§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)
After a rather rowdy debate by Scottish Members on teacher training, I hope that English Members can address themselves to a similar problem in a slightly more orderly way.
The expenditure by the Government on grants for students to attend teacher training colleges is closely linked with the Government's strategy on the training of teachers and their proposals, announced on 24th January, to reduce to 45,000 the number of places in our teacher training colleges. My own concern is that the increased grants which appear on page 249 of the Consolidated Fund Bill will not be able to be spent at Thomas Huxley College in my constituency, since that college is threatened with closure. It is this change in the pattern of expenditure under the Consolidated Fund that I wish to raise tonight.
I must confess to surprise at Thomas Huxley featuring in the list of proposed closures, since, in a report in 1975 to the Chief Education Officer of Ealing, Mr. H. A. Harding of the Department of Education and Science said:We recognise that Thomas Huxley has done much very good work in the past and has in particular a record of B.Ed. successes which is remarkable for a small College catering for mature students. Moreover, we appreciate the College's local importance as the only teacher training establishment in the four London Boroughs of Ealing, Brent, Harrow and Hillingdon. It would clearly be wrong to underestimate its contribution to easing teacher supply problems in London or its potential role in meeting induction and in-service training needs in the areas of the four Boroughs. In principle, therefore, we agree with you that it would be desirable to find some means of retaining an initial teacher training base in Ealing".We therefore have a statement from the DES that Thomas Huxley College is a successful one, which ought to be retained. I shall develop the argument in a moment, quantifying its success, but I must tell the Minister at the outset that the great debate on education in my consituency is in fact whether the Government are going to go ahead with the closure of this popular and successful training college. In the eyes of my constituents, the action of the Government in
1050 seeking to close this College speaks far louder than any words in any regional conference, and simply convinces them that, despite protestations to the contrary, education is fairly low down the Government's priorities.
My constituents are also struck by the number of closures proposed by the Secretary of State in Conservative-held constituencies. It is a statistical convenience, to put it mildly, that of the 26 closures in England, 20 are in Conservative-held seats. Of the six that are in Labour-held seats, half are held by members of the Government who are not therefore in a position to protest. There is inevitably a suspicion of political expedience in the incidence of these closures, and it would be most unfortunate if the future of our teacher training institutions were to be subject to micro-political influence of this kind.
My hon. Friends and I are prepared to take our share of the increased unemployment which the Government are creating, but we are not anxious to take other people's share as well. Since we hold fewer than half the seats in England, we find it rough to take over three-quarters of the cuts, and I notice the same political bias manifesting itself in the proposals for Scotland and Wales.
I turn firstly to the academic record of Thomas Huxley College. It has a very low percentage wastage of students, and this is an important consideration if money is not to be lost by training people who do not complete the course. The total number of students registered for certificate examination up till June 1977 was 772, and the percentage wastage was 14.3 per cent. This is well below the national average of around 20 per cent. for 1976 and is evidence of the college's ability to select students with potential, and to hold their interest throughout the course.
Looking at the Certificate in Education results for examinations for 1976, over 20 per cent. of students were awarded marks of distinction in the theory of education —well above the national average. The failure rate was under 5 per cent. The B.Ed. results are also very good, as are the awards of distinction in other subjects apart from education theory.
Another important measure of academic success is whether the teachers 1051 are snapped up by schools in the locality. The output of Thomas Huxley College is in great demand at local schools in Ealing. I would like to quote a letter written to me by Mr. Childs, the headmaster of Derwentwater Middle School in my constituency:As a headmaster whose school has been well served by Thomas Huxley in the past, I fully support the retention of teacher training in the Ealing College of Education which is to be established on 1st September 1977. I would add that the value of preparing mature students to serve the special needs of urban, multi-cultural schools together with the contribution made by the College in the training of teachers for the shortage areas of maths, science and French, is such that it is foolhardy to destroy the expertise which has been acquired in these areas over many years by Miss Carter and her staff.May I also quote from the headmaster of Reynolds High School, a comprehensive school in my constituency:The quality of the students which have come from this College over the years and of those members of my staff who trained there is of the highest standard.He went on to say that he urgedthe Secretary of State to reconsider her decision in the light of professional and academic achievements of students from Thomas Huxley College, and the contribution of the college to the educational service in both initial and in-service training in an area of Greater London not served by any other institution providing such courses.I have also received a large number of letters from students, both past and present, endorsing the remarks of those two headmasters. Indeed, the headmasters of 36 schools in West London who employ teachers from Thomas Huxley have sent the Secretary of State a petition urging her to reconsider her decision on the closure. One reason why this college is so popular is that the students are mature students.
