HC Deb 06 April 1841 vol 57 cc936-49
Mr. Ewart

said, that his object in introducing the subject which he had announced to the House, was twofold. In the first place, he wished there to be a responsible Minister who should superintend in Parliament the most important of all subjects—the Education of the people. In the next place, he wished such Minister to lay an annual statement on that vital question before the Parliament and the people. He desired to apply to this great subject the two most powerful attributes of representative government—responsibility and publicity. That the periodical statement which he asked for should be made, was consonant with strict Parliamentary precedent as well as with reason. They had every year regularly laid before them the financial statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Secretary-at-War entered at large into the prospects and condition of the army; the Secretary of the Admiralty into that of the navy; another Secretary into that of the ordnance. Ought they not to apply a similar principle to a case more important than all of them—the general education of the people? He (Mr. Ewart) need scarcely remind the House that, in other countries, the principle of a responsible Minister of Public Instruction, and of a periodical report by him, had been long adopted. In Prussia the forms of this principle might be traced as gradually developing themselves since the era of Frederic the Great. He would venture to say, that not all the military glories of that illustrious man, great as they were in success, and still greater in misfortune, would confer more lasting honor on his name than his early introduction of a general scheme of education for the people, whom he had begun by saving and ended by instructing. It was well known by Members of that House that there was a responsible Minister on the subject of education in Prance, and that he reported periodically to the king. Such a minister (the Minister of the Interior) there also was in Holland. Nor could anything more powerfully demonstrate the benefits of such an institution than the evils which had attended the loss of it since the separation of Belgium from Holland. On this point Mr. O'Malley, a traveller well qualified to judge, had declared that the state of education in Belgium was now most deplorable "there being now no central control, no Minister of Public Instruction, no normal school." This account of an English traveller was fully sustained, by the confessions of an illustrious Belgian statesman M. Ducpetiaux.— For nine years (says M. Ducpetiaux) the Government has abstained from publishing re ports on the situation of the schools of the country—not only is the greater part of our population abandoned to the most deplorable ignorance, but the instruction given to the children in the schools is far from being proportionate to their wants. The care of education is generally neglected; instruction, purely mechanical, addresses itself to the understanding, rarely to the heart; it gives the instrument without teaching its use; and often creates the evil winch it ought to remedy. Even in the United States, a land the most averse to any system of centralization, a recognition of the principles which he (Mr. Ewart) advocated, had at length been made. In many of the states, as in Massachusets and New York, reports on the existing condition of education were yearly compiled and laid before the Legislature. But between the reports usually made in foreign countries and the one which he proposed, he (Mr. Ewart) would establish two distinctions. In the first place, he would have such a statement, addressed not to the Sovereign, but to the Parliament; in the next place, he would have it made publicly, that it might be borne on the wings of the press openly and freely throughout the country. Nor would it be a slight benefit that there should be constantly in the House of Commons a responsible Minister, who might be publicly interrogated at all times respecting the condition of the education of the people. But it might be objected that education has not yet assumed in this country such a form, or been so concentrated, as to afford materials or scope for an annual report. He (Mr. Ewart) denied the validity of this objection. In the first place, an account ought to be rendered of the disposal of the annual grant voted by Parliament—a miserable contribution certainly for a great nation; and the more miserable when compared with the sums allocated to the purposes of public education in France and other foreign countries. But beside this subject, there were the proceedings of the Board of Public Education in Ireland (which was about to impart, and was imparting, such blessings to that country); the state of education in Scotland (where the ancient and honourable distinction of Scotland, its parochial school-system, required revision); there were the various establishments in the different municipalities, many of which formed a committee of the town-council on the especial subject of education; and which would willingly communicate with the Government; all these might form the subjects of a comprehensive public statement. Education, too, had recently been connected with our factory system; it had been engrafted on our system of prison-discipline; it had been extended to our work-houses under the new Poor-law Act: On education, in their several departments, these several commissioners reported. But, in his opinion, it would be better that they should come under one great department specially devoted to education. Besides these subjects for an educational report there were the various Schools of Art now happily forming in this country. The Board of Trade was not, in his opinion, a body peculiarly qualified by its constitution or pursuits to develope the formation and superintend the management of Schools of Art. Yet it was now entrusted with the charge of them. Another subject of great importance was the formation of public libraries: it was well known that public libraries were abundantly scattered over the continent. In England, excepting the British Museum, he scarcely knew where there was a public library. In Paris there were four, daily open to the public; the Bibliothèque du Roi, the library of the Arsenal, the Mazarine library, and the library of St. Geneviève. In the latter a regulation had been recently adopted which might be beneficially imitated by the trustees of the British Museum. The library of St. Geneviève had been opened during the last three years in the evening, from the hours of six to half past ten, for the use of artisans. He believed the experiment to have been entirely successful. Why should not the British Museum be rendered equally accessible to the British public? It was well known to what an extent public libraries existed in Italy. In Germany, it appeared, from a recent statistical document, that there were no less than eighty or ninety public libraries. In Russia, within the last five years a library had been opened by the emperor at St. Petersburg; and provincial libraries had been formed at Wologda, Wladirur, Archangel, and other places. What could more appropriately be included in the annual statement