28 AUGUST 1964, Page 13


Moving Forward, Looking Backwards


THE best thing about the Newsom Report was its timing. It contains only one major recom- mendation, major in the sense that its imple- mentation would require a deliberate decision of Policy by the Government costing a substantial amount of money. This was the recommendation 10 raise the school-leaving age to sixteen. True, Newsom suggested 1969-70 and the Government decided on 1970-71. But that is to split hairs. Newsom got home., The extraordinary thing is that this major educational reform is given in the Report the shortest shrift imaginable. It is vir- tually dismissed as axiomatic. Five paragraphs Only are devoted to it and it is all over by page 9. Perhaps there is a moral in this triumph and we may hope the successors to Robbins will more actively cultivate the soul of wit.

Of course there was nothing new in this recommendation. It was argued at length in the Crowther Report. But that came out in August, 1959, with a recommendation to take effect at the earliest seven years ahead. This could not have provided an issue for the 1959 election and after due lip service Crowther was pigeon- holed. However, Crowther finally settled the argument as to which should come first—raising the leaving age to sixteen, or compulsory part- time education up to eighteen for those who did leave at fifteen, in short, county colleges. From Crowther onwards it was clear that the next Jump ahead was to be raising the leaving age to sixteen. But when? Newsom was published M August, 1963, when the Government had already run for four years and when pre-election bids were under the hammer. Now that voters Want education, no government at that stage of Its allotted span could have ignored those five Paragraphs.

Hand in hand with this first urgent and im- Perative recommendation goes the categorical assertion that full-time education to the age cif sixteen should be school-based. Those who still Yearn for county colleges may regard this as the unkindest cut of all. For with the age raised to

sixteen school-based and the spread of com- prehensive schools, whether they be one tier or two, catering for the whole range of ability in the higher age groups there can be only dwindling scope remaining for these institutions. If Crowther dealt them a body-blow, Newsom lands it on the chin. Is this the KO, or will they stagger to their feet before the count of the next ten years is over?

Beside these two recommendations of Chapter One, the remainder might also be described as ruminations. This is not to decry them. But some of them are indefinite, others are exhor- tatory in the manner of an inspectorate pamphlet (they may well have been written by the posse of inspectorate assessors) and some, which might have been More fierce and more inexorable far Than empty tigers or the roaring sea

are gentle and vague in their persuasion.

In the last category I would place recom- mendation twelve, which deals with school build- ings. One of the greatest services Newsom has performed is to make clear that 'Secondary Education for All' for many is still a mockery. The White Paper for December, 1958, with that title said: 'The task of bringing all secondary school buildings up to modern standards can- not be completed by a once-for-all drive. But the Government believes that if first things are put first, a big advance towards real secondary edu- cation for all can be made within a five-year period.' Yet 41 per cent of the schools in the Newsom survey were seriously deficient in many respects, and 38 per cent less seriously de- ficient. Only 21 per cent were up to present standards. Only 28 per cent had a proper library; 62 per cent were deficient in science laboratories; 40 per cent had no gymnasium. This is a shock- ing indictment. The information is given in the last chapter of all, almost as an appendix. The recommendation is that 'action should be con- tinued and, indeed, accelerated to remedy functional deficiencies of schools.' Many of us who have been vainly battling on behalf of local education authorities for major programmes which will make up sonic leeway as well as keep pace with rising numbers must feel depressed at this pious bromide—which comes twelfth and seems to have no more importance than surveys to establish the amount of residential schooling available, revisions of agreed syl- labuses, guidance on sexual behaviour' and so on. Yet this and teacher supply are the crux of the problem. Surely the survey demanded at least a rough estimate of what it is going to cost to achieve secondary education for all On the current standards set by the Ministry of Edu- cation (as it then was), and an urgent plea that from 1965 onwards funds should be regularly provided to make the slogan a reality within, say, five or, at the outside, seven more years. However, congratulations to Newsom on the pictures in the Report. They tell their vivid story, and even the most cursory reader who gave up long before the last chapter must have shuddered at the appalling inequality of oppor- tunity they reveal. Newsom was inevitably over- shadowed by the almost simultaneous thunder- clap of Robbins. But it may well turn out that Newsom has a deal of staying-power. The next few years will reveal whether the national con- science has been sufficiently aroused to demand enough of the total educational budget to make sense of secondary education for all.