I come now to the role of mature students in our schools. At a time when the Prime Minister is opening a national debate on education, and when the education service is criticised for paying insufficient attention to the needs of industry and commerce, it is short sighted to close initial teacher training in an institution sited in an urban industrial part of London, which recruits students with experience of industry and commerce. Fifty-five per cent. of students entering Thomas Huxley College in September 1976 had such commercial or industrial 1052 experience. Further, at a time when there is anxiety about discipline in schools, we ought to be placing greater emphasis on the recruitment of mature students. Many mature students have had experience of bringing up their own families, and of the disciplinary measures that are most effective. Older people, in any case, are better able to keep order in a classroom than younger students, with less experience of life. The environment at Thomas Huxley of mature students is particularly conducive to in-service training.
The Secretary of State has made it clear that she wishes to see an increased emphasis on in-service training and I put it to her that a college of higher education such as Thomas Huxley, containing a high proportion of mature men and women, provides a more suitable climate for most in-service work than the average college with a large 18-plus intake. The particular ethos of a mature student centre, with its adult relationships, is likely to prove more attractive to qualified teachers.
The Secretary of State will also wish to concentrate teacher training on the shortage subjects, where there is great public concern. Approximately one-third of the total number of students at Thomas Huxley are following main subjects in the three shortage areas of mathematics, science and French. In addition to these, approximately one-third of the students take a special subsidiary course in the teaching of mathematics. This is an additional reason for having second thoughts about the closure of Thomas Huxley and continuing to make grants available in the forthcoming year.
I turn now to a criterion raised specifically by the Secretary of State in her statement on 24th January 1977.In formulating these proposals the Government have been very conscious of the need to preserve a significant number of large teacher training units sited in areas of educational difficulty, which should be capable of developing as centres of excellence in aspects of teacher education particularly relevant to the problems, such as education within a multi-racial society…".If ever a society was multi-racial, it is the society in the London Borough of Ealing, where in Southall we have one of the densest concentration of Indians in the country, and in the eastern part of the borough, which I represent, we have a large number of West Indians, in 1053 addition to a significant number of Indians, Poles and other ethnic minorities.
The Minister of State will be the first to realise the problems which this poses for the schools in the area. Thomas Huxley College has developed courses specifically to tackle the needs of the schools in West London, which are grappling manfully with the diverse backgrounds of the children who are being educated. I have myself sat in on one of these multi-cultural courses at Thomas Huxley, and I am convinced that they play a priceless role in helping teachers to integrate the immigrate community into our society and also in explaining the cultures of the ethnic minorities to the indigenous population.
The skills acquired by the teachers at the training college and the courses themselves have been developed over many years to reflect local needs, and we stand to lose both.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but, as he has probably noticed, I have been looking at Subhead F1 under which he has put down his subject—Increased provision for mandatory awards for students following courses of teacher training".The whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech seems to be presented on the basis of whether a college is to be kept open, and this is not a debate on the closure of colleges; it is on awards for students.
§ Sir G. Young
The point which I am trying to develop, Mr. Speaker, is that these awards should continue to be made available to students who are attending one college in my constituency. As I understand it, the sum under debate is over £5 million, that is, grants to local education authorities of 90 per cent. of net expenditure on mandatory awards, which includes awards to recognised students following courses of teacher training. It is part of that sum of money which is currently directed to the London Borough of Ealing, and the proposal to withdraw it threatens the existence of Thomas Huxley College in my constituency.
I hope that, in so arranging my speech, I have been in order in raising in relation to this sum of money the threat to a particular college in my constituency. Perhaps I may say that I am drawing 1054 my remarks to a close, if that helps you in any way, Mr. Speaker.
I invite the Minister to read some of the speeches which his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has been making about the inner cities, their problems and the solutions. If the Government are really to tackle some of these social problems, a Department of State such as the Department of Education and Science, when making decisions about where to spend money on mandatory awards to students, must take account of the needs of those areas and not close institutions which are situated within them.
I come now to my penultimate point, that is, the geographical implications of the awards. In her statement on 24th January, the Secretary of State said:Care should be taken to make adequate provision for mature students."—[Official Report, 24th January 1977; Vol. 924, c. 963–79.]I understand that mature students receive grants under this Subhead. Yet the Secretary of State has proposed to close a mature students' college in Greater London. How she reconciles that with her statement on 24th January that "care must be taken to make adequate provision" is something which we may learn in this debate.
Not only is greater London to lose its training provision for mature students, but for West London the remaining colleges of higher education which will retain teacher training are in Hounslow, Buckingham and West Hertfordshire, which are virtually inaccessible, whereas the college in my constituency is readily accessible by public transport, and is particularly suited to students on nonresidential courses, which the Government are seeking to encourage.