of a Minister than the formation and state of public libraries, and all the various subjects which he had rapidly brought under the consideration of the House. In short he might be permitted to include them all in the words of an eminent foreigner, M. Salvandy, who (in his report to the king of the French in the year 1839) thus comprehensively described the attributes and province of the department of education. The teaching of the people, the education of youth, literature and science, all the institutions, the depositaries of human knowledge, all collections which preserve its monuments and acquisitions are comprised in this department. Even more extensive objects than these might be comprehended in this department of a government. All the improvements in Education adopted in foreign countries might, through this organ, be imparted to our own. It might form a means of international communication on the subject of education. We knew that our infant-school system was now diffused throughout the continent. It came back to us with improvements from Rotterdam and the Hague. Our Bell and Lancaster system had been shewn to be unequal, as an instrument of education, to the 'simultaneous' system practised in Germany. From the United States we might borrow their useful system of Lyceums, peculiarly adapted as they were to promote the education of persons absorbed in daily labour. The system of normal schools extending on the continent, was worthy of our emulation. It was true that the National School Society, the British and Foreign School Society, and several similar institutions had established, and were improving, their system of normal schools. Still the normal schools in Prussia were greatly in advance of ours. The number of them in that country was forty-five; the teachers instructed in them, were 2,500. These were institutions worthy of our rivalry; more especially as France now felt the necessity of giving greater extension to her normal system. A recent vote of the Chamber of Deputies had added to its efficiency; and M. Cousin, in a late review of his efforts as Minister of Instruction during the past year, particularly dwelt on the extension he had given to primary normal schools. The encouragement and enlightenment of that useful and honourable class—the school-teachers of the United Kingdom was worthy of earnest and early consideration. How different not only in intellectual, but in moral training was the German school-master from the individual, in many instances the village-fiddler, who filled that situation in Ger- many in former times! How different was the school-master in Prance becoming ! how different in England ! On their advancement depended that of our artisans, and of our rural population. Our artisans, he was sorry to say, though the most skilful workmen, had been shewn on the evidence of Mr. Escher—a foreign gentleman who employed artisans of all nations—to be far less cultivated in their tastes and intellectual in their pursuits (entirely through the neglect of the parent State), than the artisans from countries in which the State exercised a vigilant superintendence over education. Our rural population was (even within twenty miles of the metropolis) in a state of benighted ignorance. In Germany, it had been shown, on the evidence of Dr. Julius in 1834, that more attention was paid to the instruction of the rural population by the Government than to the population of towns. The artisans in our towns received daily, in the common intercourse of their lives, a species of practical education. They learnt in the interchange of commerce and the intermingling of society, a knowledge of the value of property and the benefits of order. But a grossly ignorant rural population when once excited, was the most dangerous, because the blindest slave of tumult and revolution. What more important duty could devolve upon the Legislature than constantly to inspect and ascertain their progress, and supply their wants of enlightenment and knowledge? He (Mr. Ewart) confessed he was not one of those who wished, or thought it necessary, to force education compulsorily upon the people. It was impolitic and needless to enact coercive laws, or send children to school under the tutelary guard of a policeman. He believed, that the desideratum was, to infuse into the minds of the people an habitual respect for education. Such a respect for instruction had long existed in Scotland, and formed one of the most valuable elements of the Scottish character. Such a feeling was extended through the United States, where a greater proportion of the population was, more or less, educated than in any country in the world. If we took a general view of the present state of education in Europe and America, we should observe a tendency of the two systems of education, the compulsory and the voluntary—hitherto in conflict—to combine. Those countries where the severer system of centralised education had hitherto prevailed, were gradually relaxing in favour of greater freedom. The principle of free instruction, or, as it was called on the continent, "liberté d' enseignement, was encroaching, in France and Belgium, on the more centralised system which had heretofore prevailed there. On the other hand, in countries where all had been hitherto left to free instruction, and private institutions, there was a growing tendency towards centralisation. Such was the tendency in our own country, such in the United States. In both, an unrestrained freedom—he might rather say, an excessive licence, on the subject of education had hitherto prevailed. There was now a general and gradual approximation of the two extremes; of the system of centralisation on the one hand, and of uncontrolled licence on the other. He deemed this to be the desired medium. The State should assist without undue interference, and superintend without undue control. Such would be the duty of any department of the Government appointed to preside over and render an account of the state and progress of national education. In this cause he owned himself deeply interested; even warmly enthusiastic. Those who like him had made some humble endeavours to amend the criminal law of the country, had ever avowed that such remedial measures were vain, unattended by the great preventive measure of education. Their language had always been, "Educate your people; be not satisfied with giving them, through your criminal laws, a horror of the punishment; give them, through the agency of education, a horror of the crime." This was, in his opinion, the great object of their legislative mission. In fulfilling it, he maintained, that they fulfilled not only their highest intellectual, but their highest moral and religious duty. Whatever might be said by theologists, whatever by partisans, in so doing, They did assert eternal providence, And justify the ways of God to man. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving, that "An humble Address be presented to her Majesty, praying, that she will be graciously pleased to direct that some responsible Minister of the Crown shall, yearly make to the House of Commons a statement of the condition and prospects of the Education of the people."

