18 OCTOBER 1963, Page 7

Out of Newsom

By JOHN VAIZEY IT HERE have been four. .Reports on Education 1 in recent years. Crowther on the education of children from fifteen to eighteen was outstanding, not only for the depth of its appreciation of the situation, but because it represented a major attempt to find out the facts. Lady Albemarle's Committee on the Youth Services indulged in a great deal of uplift, but had virtually no facts to go on. Mr. Newsom's report falls halfway between the two. The latter part of the Report is a detailed study of a number of children aged fourteen and fifteen. These children are those Whose reading ability is somewhat less than average. They are drawn broadly from secondary modern schools.

This confirms what is very broadly known— the lower the ability of children, the more their parents tend to be manual workers, the larger the size of their family tends to be. They also tend to be smaller and to live more in the industrial areas than elsewhere.

The greater ability displayed by the child at school and the more he comes from a 'good' home, the more likely he will be to stay on at school and probably to take an external ex- amination. There is a growing tendency for this kind of child to become more typical of all children in the secondary modern schools as the proportion of manual workers' families de- clines and that of 'white collar' homes rises.

As this happens, however; the children who- display less ability and who come from families With manual working-class backgrounds tend to become the kind of children who go to schools where most pupils have low educational moti- vation and where the anti-educational ethos is particularly strong. These are the schools which become the blackboard jungles, especially those which are in the older parts of the cities and are, therefore, grossly inadequate physically. Because they are bad as schools, the teachers who work there, apart from the devoted core of dedicated people, tend to be transient and un- trained and so the whole problem becomes cumulative.

Therefore it becomes extremely important that resources, energy and enthusiasm should be de- voted, not only to the children who could be regarded, marginally at least, as people who might, in some sense, mount the academic ladder, but also to the children who, by the process of erecting ladders, become more and more con- demned to stay on the ground floor.

This means that these children will have to stay at school longer than they do now in order that the education services may try to do something for them; but the problem is then posed: what should they be taught and how should they be taught it?

The Committee was precluded from consider- ing the actual structure of secondary education. Indeed, its remit was, in many ways, rather a peculiar one. The boundaries drawn between children of above and below average ability vary with geography acid social class. Conse- quently, a child who in some areas is average would in other areas seem clever or very stupid. In other words, the school structure reflects the underlying social structure. Consequently, in attempting to suggest suitable educational treat- ment for the less-than-average, what the Com- mittee is concerned really to do is to suggest what kind of education is appropriate for the great majority of the children of the manual workers. This, in itself, reveals a diversity of attitudes and opinions which no committee, however ably chaired, can resolve. It is the very stuff of politics.

Consequently, when the Committee says that the school-leaving age should be raised at once and that there should be an inter-departmental working party to deal with general social prob- lems, including education in slum areas, what it is really saying is that the rapid progress in improving the conditions of life of many work- ing-class families requires a fundamental re- alignment Of the social services (especially housing) and an improvement in family allow- ances and other monetary grants, so that the existing class inequalities are reduced. To attempt to improve the conditions of life of these families by purely educational changes would be approach- ing the question from the wrong end, as the Com- mittee realises.

On the other hand, when it deals with im- provements in pedagogical techniques, the Report is dealing with a special case of a general prob- lem, viz., that much of what is taught to children of lesser ability is taught inefficiently and con- sequently arouses great hostility or lethargy in those who cannot easily see the ultimate objective of their education—indeed, if there is one.

The Newsom Report is a valuable document, but it is not, nor is it intended to be, a pro- gramme for immediate action. Decisions at a political level must be taken if its message is to be accepted. The decisions in particular in- volve a fundamental reconsideration of the status of teacher training.

It is quite clear from what the Committee says that the teacher who is trained to deal with young children or with children who are not academi- cally inclined is undertaking the toughest job in the educational service and that, in many cases, the training which he or she is given has been eminently suitable for the work. The kind of people, however, who have been going to the teacher-training colleges have, by and large, not had so wide an educational background as those who have gone to the universities. Con- sequently, until the three-year teacher-training course was introduced, the training colleges were trying, manfully, both to educate their students and also to train them to do a very difficult and skilled job in a ludicrously short time. To improve this situation must be a main point of the coming Robbins Report.