May I end by pulling together the threads of my argument and suggesting what the Secretary of State should now do to make amends. First, she should make clear that she will back success in our teacher training colleges by ensuring that the good ones stay open and the not-so-good close. There is public concern about—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that he is stretching the argument far beyond what is reasonable. We must talk about student awards here, 1055 not keeping colleges open, which would be under another subhead.
§ Sir G. Young
I draw my remarks to a close, Mr. Speaker, by making a final plea that the amount of money we are debating will continue to be spent in broadly the way it is now spent, and that included as a recipient will be the London Borough of Ealing so that Thomas Huxley College can remain in existence.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
I, too, wish to devote myself to Class X Subhead F of the supplementary Supply Estimates down for debate. I do not propose to raise the interesting fundamental question of the correct number of teachers for the education system at present, or the pupil-teacher ratios, but, within the rules of order, I wish to concentrate on one particular problem which is of great concern to the ratepayers and taxpayers of Kent and to the Kent Education Authority.
I do that for much the same reason as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), and I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will find me within the rules of order, because this subhead is concerned with mandatory grants for teacher training by local education authorities. So it concerns not only the quantum of boys and girls processed through the colleges of education but also the weight of expenditure in any particular local education area.
I shall be indicating certain reasons why I do not feel that the proposal of the Secretary of State accords with the Supplementary Estimate that the House is debating. I shall, of course, be, I hope, ever ready to keep myself within your injunction to my hon. Friend, and I hope that, with this prelude, I shall gain your indulgence.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. May I say how grateful I am to the hon. and learned Gentleman in advance? I am casting my bread upon the waters, and I hope that it will return in due course. He will, I know, confine himself to student awards, which is the subhead we are discussing.
§ Mr. Rees
Of course that is so, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that I shall always be obedient to your injunctions. The subhead deals with student awards as chan- 1056 nelled to and through local education authorities. The point I wish to raise is concerned with a proposal to close the Nonington College of Physical Education, which is, as I shall demonstrate, if you will be so kind as to let me develop my theme, a gem in the educational crown of the Kent Education Authority, which is concerned, rightly, with the awards that it has to make, properly, to students, some of whom go to this college. I hope that you will allow me to develop my theme, and you will see, with your usual indulgence, that I am keeping myself fairly closely within the rules you have stated for the debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I shall be surprised if I do. I may say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that I should have been much more strict with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young)—and the hon. and learned Gentleman knows it—and I hope that, in the interests of those to follow, he will make passing reference and at least hang his coat every now and then on the subhead we are discussing.
§ Mr. Rees
Of course I shall hope not to deviate one whit more than my hon. Friend did, Mr. Speaker. I have, in fact, under your gentle guidance, disclosed the particular point I wish to make, although it is encompassed in the general principle, I respectfully submit, exemplified by the Supplementary Estimate. It is the proposal—and at the moment it is no more than that—to close the college. I wish, through you, to assure tl1, Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State that I can recall few issues on which I have had such a large postbag expressing such unanimity of view both from inside and outside the teaching profession.
In our House magazine—I do not know how appropriate it is to refer to it in our debates—the Secretary of State is described, in charming and eulogistic terms, as a lady who opposes without rancour. I suggest that her problem on this occasion is to demonstrate that she can close without rancour. I wish to approach this problem from a variety of avenues, all within the rules of order, I hope, that you, Mr. Speaker, have laid down.
First, I should like to look at it from the point of view of the local education 1057 authority because these grants have to be channelled to and through the local education authority. I would therefore draw the Minister's attention to the position of the Kent Education Authority and its relationship with, or its availability of, teacher training colleges.
I am very much conscious of the general criteria for restructuring the teacher training system which the right hon. Lady put in the Library when she made the initial announcement. I draw the attention of the House to paragraph 2(b), which says thatinitial and in-service teacher education should be closely related and the institutions providing the former should have a major role in relation to schools and teachers in their area. The corollary follows that there must be as good a geographical spread of teacher training institutions as is compatible with overall numbers and other requirements;".I make no apology for quoting these general criteria to the House. It will be important to judge this Supplementary Estimate, and the proposal that I wish to draw to the attention of the House, by reference to these criteria. Paragraph 3 is headed, "Regional and Demonimational Considerations". It states:The need for the best geographical distribution in support of in-service education and training referred to above would in any case require attention to be paid to the regional distribution of institutions in relation to their prospective school populations. In a period of contraction regions and the local authorities within them will also be vigilant to see that their institutions are not required to make disproportionate sacrifices.As I shall submit to the House, that is exactly what the Kent Education Authority is being asked to do. In the first instance, as hon. Gentlemen will recall, the teacher training college at Sittingbourne has already been closed against the wishes of the Kent Education Authority. With regard to the teacher training college at Stockwell, which was then part of the Kent Education Authority, the authority has been asked to relinquish its interest so that it will form part of the Bromley Institute of Higher Education. There is the Christchurch College of Canterbury, which is a Church of England institution—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have deliberately allowed the hon. and learned Gentleman to make his special points. I must draw his attention to the fact that 1058 he is discussing "Section E: Teacher Training", whereas we are at the moment discussing "Student Awards".