Mr. W. S, O'Brien

seconded the mo- tion. The country would feel much indebted to his hon. Friend for bringing forward this motion. As long as so much remained to be done, the question of education could not be too often discussed in that House. He did not think it necessary to enter into any general argument to prove the advantages of education. It might now be taken as conceded, that, after the protection of life and property, no higher duty could rest upon the State than to take measures for enlightening the people at large, and to place within the reach of each individual that sort of education which is best calculated to fit him for the station in which he is destined to move. Yet, till very lately, no effort had been made on the part of the State to provide for the instruction of the people. Everything had been left to the voluntary efforts of individuals. He admitted that if it were intended to afford no further encouragement to national education than was at present given, it was of little importance whether or not a Minister of Instruction were appointed. But if Parliament were disposed, as he hoped would hereafter be the case, to perform the duty which it owed to the people—heretofore neglected—then the appointment of a Minister of Instruction ought not to be deferred. The first question was, whether a reliance upon the voluntary system in regard of education, had secured for the people at large such means of instruction as rendered unnecessary the interposition of Parliament. Without entering into elaborate details, he would merely glance at some striking results obtained from the various inquiries which had of late years been directed to the solution of this question. The first of which he would refer, was, the report of Mr. Tremenheere, who was sent down to the raining; districts of South Wales for the purpose of ascertaining what was the state of education in the district in which the Chartist insurrection had taken place last year. It appeared, that in the five parishes adjoining Merthyr Tydvil, there was a population of 85,500. Now in calculating the number of children who ought to be receiving instruction in any given population, it was usual to assume that all between the ages of five and fifteen should be in attendance at school. The children between these ages constitute about one-fourth of the population. In several of the United States of America, more than one-fourth of the population are found to be in attendance at school. Mr. Tremenheere, however, assumes that only one-fifth of the population, or the children between the ages of five and thirteen, ought to be at school. On this computation there ought to have been 17,000 children under instruction in the population of these five parishes. The whole number of children found to be in attendance upon day and dame schools was 3,308. Yet in this district the wages of labour are peculiarly high. Another striking indication of the want of education amongst the working classes of this country was to be found in Dr. Kay's report upon the training of pauper children. On the 12th. June, 1837, there were 1675 adults in the workhouses of twenty-two unions and five incorporations, in Suffolk and Norfolk, of whom only ten could read and write well; 281 could read and write imperfectly; and 928 could neither read nor write. Another interesting document to which he would refer, was the second report of the register-general of births, deaths, and marriages, by which it appears that out of 121,083 couples who were married in the year 1838, 40,587 men, and 58,959 women, could not sign their names, i. e. thirty-three per cent, of the men, and forty-nine per cent, of the females, were unable to write. Again, it appeared from the gaol reports, that more than one-third of all the prisoners in the gaols of England could not even read. He had added together the summaries of the abstracts of the education returns for the three kingdoms, and he found, that, whilst upon the supposition that one-fifth of the population ought to be in attendance at school, the number receiving instruction ought to be 4,961,344, these returns show that not more than 2,713,300 children were under education. It was needless to accumulate proof to convince the House that the quality of the education was as imperfect as its amount was inadequate. It was truly humiliating to find that this country, the first in commerce and in arms, was nearly the last amongst civilized nations in regard of popular education. He held in his hand a table prepared by Mr. Ducpetiaux, showing the comparative proportion of the population in attendance at school in different countries, from which it appears that in some of the American states one-third of the population are under education; in Switzerland one-fifth; in some of the German states one-sixth; and England is nearly at the bottom of the scale. Whilst we were quarrelling about a miserable grant of 30,000l. it appeared that above 1,000,000l. had of late years been applied to education in the state of New York alone. He trusted, however, that the time was not distant when Parliament would apply itself to this all-important department of its duties with greater energy than it had hitherto evinced. Not only ought the grant in aid of education to be augmented to an extent commensurate with the wants of the country, but its administration ought to be improved. A great step had been already made in taking the grant out of the hands of two irresponsible societies, at whose disposal it was formerly placed, and in subjecting it to the control of public officers amenable to Parliament. But still the organization of the education department was very defective. The Committee of the Privy Council was not nearly so competent a body for the administration of the parliamentary grants as a Minister of Instruction, aided by a board of education, would be. The committee of council, consisted of high government functionaries, overladen with other duties. No one of them was specially responsible for the management of this department. Under these circumstances, the secretary became naturally