HC Deb 15 May 1811 vol 20 cc146-50
Mr. Wellesley Pole

said he rose, in pursuance, of the notice he gave a few days ago, to move fop leave to bring in a Bill to ap- point Commissioners of public classical education in Ireland, and for the regulation of several endowed grammar schools. With the permission of the House, he would trespass for a few moments upon their time, while he explained the nature and object of a Bill which he meant to propose. In the year 1806, Commissioners were appointed in Ireland for the purpose of inquiring into the state of the different place of public education in Ireland, and into their funds. This was a revival of a former Commission, and under the law, the lord lieutenant had the power of appointing six Commissioners, five of them taken from the Commissioners of Charitable Bequests. These Commissioners had made reports upon the state of the schools, they haying sat since the year 1806, and paid the utmost attention to the subject, They had given no less than eleven different reports upon the state of the following schools, namely, the free schools upon the royal foundation, those instituted by private individuals, the Protestant Charter schools, the free schools under the act of queen Elizabeth, Wilson's hospital, the Blue coat school, the Hibernian school, the Foundling hospital, Erasmus Smyth's school, the Hibernian Marine school, and also the Parish schools Those who had looked at those reports would full that they embraced a great variety of objects of the utmost importance, and that they stated the extreme difficulty the Commissioners found in determining how to arrange them. The Commissioners had recommended the adoption of various alterations, but they had at the same time left it open to Parliament to decide upon the best mode of proceeding, Upon receiving these reports, the best method appeared to be to collect all the suggestions of the Commissioners together, and to frame from them the skeleton of an act of Parliament. After they were embodied into-the shape of an act, it was transmitted to the Commissioners for Education, and they were desired to make alterations, if necessary. They accordingly returned it in the shape in which the should now take the liberty of submitting it to the House. But upon a subject of such importance he felt it also to be his duty to put the House in possession of the ideas of the Commissioners, and then let the whole matter lay over till next session in order that the most ample time might be given for the consideration of a subject of such immense importance. It would, however be necessary for him to state the general outline of the Bill, as it came from the Commissioners, and the view with which it had been framed. It appeared that it would be extremely desirable that there should be some mode adopted in order to bring these various institutions under some set of persons competent to undertake the control of such matters, and therefore the Bill goes, to appoint Commissioners for that purpose, with such restrictions as might be thought necessary upon further investigation of the subject; and also to give them the management of their funds, according to the nature of the several grants by which they originally became framed. Opinions were taken of respectable persons who now are. Commissioners of Education, and also of the lord chancellor, and the idea suggested was, to appoint six Commissioners, amongst whom the following were to be selected, namely, the Lord Primate, the archbishop of Dublin, the Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, and the provost of Trinity College, and four to be appointed by the lord lieutenant, in order that there might always be a sufficient number to attend to the duties of the office. Many of the institutions which he had mentioned, were conducted by the most respectable persons, and in a manner highly beneficial to the public; and it was at first suggested, that several of the schools should be excepted from the control of the Commissioners, particularly the Foundling Hospital, and the, Protestant charter schools. But when the Bill was returned from the Commissioners, it appeared that they had struck out all the excepted cases but one, viz. the schools of Erasmus Smith. It would, however, be for the House to determine whether any or what exceptions should be made. In the Bill, it would be found that an an attempt had been made to embody many of the observations made by the Commissioners in their reports. Among the subjects thus taken up, the most prominent were the Diocesan schools. It appeared that by law there ought to be one diocesan school in every diocese, one-third of the expences of which was to be paid by the ordinary, and the remaining two-thirds by the clergy and from the tithes. Upon inquiry it turned out, however, that there were but ten diocesan schools established in Ireland. It therefore became necessary that some steps should be token upon this subject, and some regulations were therefore intro- duced into the Bill for that purpose. The last report of the Commissioners, which was upon the parish schools, gave a very unfavourable account indeed of them.—By the act of Elizabeth, parish schools Were established in every parish in Ireland, and the clergyman of the parish was bound to keep them. It was a most important fact, that up to this day no clergyman could be inducted into a living in Ireland without taking an oath that he would keep, or cause to be kept, a school in the parish. Instead, however, of keeping the school; the usual course was for the clergyman to pay forty shillings a year to some person to keep a school, or put the money in his pocket, just as he pleased. When the commissioners called first for the returns from the different parishes, of the number of schools, they received, out of 1120 parishes, 837 reports, by which it appears that at that time there were 361 schools. In 1809 the Commissioners made another application for reports, and it appeared that in 736 benefices there were 549 schools. So far the case was rather better than on the former occasion. In the first instance it was stated, that there were 11,000 children educated, and in the fatter 23,000; but it did not appear that these schools were well regulated; he proposed to put them under the control of Commissioners: but he feared there was no prospect of their being able to effect any great improvement in that most material branch of the whole concern. The Commissioners had only one more report to make; and that was upon the general system of education in Ireland, but it was hopeless to look for any improvement that did not emanate from the parish schools; they must be the foundation of Whatever was done. Mr. Pole then read some extracts from the Report, and said that the duke of Richmond, upon receiving it, directed that a letter should be written to the Commissioners, calling their attention particularly to this part of the subject, and directing them to form a plan for a general, system of education. They were now engaged upon that plan, and he hoped that during the recess they would be able to give such information as would enable government to lay the foundation of an uniform system. He had no hesitation, however, in saying in this early stage of the business, that in considering how this matter was to be brought to bear, he should look to the oath taken by the Protestant clergymen, and see whether they ought not to a certain degree to bear the expence of the establishment. He should not trouble the House further at present, and therefore moved for leave to bring in the Bill for the purposes above mentioned.

Sir John Newport

regretted that there were some schools in Ireland not mentioned in the Report of the commissioners. He disapproved of increasing the salaries of masters too much, as it would have a tendency to make them negligent; and insisted that no schools should be exempted from the superintending power. He was surprised that those who held dioceses in Ireland, and were bound by oath to instruct a certain number of pupils as prescribed by law, should have neglected to comply with it. The commissioners, he thought, ought to have power to compel every parish to make a return; and the fair inference, he thought, from neglecting to make returns was, that they were conscious of having omitted their duty.

Mr. Wilberforce

hoped that the actual formation and execution of the plan alluded to by the right hon. mover, would not be long delayed. The commission had already existed 10 years, and something should be done. He was satisfied that that man would be the greatest benefactor of Ireland, and of this country also, who succeeded best in the promotion of education, and by that means in the promotion of virtue and good morals.

Leave was then given to bring in the Bill.