§ Mr. Speaker
That may well be, but the question of teacher training colleges is not what this debate is about.
§ Mr. Speaker
I made a mistake with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton. I allowed him to go much too far. If I allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to do so, I must allow everyone else to do so. I must say that this is not an occasion on which we are debating the closure of colleges. It is a debate about student awards. We must have some order in our rules. I have given a lot of rope to the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Rees
My speech will then become unintelligible by reference to what has gone before. I have always understood that within the rules of debate one should try to follow the previous speeches. I would draw your attention to the fact that this heading states:Grants to local education authorities of 90 per cent. of net expenditure on mandatory awards.The education authority in Kent is deeply concerned about the way that it has to expend its mandatory awards to students. It is naturally concerned that there should be the maximum scope for teacher training and, therefore, with the channelling of its awards confined to the county of Kent. The authority does that by reference to these general criteria.
I do not wish to take up a Jesuitical, hair-splitting position on this, but this is a matter of deep concern in my constituency. I know that you will appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, and be sympathetic. I am trying to follow the rules as they were 1059 laid down for my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton, and I hope that you will permit me to continue.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I may be able to help my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees). Since this is 90 per cent. which is rebated back to the local authorities, it means that there is an important cash flow problem for local authorities to find the other 10 per cent. If my hon. and learned Friend related the problems of the local authorities to that aspect, he might find it an effective point to make.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not want to be unfair to the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees), but I have to be fair to the rules of the House. I have confessed to the House that I was not sufficiently strict with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and that I should have pulled him up much earlier. If we do not keep to the rules of order, these debates will become meaningless.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am saying that I cannot do that. I made it clear that I was wrong with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton. But, having seen that I was wrong, I do not propose to go on being wrong.
§ Mr. Rees
With profound respect, Mr. Speaker, this cash flow problem is a very important one. The education authority in my area is deeply concerned about its educational budget and the Supplementary Estimates that we are voting, and it is concerned in the context of this proposal for the reasons that I was uncovering in that there is left responsible to it only this one last college of Nonington. If it is closed, the authority will be making mandatory awards to students from Kent who cannot go to any teacher training college in their area. I hope on that basis that I have demonstrated to you—
§ Mr. Rees
I am grateful for your nod of assent, Mr. Speaker If I may be 1060 allowed to proceed, I assure you that I shall behave with appropriate discretion.
As I was saying, the last teacher training college in the county of Kent for which the Kent Education Authority is responsible is that of Nonington. I am not here to criticise Christchurch College, which is an admirable Anglican foundation. Indeed, there is interchange between Nonington and Christchurch College. But it cannot be right that one of the major education authorities in the country will no longer have a teacher training college responsible to it. The Minister must appreciate the spin-off advantages for any education authority in having a major teacher training college within its purview. The last one left in Kent is that of Nonington.
I emphasise the effect on East Kent as an area. In parts of it, there is an unemployment rate of 11 per cent. and a limited range of job opportunities. Already the area is threatened by the closure of the Royal Marine depot. The college has a teaching staff of 54, with supporting secretarial and domestic staff. Now their careers will be blighted or they will have to move to another part—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal knows as well as I do that grants for mandatory students who cannot go to college in Kent are beyond the scope of what we are discussing. I must now indicate that I intend to insist that the hon. and learned Gentleman keeps within the ruling which I made.
§ Mr. Rees
I am sorry if it appears that I am lacking in suitable deferrence to the Chair if I take up this point. But, obviously, the spending of student grants, whether they are spent in Kent or in Cumberland, is a matter of deep concern to the local education authority. Awards made to students who take up places in Nonington are of crucial importance to East Kent. We are talking about student awards, and this matter is closely within the item that we are discussing. Awards made to students at the Nonington College of Education are of great significance to the economic and social life of that part of East Kent. I need instance only landladies, local institutions and suchlike matters. It is not only the educational impact but also the economic and 1061 social impact which I feel that I should stress.
I come now to the college itself as an educational institution on which a great deal of money has been spent. I raise this point because the college is obviously financed to a degree by the awards made to the students. The college may he small in numbers but it is high in quality. I note that paragraphs 11 and 12 of the general criteria suggest that the minimum size at which an institution is likely to be educationally and economically viable depends on a number of factors.
In deference to what you have said, Mr. Speaker, I shall not touch on the general and important subject, which I hope will be debated on another occasion, of whether it is more appropriate to have a monotechnic college—I hate the jargon—or a polytechnic. We shall have to develop that argument on another occasion. I am keeping closely to the impact on Kent.
