Hailed by everyone as forward-looking, the Report has been officially welcomed and officially shelved. The welcome is hardly surprising, since the major recommendations are no longer controversial. It established for the late-Sixties, targets for full and part-time education which were recognised as basic in the 1944 Act. But on the “operational level, where
The real advance which the Crowther Report made was to try to commit the Government to a timetable— to prevent the Report having to be made again in 1980. It is the timetable which Sir David has now abandoned— and it is difficult to see what is left. The implication of the Report was that the situation in education had reached such a pass that nothing immediate could be done to remedy it: and that, in order to envisage raising the school-leaving age some time between 1967 and 1969, “energetic preparations should be made”. But Sir David has now refused to set a date, even for 1967–1969, when the leaving-age would be raised to 16. He has even refused to implement the recommendation that children should not be allowed to leave school automatically at the end of the term in which they are 15: a proposal which should have been modest and shortterm enough even for the Minister.
Sir David is clearly overwhelmed by the grim shambles of a system which he has inherited. On the one hand, the teacher-training course has been extended by one year, thus cutting even deeper into his supply of teachers: on the other hand, he must find, by 1970 (and pay) the 17,400 extra teachers needed, if the schoolleaving age is to be raised at all this decade, as well as the 61,800 required, if the size of classes are to be reduced. That will entail a rise in the expenditure on education from £700 million to £1,000 million in the mid-Sixties. But behind Sir David are the backwoodsmen of the Tory Party, led by Mr. Thorneycroft, screaming “inflationary expenditure”, and the constituencies are full of active Party women complaining about taxes and rates. In the long run, as even Sir Geoffrey Crowther sees, smaller classes, and more teachers and an extra year will have to come, if the whole system is to be prevented from coming to a halt: but in the short run, all Sir David can see are bills, and competing scarcities, and expensive priorities, and hostile back-benchers. He is beset by his own contradictions: he “looks forward” (bravely but distantly) to £1,400 million on education in the 1970’s, but in the meanwhile, every step which will set the process of educational reform in motion now has been postponed. He did commit himself to the view that, if the school-leaving age were not raised in 1970, it might never be. What he did not say, was that, in order to reach the Crowther targets at the end of the decade, we would simply have to afford to raise the education bill within the life of this Parliament.
The problem is cyclical. In order to lower the size of the average class, Sir David needs teachers desperately: but until he lowers the size of the average class, the teaching problem is so formidable that it discourages young people from taking up the profession—apart from the fact that it is scandalously paid. So far, in spite of the Crowther Report, which with all its imperfections might have strengthened his hand, Sir David has not found the political courage to break into this circle in any decisive way.
And just in case we imagine that the situation is going to right itself by natural processes, it is worthwhile to bear the following figures in mind (correct up to the beginning of 1958).