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Physical Education

Volume 437: debated on Monday 5 May 1947

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

11.12 p.m.

I regret that in the past eighteen months this House has had few opportunities to debate educational matters. In view of the raising of the school-leaving age and the recasting of our educational system, this is most unfortunate. Tonight, I wish to deal with a specific part of education with which I was intimately connected before the war, namely, physical education. In the past, physical education had been for a long time the Cinderella of the school curriculum, but just before the war a new attitude revealed itself in educational theory and educational practice. Physical education is not just the provision of a prearranged series of gymnastic jerks to be inflicted upon the young of the nation; it embraces psychology and physiology, which cover wide fields of child welfare and health. I was pleased to note that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he recently opened the Harrow Education Week, pleaded that educational planners should be sure that they had enough land for schools and playing fields. In his words, fresh air and the proper exercise of the body were as essential a part of school education as learning in the classroom.

In Britain the development of physical education has proceeded on different lines from that in Europe. Quite rightly, formal gymnastics have been secondary to games and athletics, though no one will deny the healthy and lasting influence of Scandinavia on our theory and practice. Ever since the setting up of a Royal Commission in 1902, and its subsequent report in 1903 which stressed the importance of regarding physical training as of equal value to mental training, there has been a steady growth and expansion of physical training. In the late nineteen thirties we had considerable activity which led to the passing of a small but important Act, the Physical Training and Recreation Act of 1937. Then the war intervened.

The reason why I raise the question of physical education this evening is to ensure that in the recasting which is now taking place in education generally, physical education will have its rightful place. At present, the position is not satisfactory. I do not want the development of physical education to continue in a haphazard fashion, like Topsy, who "just growed." I want its development to be co-ordinated and planned. With the raising of the school-leaving age, we shall need more school accommodation and better schools to replace the barrack-like buildings which cast a depressing influence upon our school population. Day after day, in the vast majority of our schools, teachers are called upon to instruct children of all ages in physical training on hard school yards. Even in the better schools, the school hall, which is used for numerous school functions, has to serve as a school gymnasium. These conditions make a travesty of the words "physical training." Moreover, at the end of the physical training period, few schools provide adequate shower-bath arrangements. The elementary principles of hygiene are neglected. I do ask the Minister of Education to insist, when he provides new school buildings, that every new school has a separate school gymnasium with adequate bathing arrangements. We must think in terms of the Greek ideal of a gymnasium in every town and village.

The problem of proper accommodation and equipment is, however, secondary to that of the supply of adequately trained teachers of physical training. The training of such teachers today is not satisfactory. The McNair Report of 1944 is most interesting in this respect. The first chapter of the Report emphasises the chaotic arrangements for the supply of teachers. This chaos is revealed particularly in the supply of physical training teachers. If we take the case of men, we have two-year students taking a course of physical training. We have graduate teachers who, after their normal three years' training, for their particular subject, take a special course of physical training in the fourth diploma year. Then the specialist teacher usually takes another year's course at Carnegie, Loughborough, Chelsea, Dunfermline, or Goldsmiths. Others who are not satisfied with the facilities in this country, seek instruction abroad. The position is even more unsatisfactory in relation to women teachers, for whom we have six colleges for physical training. I will quote from Page 84 of the McNair Report which, I think, indicts the present system. In section 288 it states, dealing with women's colleges:
"They are not, in the main, publicly provided nor publicly aided or controlled institutions. Their fees are consequently high, and though some local education authorities make grants to enable students to attend them, there is no doubt that generally speaking the profession of teacher of physical education in girls' schools is not freely open to talent regardless of financial circumstances."
The tragedy is that this really applies both to men and women, and specialists practise exclusively in the old grammar, secondary and technical schools. If I may quote again from the McNair Report, it says on page 12, dealing with training for women:
"Teachers from the six colleges of physical training for women are to be found with rare exceptions, only in secondary schools."
That is most unsatisfactory. Very rarely do we get the benefit of the work of the trained specialist at the most important stage of the child's life, the primary stage. The value of remedial exercises to counteract physical defects is more important then. Physical education is vitally important in that primary stage. Why should children who have been fortunate in their choice of parents, or have been fortunate enough to pass a mental test at the age of II, have better physical education facilities? What I would like to ask tonight is, what plans have the Ministry made to eradicate the chaotic state of affairs revealed by the McNair Report? What about the Physical Training and Recreation Act of 1937? That Act visualised the provision of a national college of physical training for England and Wales. The Physical Training and Recreation Memorandum of 1937, Cmd. 5364, said that such a college would have an influence over the whole conduct of physical education. It would have a salutary influence on practice and theory. On 6th February, 1947, I addressed a Question to the Ministry of Education on this very subject and I must say that I was sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary did not give a very promising reply. He indicated that in the present circumstances it would be impracticable to proceed with the proposal for a national college of physical training, although, before the war, a site was acquired and plans prepared. Again, the Ministry produced Circular 84 in January, 1946, but this publication consists merely of a few platitudes which really do not meet present needs.