The college, which has a magnificent site, has been established for 30 years. It is lavishly equipped, and in the last five years about £1 million has been spent on it. I should like to indicate some of the equipment available to students for their awards. I am doing this because the financial equation is crucial to our debate. Students at the college can use an indoor swimming pool, a performing arts centre incorporating a theatre with closed circuit television, a drama studio, two specialist dance studios, a music department, a well-equipped library, two modern gymnasia with equipment designed by the college and a separate—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that if he persists I shall ask him to resume his seat. I have made perfectly clear that we are discussing student awards and I must ask him to keep to that subject or I shall ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. Rees
With deepest deference to you, Mr. Speaker, what is available to students for their awards and the value that they receive for money must surely be a matter of concern to the House and education authorities. I was discussing purely the financial aspects. I have deliberately eschewed whether it is preferable to have monotechnic or polytechnic colleges. I am keeping scrupulously to the financial aspect. I hope that you will 1062 not consider me wanting in deference to your earlier ruling. I hope that I am observing that ruling scrupulously.
On the financial aspect, I am entitled to ask what alternative use would there be for these buildings if they were closed?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. That is what the hon. and learned Gentleman is not able to do. The future of colleges does not come under this heading. I shall not permit the debate to go wider than Section F, on student awards.
§ Mr. Rees
I hope that you will allow me to come to the subject of the students themselves. One question that is connected with the awards is, who is able to take them up? What type of student is taking up the awards, and what educational qualifications and attainments will such a student have? Surely that must be a matter within the scope of this debate.
I remind the House that applications nationally—and this is well within the scope of the item that we are debating—have dropped by more than 33 per cent. in the past year. It is a matter of curiosity that we should have this Supplementary Vote at all. Applications to Nonington dropped by only 18.6 per cent. for girls while male applicants have risen by 12 per cent. On any view the standards of the students applying and being passed out from the college are as high as if not higher than any in the country. A dedicated staff is turning out high quality pupils. That is not a story of mediocrity or failure. It is a success story.
But at the moment we are in a period of financial stringency. The question of numbers may weigh with the Minister. I shall leave him with one practical suggestion. The Chelsea College of Physical Education at Eastbourne is to be amalgamated with Brighton Polytechnic. Why not with Nonington?
We appreciate that the pressure on Ministers is very great. Instead of the generalised debates on education which the Secretary of State has been holding throughout the country she should concern herself with more concrete decisions, with seeing to what purpose these awards are put, and the kind of end product in human terms that they give the country.
1063 I know that the right hon. Lady is well briefed, but there is no substitute for the eye of the Minister herself. Let her dispel the unworthy suspicion that perhaps these decisions are taken with party political considerations in mind. Let her come down to Nonington herself to see whether the claims being advanced are exaggerated. If she comes she will surely appreciate that this proposal is a disastrous one, not only for East Kent and for Kent as a whole, but for the whole educational structure of this country.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)
My two hon. Friends who have spoken have displayed a great deal of interest and concern about their individual colleges, and I do not wish to get entrapped as they did at times. All I can say is that I wish I could debate the question of Nonington. I know a charming young lady there for whom the college has done great service. I endorse what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) said about the college.
Perhaps the Minister will take this opportunity to allay some of the concern and to demonstrate to the House whether the proposals are genuinely proposals and whether there is any prospect of reconsideration of them. Clearly morale is bad, and the way that the announcement was made, without prior negotiation, and with local education authorities not even written to, merely phoned on the day of the announcement, has caused a great deal of ill will. The suspicion is this has been agreed as a fait accompli. We would like the Minister to give us some assurance that this is not the case.
On the question of the grants themselves I want to deal with the point which emerged from the speech of my hon. and learned Friend, which was that the 90 per cent. rebate to local authorities takes time to come through. There is therefore a problem of cash flow for local authorities, and they will probably have to find an increase shortfall as student numbers rise. Clearly they have to pay mandatory grants for an increasing range of courses. I am in favour of that, and I supported the move in 1975 to extend the range of courses eligible for mandatory grant. It is, however, a problem 1064 for local authorities which have to find the money and bridge the 10 per cent. gap by loans, building up debt interest which falls on the ratepayers.
This was one of the key points raised by my hon. and learned Friend. It is ratepayers' money that is being spent. It is not simply money coming from the State to support students on higher education courses. There is increasing resentment in local authority where all of that money is going outside the authority and is not in any way being spent within the authority's boundaries.
My hon. and learned Friend was making the point that this large authority —Kent—will have no higher educational institution through which to gain some return from its ratepayers' money. This is a matter of great concern and we must look closely at the general effectiveness of the operation of the grant mechanism.
