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Colleges Of Education

Volume 889: debated on Tuesday 8 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the effect which his decision to reduce the number of teacher training places will have on the closure and reorganisation of colleges of education.

I have nothing to add, at present, to the reply that I made on 20th March last to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson). [Vol 888, c. 471-21

Does the Secretary of State agree that his proposed cut in teacher-training places amounts to a dramatic and damaging reversal of policy pursued by successive Secretaries of State since 1958? Does he realise that few demographers are crazy enough to believe that current demographic trends will continue, yet is it not on that basis that he is abolishing a provision which will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace?

No, Sir. These policies were carefully worked out after full discussion in the advisory committee on the supply and training of teachers. If the hon. Gentleman will study the "Report on Education" which we issued the week before last and which gives details of our demographic studies, he will see that we are assuming that there will be some increase in birth rate in the years ahead. We are working out our figures on that assumption.

Does the Secretary of State not agree that although at one time the view was that large schools and large universities were advisable, the movement is now the other way? When he is considering which training colleges or colleges of education are to close, will he remember that smallness is sometimes a good thing, and will he bear in mind that these matters should not be decided on geographical area only? Does he not agree that if colleges are popular and well-subscribed, those are the institutions which should be allowed to continue and which certainly should not be closed just for administrative convenience?

We shall not take action simply on the basis of administrative convenience. We shall consider the quality of a college among all the relevant factors. There will not be a unilateral decision taken by my Department. There will be discussions in detail with local education authorities, with voluntary bodies concerned and with the colleges themselves. For this reason 1 said in my original answer that I could not go further than my recent reply on this subject. However, I hope that by the summer most of the decisions will have been taken.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people appreciate the thought which he and his Department have given to this important problem? However, does he appreciate that there is great feeling throughout the country over the reduction in the number of teacher training places, since it is thought that this course will not bring about a reduction in the number of pupils per class, which is what we should be aiming at?

The reduction in teacher training places, because of the age profile of the profession, is consistent with an increase in the number of teaching posts. The target figure of between 480,000 and 490,000 in 1981 represents an increase in the number of teaching posts and is an improvement in the staffing position—to such an extent that in the early 1980s we should reach the position in which no class in the country should contain more than 30 pupils.