Section 53 of the 1944 Education Act imposes a duty upon education authorities to provide adequate facilities for recreation and physical training. I do ask the Minister what steps beyond Circular 84 are being taken to implement that Section of the Education Act. With the raising of the school leaving age an extra school year now operates. This will entail a new planning of the school curriculum. I sincerely hope that in the envisaged planning the needs of physical education will be sympathetically considered. I know that the Minister—I am glad to see him in his place tonight—has a terrific task ahead, perhaps it will be agreed, the most important in the building of the post-war Britain. The war has produced a great upheaval. Progress has been accelerated in many fields, education is no exception. There have been three great stages of educational theory in Europe, the Greek period, the time of the Renaissance, and the period of the French Revolution. Today we have the opportunity to lay the foundations of a more glorious age of educational development. We must think more in terms of the purpose of education and a philosophy for action, and in that philosophy a new conception of physical education will have to play its rightful part.

11.25 p.m.

After the very important speech just made by the hon. and gallant Member for Workington (Captain Peart), perhaps I may put two questions to the Parliamentary Secretary. Will he say how many teachers in emergency training colleges are qualifying in some way or another for diplomas in physical education? Recently, I believe, a limit has been put on the numbers allowed to go into emergency training colleges. Has any provision been made—because many of these are ex-Servicemen and have had some experience of this work in the Services—to recruit some of these men specially for this purpose? I only put that as a suggestion I appreciate what my right hon. Friend has done with regard to training colleges and the danger of having perhaps a superfluity,. but if there is a shortage of physical training teachers as suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend it should be possible to increase the number training at Loughborough and other colleges. One University which I have the honour to represent in this House—Birmingham—has recently started an experiment in physical education, and there is a chance that it will not be confined to graduate training. This is an extremely important experiment, because it means that a man will not be qualified only for physical education, ceasing to teach at the age of 35, but that he can take on other teaching after that. His status in the school, unlike that of the old sergeantmajor "gym instructor," will be that of an all-round man and he will be on a par with other members of the staff, just as these men at Birmingham are on a par with professors.

11.28 p.m.

I assure my hon. and gallant Friend who has raised this matter that we in the Ministry are sympathetic with the ideas and ideals he has expressed. He will know that most secondary schools, of all types built in the last ten years have had gymnasia, with shower-baths and changing rooms attached. He has asked us to look forward. As he knows in our building regulations we include provisions for gymnasia in all schools that are to be built up to three form entry and two gymnasia in four form entry schools. All gymnasia are to be of an area of 2,800 square feet, that is, apart from changing rooms and shower baths, which are of course an extra provision. We are not providing gymnasia in elementary schools on the ground—which my hon. and gallant Friend may dispute—that children of this age, that is, under 11 years, do not benefit from the type of exercise that depends on the use of apparatus. This is, I agree, a disputed point but the Ministry has taken the line which I have just indicated.

I would suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that the teaching of physical training cannot be considered as a self-contained problem. It is our business at the Ministry to see that there are enough competent general practitioners as well as enough teachers able to carry out varied work at various levels in accordance with the facilities and apparatus that may be available in the schools. We suggest that these physical training teachers should be prepared to take part in the general teaching of other subjects. There are not enough positions as supervisors and as organisers to provide a worth-while career for large numbers of specialist teachers who teach nothing else but physical training. My hon. and gallant Friend has referred to the McNair Committee proposals. That Committee recommended that specialist teaching should be closely integrated with the teacher training service as a whole. I think most of us who have had experience in the teaching profession would not dispute that point of view.