We should go beyond that. The House will no longer just automatically accept Supplementary Estimates, or the old pattern of operation. We must now consider whether the present grant system is the most effective. We are having the triennial review, and it seems to have emerged that there will be no rethinking and no major changes proposed by the Government. Yet when the effect on students of other developments such as social security changes, are considerable, it is imperative that we rethink the entire grant system.
We are concerned about the breakdown of this large amount—£5.4 million —which is just there as a lump sum. The Minister must tell us something about its distribution and make-up, the mix of students in benefit. Under this heading there are the people on degree courses and their equivalents, the HND, the DipHE, the teacher training courses. There is a world of difference between the courses in the range.
Some of us are very keen to have far more people going on the HND-type course, to have more people going through not the traditional degree pattern but courses which will open them up for more to the world of work and experience. That is why the Opposition formally supported the Government when they made the DipHE and HND eligible for mandatory awards instead of local discretionary awards.
1065 We are increasingly finding in the present economic troubles that the discretionary area is being cut back. That is the very area that we should be trying to promote, because those in it are usually doing craft-level courses and other courses that are central to the great debate that the Prime Minister has launched. Very often they are mature students.
It would be useful to know what proportion of students who have benefited from the extra £5.4 million fall within those categories of HND and DipHE, and particularly how many are mature students. These are the areas where hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to see an increase, but one suspects that the trend is the other way, that there are now increasing disincentives to mature students to re-enter the system. The new fee levels that the Government propose from next year will build into the system even more disincentives to the person who is self-financing and to the small and medium-sized firm sponsoring such people, the very people who the system really needs, the in-service system that we all want to promote.
I believe, for example, that it is more sensible to achieve a greater awareness of industry in the schools not simply by making teachers more aware of industry but by attracting into the schools people from industry, training them as mature students. That is the opposite of what is happening. The trend is to move away from hiring the older, more experienced people who want to return to teaching and to mop up the initial teacher training places caused by the falling birth rate and the Government's decision to change the teacher-pupil ratio decided in the White Paper of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Such matters have flooded the market with people who have done their initial teacher training. Consequently, people in the very categories that we are trying to bring back into the system are hit.
The grant system that we are discussing refers to mandatory categories. One of the Government's policies is to mop up some of the surplus places in the colleges by encouraging them to retrain teachers into shortage and speciality areas. There is an acute problem if they are young people who have gone straight out of the colleges and found themselves without jobs because they were in a sub- 1066 ject area that was already over-supplied. If they want to stay in teaching and so wish to retrain in, say, mathematics, foreign languages or design, who finances them? As far as I know, there is nothing in these Estimates to cover that matter. It has taken so long for such courses to be organised. They are not entitled to another mandatory award. Therefore, they fall on the mercies of the local education authorities and the discretionary system, which is being massively cut back in the number and level of the awards.
All the time in education one finds one hand of the Government not operating in line with the other. What is correct as a policy is frustrated by inaction or inadequate action in other areas.
We are seeing an escalation in the cost of student support. This is an enormous Supplementary Estimate. It is the largest that affects the education service. It will clearly go on escalating as demand picks up after the last few years when it has been stagnant.
I believe that the largest single element in marginal costs in the higher education system now is student maintenance. Therefore, the Minister must give some assurance about the possible impact of the student support system on local authorities and their colleges and the spinoff that they will or will not get—also an assurance that some of the serious effects of the cutback proposals are still open to reconsideration. We want an indication of the breakdown within this Supplementary Estimate, to where he hopes the policy will lead, what balance in students numbers, type and nature he wants to see and whether he is considering any changes in the system.
The cost is considerable and one wonders whether it can be met or whether there are more effective ways of giving help to those groups of students whom we want to encourage in the system—the mature students on in-service, short specialist and topping up courses, and those taking sub-degree craft courses who are not technically within the terms of this Supplementary Estimate, but who have to be viewed in the overall context of student support.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gordon Oakes)
This has been a varied debate 1067 between the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) and the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) on the Opposition Back Benches, who tried to bend the rules of the debte to raise matters affecting their constituencies, and the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson), on the Opposition Front Bench, who has construed the arguments much more strictly.
You, Mr. Speaker, are notorious—or famous, I should say—for your generosity as a Back Bencher, a Minister and Speaker. But that leads me into difficulties as a Minister replying to the debate because I have to steer between the Scylla of obeying your injunction to be in order and the Charybdis of replying to hon. Gentlemen whom on some occasions you had to upbraid for being out of order.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If I am Scylla, the hon. Gentleman had better stick to Scylla. If I am Charybdis, he had better stick to Charybdis.
§ Mr. Oakes
I shall try to stick to Scylla, Mr. Speaker. At the outset I should like to talk on Scylla lines about the debate. Mandatory awards are made by local education authorities in respect of a large number of different courses leading to degrees and certain comparable qualifications, to a Higher National Diploma, to the Diploma of Higher Education and to an initial teacher training qualification. There is a wide variety of mandatory awards.
