childhood and try to judge teachers by what they then saw, and they still indulge in the childish concept that teaching is easy.

Their crisis policies are based on the assumption that anybody can teach. The employment of uncertificated teachers, well intentioned though it may be, has a lasting effect on children, and our education system has been bolstered by having so many hundreds of these unqualified people. Too many people take from this the comforting assurance that, no matter how harmful it may be and not matter how hopelessly amateurish the teaching may be and no matter if it is non-existent, they will not be held responsible for the consequences because those consequences inevitably must be far into the future.

The more that education appears to survive by the use of these ramshackle expendients, he more the public image of the teacher is tarnished by a policy which seems deliberately to underline the worthlessness of his training. The more the intellectual quality of the profession chops, the less will able sixth formers and university students look to it as a possible career.

I humbly submit to my right hon. Friend that if a further inquiry into matters educational is to take place, it should be into the qualifications of many of these educationists, the natural enemy of the educator, who have been so prolific in Government inquiries during the past 20 years. These professional educationists have created a climate of opinion for permissive education which is reflected increasingly in the ever increasing evidence of school-boy insolence, insubordination, violence and sometimes downright thuggery.

This leads me to the second crisis which hinges on the shortage of teachers and the employment of unqualified people. The problem of discipline does not arise in a grammar school, or in a fee-paying school, or in the colleges, as it does in a State secondary school, for the sanction of the "sack" is paramount if a boy does not behave. The threat of dismissal is always over his head. But that does not happen in the State schools and even the rejects from the grammar schools and from the fee-paying schools are sent to the State schools.

The new nostrums and specifics of education have left Eton, Harrow, Winchester, the "prep" schools and the grammar schools of Britain completely untouched. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North used the word "exciting ", the new jargon word of the educationists to whom to innovate is the supreme virtue—novelty is all. Meanwhile, those ancient institutions of which I have spoken proceed unruffled in their troglodyte way, insisting on the old-fashioned skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and even more old-fashioned virtues like accuracy and intellectual stamina.

The gap which was closing between the education of the rich and the poor is widening and it is widening through the malign activities of educationist cranks and misguided egalitarians who see in the State education system an unlimited field for exploiting yet another education gimmick. The Government could save a great deal of money by eliminating a great many gimmicks. If we are honest, we shall stop playing with this serious matter. There is nothing politically spectacular about steady educational advance.

It does not catch the headlines, but it is vital to our survival as a nation that we proceed on the right lines. On the subject of discipline, one can peruse the White Papers and read the Blue Books very closely, but find little evidence that the "neds" and the louts exist in State schools. Exist they do, in every big urban comprehensive or multilateral school, and they are sufficiently important in the educational scheme of things to be a source of suffering to many teachers and pupils alike and a cause of the flight from teaching and productive of many internal staffing difficulties. What are we to do about this?

One of the causes of discontent has been the absolute failure to import into a State system of education a just and corrective form of discipline, preferably non-corporal. No teacher likes to wallop a youngster, but a form of discipline must come into State schools where the situation, in the secondary schools, is becoming very serious. The grave growth of insubordination is one of the most powerful factors in deterring potential teachers and bringing about resignations. A refusal to examine this point makes absolute nonsense of all one's educational blueprints. To ignore it is not only to leave out the Prince, but the King and Ophelia.

The purpose of discipline is simple. It is to ensure conditions in the classroom which will enable the teacher to impart instruction. Many teachers are unable to do this because of what the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings) said, about the classes being too big. Every class has probably two boys who simply will not be disciplined. Although many parents would have no objection, and would like to send their children to a State comprehensive school, even knowing that the comprehensive school is probably better in attainment than the grammar school, they will still wish to send the child to the grammar school, because that is inevitably based on good discipline, for the reasons that I have stated. If they send their child to the comprehensive school that child will become the butt of the "ned" and the lout.