Skip to main content

Dartmouth College Entry (New Scheme)

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 7 May 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he is now in a position to make a statement concerning the future of the Dartmouth and Special Entry schemes of elevation to commissioned rank.

Yes, Sir. I will, with permission, make a statement on this subject at the end of Questions.


The Admiralty have for some time been reviewing the methods of recruiting officers for the Royal Navy, with particular reference to the entry through the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that we have every reason to be satisfied with the quality of the naval officer produced by the entry of boys at about 13½ years of age, and their subsequent education at Dartmouth. The Royal Navy can justly claim that its officers have stood the supreme test of war, a claim which my noble Friend, the First Lord, and the Board of Admiralty, are proud to have the opportunity of endorsing. The best tribute to Dartmouth is the distinction with which the product has served the country.

We feel, however, that, for reasons which I propose to give, the time has come for a change in the present system of entry into the Royal Navy through Dartmouth. This system and the training given at Dartmouth may be regarded as having taken their present form about 40 years ago, though one far reaching change was made in 1941, when my right hon. Friend, who is now the Minister of Defence, introduced the scholarship system.

When Dartmouth was founded the educational system in the country was very different from what it is now. Inevitably, entry was the privilege of boys whose parents were able to afford to send their children to preparatory schools. The reduced fee system which has been in operation at Dartmouth for many years did little to attract others, and the scholarship system of 1941, excellent as it was, was only a beginning of the broadening of the basis of entry. The new educational system of the country, designed as it is to ensure that every child has an equal opportuity of securing the best education he is capable of absorbing, makes it possible to afford the opportunity of becoming a naval officer to boys from all classes of the community who possess the qualities of mind and potential leadership required by the Royal Navy.

With this object in view, my noble Friend has decided to modify the system of entry into the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, to provide for candidates to join at about the age of 16 years. Evidence will be required of candidates' educational standard—something approximating to the present school certificate is the standard provisionally in mind—and of their ability to profit by the further education which will be given after entry. The method of selection will also include an interview, the exact scope of which has not yet been determined. Cadets entering Dartmouth under this scheme will be eligible for the Executive, Engineering and Supply Branches of the Royal Navy. It is contemplated that they should spend five terms at Dartmouth before proceeding to sea. The House will, I think, be glad to hear that no fees or charges, either for tuition or board and lodging, will be payable in respect of new style Dartmouth cadets.

Entry will be open to candidates of the quality required from whatever schools they come. I am satisfied that with such a wide basis of recruitment, followed by nearly two years' further education and training at Dartmouth College, there is every reason to expect that the naval officer produced by the new Dartmouth system will be a worthy successor to the naval officer of today.

The Admiralty intend, of course, to continue the system of recruiting officers from the lower deck and, as I stated in my speech introducing the Navy Estimates, we hope that it will be possible to select an overall average of 20–25 per cent. of officers in these branches from the lower deck. It is hoped that ultimately the new system of Dartmouth entry will provide one half of the remainder of the officers required for the Navy, the balance coming from the special entry system at about 18 years of age, which it is also intended to continue.

It is not possible yet to fix a date when this new scheme will be introduced but it is hoped that the first entries will begin in September, 1948. In a new scheme of this magnitude there are bound to be many details to settle. The Admiralty contemplate that in the initial stages the two systems will operate side by side, the numbers under the present system being gradually reduced, and the numbers under the new system gradually increased until the new system is fully operative.

The House will recognise that the scheme affords for the first time an opportunity to suitable boys from all schools in the country of becoming naval officers; and the Admiralty are confident that they can rely on the co-operation of education authorities, headmasters, arid others concerned in education, in ensuring the success of the scheme.

As I think I was the first to introduce commissioned entry from the lower deck, I am in sympathy with the general spirit of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but I wish to ask him this: Are we to take it that the period of training for the midshipman is now to be reduced from four years to two and a half years, or something like that? There is now four years' very intensive and specialised training. Is that being thrown over, and are we coming down to two and a half years? I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, so perhaps he can tell me whether that is so?

Not altogether; it is not a question of training midshipmen, but the training of cadets. They will receive less training at Dartmouth, because much of the previous training there was of a purely educational nature, which they will now acquire at school. We shall concentrate, in the shorter time, on the technical training which will be necessary.

Was not a great deal done by way of the vocational training which was obtained during this four years? It certainly produced a marvellous class of officers for the Royal Navy.

Certainly, Sir. As I have been at pains to explain, it produced a marvellous type of officer, and we think that the new scheme will produce an equally good type of officer, even with the shorter period.

I would like to make it clear that this matter will have to be debated. We cannot give our accord, at this stage, to the definite reduction of the vocational training of officers of the Royal Navy from four years to two and a half.

Is my hon. Friend aware that his announcement will be generally welcomed in the Service, not only as a move towards ending an entirely obsolete class discrimination, but also as a means of maintaining that high standard of naval efficiency of which this country has been proud?

Is my hon. Friend aware that although his statement will give general satisfaction, as far as it goes, further democratisation is necessary in the special entry system from the public schools at the age of 18, which at present is largely restricted to the more expensive schools?

Is it not the case that we have had for a long time special entry at the age of 18 for officers, and that senior naval officers take the view that after a few years' training it has been impossible to tell the difference between a Dartmouth entry and a special entry at 18?

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that I personally was responsible for the outside entry, both from the universities and from the public schools, and that the core of naval officers has always had this intensive training?

I cannot agree to the separation of naval officers into a corps and something which is not a corps.

I shall have to instruct the hon. Gentleman in spelling. In this case, core is spelt "core".

Is not the period of provisional training under this proposal less than two years and not two and a half years?

We are not definite as to the exact period, but we think that it will be five terms or possibly six.

As Dartmouth is in my constituency, may I be allowed to ask a question? [Interruption.] I am more closely responsible for it, possibly, than some other hon. Members. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the retaining of the geographical situation of Dartmouth College will bring very great satisfaction to South Devon as being obviously the most suitable place for it?

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether it has been decided by the Admiralty to keep the existing midshipman system and also the Greenwich system, because these are indivisible when one is considering the training of officers?

While welcoming the statement, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to assure us that the intellectual content of the education given between i6 and 18 will bring cadets near to the higher school certificate standard? Can he assure us that the curriculum will not be overloaded with technical training upon the excuse that the allotted period is now short?

While welcoming the statement that the more technical side of the training is to be deferred until r6, may I ask whether the selection from schools will be by nomination or by examination, and whether Dartmouth College is to come in any sense within the ordinary educational system of the country?

There will be both an examination and an interview, but Dartmouth will obviously not come altogether within the ordinary educational system of the country. The Board of Education have been consulted on this, and they think that it is a workable scheme, with which they are very satisfied.

While welcoming the general implication of the statement, and having had the Minister's assurance that his object is to produce first-class naval officers, may I ask if there will be any further opportunity of discussing the details of this scheme?

As the school certificate has been mentioned as a standard of entry, is it intended that the dockyard school cadet scholarships shall be tenable at Dartmouth College?