But Newsom believes (and anyone who has first-hand experience of building secondary schools would concur) that the existing stan- dards are insufficient. Education has become more complex over the last ten years and secon- dary schools, as well as individuals in their private lives, expect higher standards. Among the developments of which the report takes cognisance are, for example, the need for maths laboratories and modern language laboratories, where before ordinary .classrooms of half or three-quarters of the size were thought adequate. Music, it says, 'is frequently the worst-equipped and accommodated subject in the curriculum,' a subject which must assume ever greater import- ance as we move towards an era of greater leisure. Perhaps the most important requirement for additional space is the provision of more 'social' areas and common rooms for the older pupils. Here again the tepidity of Newsom is evident. The report gives us some doodles by the Development Group of the Ministry's Archi- tects and Buildings Branch, and recommends that 'a limited number of experiments in building design' should be undertaken. A grateful Govern- ment, exercised by multifarious claims on its purse, will be able with a clear conscience to

undertake 'limited experiments' for the next decade, while millions arc spent on schools known to be inadequate from the start. No doubt in the meantime we shall continue to be told by the Department with the ingenuousness to which we have grown accustomed that all we need is more ingeniousness in our school designs. None the less, at its annual conference this year the Association of Education Committees re- solved 'that the Secretary of State for Education and Science be urged to increase the limit of cost per place for secondary schools to enable students' common rooms to be provided within the cost limit.'

The most depressing revelation of Newsom concerns the turnover of staff. Already notable in the best-situated and best-found schools, it deteriorates as district and buildings grow less . salubrious until the position is reached in schools in the slums where more than half the staff would have changcd in a span of three years. If the stark contrast in buildings results in gross in- equalities of opportunity, the differential in staff turnover magnifies the discrepancy hideously.

The most encouraging thing to my mind is Just outside the Report; it is found in the Minister's foreword. He says: 'The essential Point •is that all children should have an equal Opportunity of acquiring intelligence.' The italics are mine. This is what education is about and It is for all children. In this public acknow- ledgment of the proposition that intelligence Can be acquired there blows the wind of change. How much longer then must our children be marketed by the Eleven-plus?

There are two directions in which one must hope Newsom will stir up much thought over the next decade. One is the longer school day. The other is the forging of closer links with in- dustry. In this last we should be well advised to try and make an objective study of what is going on in Russia. Some of it possibly may not, but some of it may, suit our needs.

One may wonder whether there is any other Country in the world, however caste-conscious It may be, where it would have been considered both natural and becoming to give a national advisory committee the terms of reference Which the Newsom Council had to wrestle with— to consider the education between the ages of thirteen and sixteen of pupils of average or Ifiss- than-average ability. Crowther was given the fifteen-to-eighteen age range without qualifica- tions. In essence Newsom was given the secon- dary modern schools., But not the whole of them. The modern schools contain at least three- quarters of our future. But Newsom was con- cerned only with half our future. How can one sensibly segregate the problems of two-thirds (31 a school from those of the whole school? Perhaps this was not totally out of the question in terms of Newsom philosophy. For though the report suggests some softening of rigid streaming it gives its imprimatur to three broad groupings of ability. By this convenient device the committee might be able to study two of them. What they would make within these terms of reference of a modern school, still more a school containing the full range of ability, which had abandoned streaming altogether in the lower Part of the school (as is now the case in a num- ber of Leicestershire secondary schools) is an interesting speculation. While they are obviously Moving forwards, a lot of the time they are ,doing so looking backwards. But perhaps in the tong run this cautious method of progressions gets one furthest.

The author of this article is Director of Education for Leicestershire.