Bearing it in mind, it is our intention at the Ministry to take certain measures to meet the difficulties caused by the war, to which my hon. and gallant Friend has rightly referred tonight. First, there is the restoration of courses interrupted by the war. Second, there is the provision of special emergency courses to cope with immediate difficulties. Those are absolutely necessary. Third, it is necessary to think in terms of distant and future longterm planning. Tonight I want to say something specially about the second point—the provision of special emergency courses to cope with the immediate difficulties. The emergency training scheme—I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay) has mentioned this point—has attracted many from the Services who, during their Service experience, had much to do with physical training. Men and women who during their wartime experience actually instructed in physical training courses, have left the Services with a great desire to go on with their specialist work and to use their knowledge in the schools. The Wandsworth Emergency Training College is one college devoting special attention to this form of education, but I am afraid I cannot give any figures that could be taken seriously and that would meet the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for English Universities about the number who are actually qualifying under the emergency training scheme in this special form of study.

The selected men and women, after their emergency training course, can have extension courses of the more advanced work for the more senior pupils. It may be fair to hazard these figures but I do not stand by them as being absolutely correct. We shall turn out about 50 men and a corresponding number of women per year. I would not like to say that that was a definite and accurate figure to give, but I hope it gives some indication and I hope it is a fair guess. The addition of an extra age group by the raising of the school-leaving age does not raise any special problem. I am afraid I must again disappoint my hon. Friend over the question of a national college for physical training and say that we cannot proceed at this moment with this proposal. I admit it is a very sorry answer to give to him and it is disappointing. It is true as he says, that plans were prepared by a committee under Lord Dawson of Penn for a building to cost approximately £350,000—

At that date. Such a college for long courses, two-year courses, for refresher courses and for research, would undoubtedly be invaluable. I can only say that the project has not been lost sight of. I know that is not very encouraging, but it is all I can say tonight in answer to that point. Certainly we shall not embark upon such a tremendous proposal as this at the present time.

My hon. and gallant Friend mentioned Circular 84. He said that Circular 84 emphasises the importance of appointing an adequate number of organisers and, from my own experience of local government, I know how important this point is. Let us see what is the present position. There are 146 local education authorities. Between them there are approximately 155 men and 175 women full-time organisers for physical training. Only 8 out of 146 authorities appear to have no physical training organiser, but I must say here that even that figure may not be correct and that it may be even less than eight and, quite frankly, I consider that is at the moment a satisfactory situation. Then we come to Section 53 of the Act where a duty is laid upon local authorities to secure the provision of adequate facilities for recreation and physical training for persons undergoing further education. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members will know by this time what is said in the new further education pamphlet. and I would draw their attention to Chapter 3. In that chapter we ask the local education authorities to submit their schemes for further education, and we ask them to include provision for social and physical recreation, including in this respect—and to me this is vitally important—co-operation with all voluntary organisations. To get that co-operation in all branches of education, further education particularly, is, I think. invaluable.

The Ministry will consider the schemes when they come forward, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall see that those schemes are adequate in the provision of physical training and physical recreation. The Ministry also gives direct assistance to the provision of these facilities for the training and the supply of teachers and leaders, and towards the funds of national voluntary organisations. While we encourage help to be given by the local education authority we, in turn, at the Ministry make our contributions directly. In 1946–1947 the amount given in such assistance was 354,000 under Grant Regulation 13 for the youth service and £120,000 under the Physical Training and Recreation Act of 1937.

Finally, the Ministry is to issue shortly a pamphlet to encourage open air life in the form of camping, and in our programme of Ministry courses we have four courses in training for camping arranged for this summer. In June in the south of England, in July in East England, and in August in the north and in the midlands. I can assure my hon. Friend who has raised this matter that the provision of these courses for training in camping are creating a good deal of attention among those interested in physical recreation, and we believe, in fact we feel very confident, that they will be successful and popular. My right hon. Friend, if I may say so without presumption, and his Ministry are alive to the importance of the problem which has been raised tonight and, as one who believes that in education at all stages you neglect the bodies of your pupils at your peril, I welcome the raising of this subject in the Adjournment Debate tonight.

The hon. Gentleman has referred, quite rightly, to physical education after school age. Before the war we had in this country a National Fitness Council under the administration of the Board of Education, which had branches all over the country. May I ask whether it is the intention to re-establish the National Fitness Council?

I cannot answer that question offhand. I think we should require notice of it. We would require to have time to consider it.

If it was buried in 1939 that does not mean that it cannot be resurrected.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Nineteen Minutes to Twelve o' Clock.