Estimates of expenditure, 90 per cent. of which is borne by my Department, are based on returns made by the authorities. The original Estimates for the financial year 1976–77 amounting to £200,273,000 were based upon an estimate of 325,000 award-holding students overall for the academic year 1976–77, of whom over 100,000 were estimated as the numbers expected to be taking courses of initial teacher training.
While later returns showed a drop in the estimated number of teacher training students for that year—to 94,000—they showed a small increase in the overall number of students to 328,000. The estimated expenditure on mandatory awards was thus increased in the spring, although the main part of the increase—about £39 1068 million, giving a total estimate of £239,187,000—arose from the decision to increase the levels of student grant for the academic year 1976–77 by about 18 per cent. That was the bulk of the increase. I hope that in this strictly financial debate I have answered the question that has arisen about the increase in the amount.
Treading gingerly, I want to deal now with some of the other points that have arisen in the debate, in particular with the number of awards being given for teacher training at present and more particularly with the number of awards that will be given in the future.
One of the elements that has been missed, except by the hon. Member for Ripon is the effect of the birth rate. That is crucial to our discussion. After the post-war bulge the number of births fell each year until 1956. Then they rose steadily until 1964 when they began to fall again. In order to plan for a number of services, including school buildings and teacher training, the Government of the day—and it was not my Government—had to make some forecasts of future births. These forecasts, based on past data about the age at which women had borne children and the size of families, indicated that the birth rate would begin to rise again soon. The historical date, however did not and could not take into account the new factor of widespread use of contraception and especially the contraceptive pill.
With hindsight, we know better. The number of births has fallen every year for the past 12 years and, on the evidence available, it is still falling. That is a crucial matter that any Minister at the Department of Education and Science must take into account when he considers mandatory awards for teacher training places. If he does not take that into account he will train teachers for certain unemployment. That is something that neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are prepared to do. We have to try to find a balance looking at the existing figure of births and projected births.
As a result of that, the decision was made to reduce the teacher training figure to about 45,000—a rather high figure—of which 35,000 would be for initial training places and 10,000 for in-service training at places provided within the
1069 existing teacher training colleges. The figures were based on the birth rate continuing at its present level—although it is declining. In case statisticians were wrong, as they were in the past, and there was a sudden birth rate explosion in the late 1970s, we tried to deal with proposed closures of training colleges in such a way that we could increase the number of mandatory awards that would be available for people going into teacher training in the 1980s to a figure of up to 60,000.
We have tried to deal with the situation rationally so that we do not create further teacher unemployment, but, on the other hand, if the statisticians are wrong, as they have been in the past, we can increase the number with a fair amount of ease within existing colleges.
I say to the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton that I appreciate his point of view in putting forward the credentials, as it were, of Ealing College. It is a good college. There are many good colleges where teacher training is proposed to be closed, not because there is anything wrong with the college but because within the number of mandatory awards to students that have to be given we must bear in mind the birth rate, and we must bear in mind the birth rate in the future. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with a college that has to be closed or where there is a propsal for closure. It is because of the birth rate itself.
I take issue with the hon. Gentleman —I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to allow me to reply to this point—when he says that this was done on some party political basis. I was very much responsible for looking at every college in the United Kingdom. There was no special list in the Department, as some newspapers said. We looked at every college—the great, the good, the famous and otherwise. In no way did it occur to us to look at it on a party political basis, as to where the college was physically situated. The college to which the hon. Gentleman refers, by an accident of boundary redistribution, is in the constituency of Ealing, Acton. It could easily have been in Ealing, North or another constituency which is a Labour-held constituency.
§ Sir George Young
I am afraid that the Minister has been misinformed. Thomas Huxley College is in the existing 1070 constituency of Ealing, Acton and the old constituency of Acton. Under no conceivable boundary redistribution could it have been in Ealing, North or Ealing, South.
§ Mr. Speaker
Perhaps 1 may intervene. It would be unfair to the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal, who is expecting a reply to his case, if the Minister is allowed to answer the arguments that I have already tried to rule out.
§ Mr. Oakes
I appreciate that I am straying, Mr. Speaker. I shall stray no longer in that direction, except to say this: clearly, it would be madness for a Minister to try to decide this matter on the basis of some party political programme. Students in colleges come from all over the country. Lecturers in colleges often live in constituencies far from those in which their colleges are situated. It so happens that, given the trend of what we are trying to do, to place the mandatory awards very much where other courses take place, in polytechnics and so on, there may well be bias in favour of Labour-held constituencies, because inner city areas tend to be Labour-held, and many of the colleges and monotechnic colleges are situated in rural or seaside areas that are normally held by Opposition Members. But in no way at all was it ever considered where a particular college was or on which side of the House sat the Member of Parliament representing the area. That was never a criterion that we considered.
I should like, within the rules of order, to discuss further the debate so far. It has been suggested that my right hon. Friend did not consult sufficiently when deciding on the number of mandatory awards in the future and secure the agreement of the Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers. We have put this matter to the Advisory Committee and to the CLEA. They said "You put your proposals to us and we shall consider them."
When one thinks of the proposals in 1972 and 1973 and the three years that it took to decide upon places, one appreciates that in no way could we do that again, because if we did, we should be projecting this into the middle of the 1980s, even into the late 1980s, and still continuing to produce teachers for whom
1071 no jobs would be available because of the decline in the birth rate. That is crucial to the decision on the number of mandatory awards made for teacher training in the future.
I have a duty to the House to try to indicate what we are trying to do in the future on mandatory awards, bearing in mind the certain knowledge about the birth rate to the mid–1980s and the projected rates for the future.
The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton referred to his own particular college. I shall not fall into the trap and incur your wrath, Mr. Speaker, by following him on that. On 30th March, a delegation about this college is coming to see me to discuss its merits. That is the right and proper way to do it—it should not be done by way of this debate.
The hon. Member for Dover and Deal described the excellent college that houses the mandatory awards given for teacher training and challenged me to visit it. I do not think that it would be productive, either for me or my right hon. Friend to visit any colleges at the moment, particularly those where the closure has been proposed.
§ Mr. Oakes
It is not a question of not being safe. I do not think it would be wise. There are 28 such colleges, and if I visited some and not others, I would be in difficulties. Hon. Members should remember that these are proposed closures—not actual closures. As a Government we do not have the power to make closures. We can only make proposals to the local authorities concerned. The local authorities have the right, and that right is being exercised time after time when they come to see us and tell us where we have gone wrong.
Given the fall in the birth rate, and given the fact that we do not want to create more and more teachers for certain unemployment, I urge hon. Members to have a sense of responsibility. I can forgive them for fighting for the colleges in their constituencies, and even for trying to bend the rules of debate to get their arguments in. But I plead with them not to give blanket opposition to closing colleges. If they do, they will be advocating the training of 1072 teachers for jobs that will not be there. When we are considering mandatory awards for teacher training places, the birth rate is a crucial factor that must be considered.
§ Mr. Oakes
We want it fairly quickly. There is no deadline date, but we want the representations to be made quickly because it is very damaging for colleges to be left in limbo in this way. I would hope that we could make the final pronouncements by Whitsun, and if hon. Members wish to make representations to discuss the closure of a particular college with me or my right hon. Friend they may do so.
I come back to the point about the number of places available in teacher training colleges. The hon. Member for Ripon raised a point with me about—I am having a little difficulty in reading my note about it.
§ Dr. Hampson
Perhaps the Minister can think about that while I put a point to him. Can he comment on his policy about mandatory awards for teachers who want to be retrained and who have already had a three-year mandatory award?
In connection with that, there is the whole key point about the nature of the planning for forecast numbers, and hence grants. What the hon. Gentleman has been saying is that the Government are planning on the basis of 18-pluses coming into the system. I said that if we were to build in other forms of incentives to get more mature people back, that would affect the number of grants and the cost.
§ Mr. Oakes
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has directed my mind to the point that he made and the scribbled note that I could not read. One of the greatest problems is illiteracy, from which I suffer when I try to read my notes.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that a mandatory award is made to a three-year trained student who comes back to one of the specialist one-year courses to which he referred, be it mathematics, science or craft education. A mandatory award will be made to a three-year student who wishes to come back to such a course.
§ Mr. Hampson
As I recall the circular, the 10 pilot schemes were to investigate the possibility of courses in craft design. It has taken two years of reorganisation, and we still do not have another set up in mathematics. That circular said that if these people had already enjoyed a mandatory grant they would have to fall back on the discretionary awards given by local authorities. I remember that clearly, because it seemed a major failing of the system. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government have reconsidered that?
§ Mr. Oakes
My advice is that a man- datory award would be made to a three- year student. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about four-year students and beyond. I do not know whether that answer would apply to the B Ed or four-year students, but that would be the position for three-year students. That is as I understand the position, but if I am wrong I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.
I have spoken for far longer than I intended. I have, with difficulty, tried to reply to the debate. I say to hon. Members that although proposals may have been made to close colleges in their constituencies, no final decisions have been made. The whole issue is still open. I have received many representations from delegations, and I am considering care- fully and putting to the Secretary of State the views that have been given to me. If Conservative Members, instead of bending the rules of order, will make arrangements to see my right hon. Friend or myself, similar consideration will be given to their representations.