the efficient officer, on whom all the labour would fall, but without adequate responsibility. The council had not submitted to Parliament such a report upon the state of education in the country as might be expected from a Minister of Instruction. He, therefore, united with his hon. Friend in asking that a responsible Minister, having a seat in that House, should be appointed to superintend the education of the country; and; that this Minister should, upon moving the votes for educational purposes, make an annual statement upon the condition and prospects of popular instruction. If Parliament should consent to apply to this object the amount required to meet the existing deficiency, such a Minister would find abundant occupation, and would fulfil one of the most important functions in the State. He would be expected to make an annual report to Parliament, showing how the funds placed at his disposal had been employed—exhibiting the existing educational resources of the country—pointing out their deficiencies, and suggesting measures for extending and rendering more effective these resources. With reference to primary schools, his first duty would be to mature a plan for placing within the reach of every poor family in the kingdom the means of obtaining, at a small expense, a good elementary education. In his opinion, this could only be done by enabling local districts to co-operate with those who administer the parliamentary grants, by raising a rate for the support of schools. He was glad to find that the leader of the Conservative party (Sir Robert Peel) had lately advocated a partial application of this principle. In the debates upon the Poor-law, he had suggested that in the combined schools established for the education of paupers, the children of the neighbouring poor should be admitted on payment of a small school fee. He could see no reason why this principle should not be extended to all the workhouses in the country. In each workhouse a school must be maintained, and by adopting the right hon. Baronet's suggestion, this school might be rendered available for the education of the children of the independent poor of the neighbourhood. This arrangement would at once give to the country the advantage of schools of the best kind in about 600 unions. In connection with this subject, it would be the duty of the Minister of Public Instruction to provide for the establishment of normal schools, by which a supply of well trained teachers might be dispersed throughout the various schools of the kingdom. He would also naturally exercise an useful superintendance over the discipline of juvenile offenders, who ought to be placed in the way of moral reform as well as subjected to penal correction. He might also with advantage apply himself to the improvement of those seminaries in which the children of the middle classes receive their education, so far at least as those which depend upon endowment are concerned. There is reason to fear that the endowments of many of these schools: have been made subsidiary to private 'interest, rather than to the purposes for which they were originally granted. It will also be the duty of this. Minister to propose to Parliament such votes as we now grant in aid of the London University, and to take care that the funds granted are properly applied. He trusted also that application would before long be made for grants for the establishment of provincial colleges. His assistance would also be useful in aiding legislation on all points connected with education. The example afforded by the bill of the hon. Member for Lambeth shows how much the interposition of such aid is required. For several years the medical world have been agitated with discussions upon the best mode of correcting the defects existing in regard to the present system of medical education. A Minister of Instruction could grapple with this difficult question with much more advantage than a private Member. So also with regard to instruction of a special kind—such as that given in schools of design, which this House appears at present disposed to encourage, and agricultural schools, mining schools, schools of art and manufacture, for which nothing has hitherto been done. The public would naturally look to a Minister of Instruction for assistance and superintendance. Aid might be given at a very small expense to mechanics' institutions, by sending to them persons qualified to give courses of lectures whenever the members of mechanics' institutions might desire such instruction. Much might also be done to encourage those subsidiary means of education, which have been found in the large towns of the Continent to afford so much instruction to the people—such as public libraries, botanic gardens, museums for objects of science and Of art. All these various functions, and others which it would be tedious to enumerate, would naturally fall within the department of the Minister of Instruction. Believing that no more important subject could be brought under consideration, he bad felt great pleasure in supporting the motion of his hon. Friend, and he hoped that the House would bestow upon it the consideration which it deserved. He was convinced that if Parliament had hitherto neglected to give to education the encouragement which it required, it was not from want of liberality, but rather from not having adequately appreciated its value. We had already granted, during the present Session, pearly fifteen millions sterling in support of our national defen- ces, in order to keep our proper place among nations by the possession of material power, yet we hesitated to apply one hundredth part of this sum to the acquisition of a moral pre-eminence. So also many millions were expended annually in public charity for the relief of the poor, an object in itself humane and laudable. The expense of our gaols and police were to be counted by hundreds of thousands of pounds. Surely common sense, he would not call it philosophy, would suggest, that whilst we endeavour to mitigate and correct diseases in the system, we ought with still greater earnestness to apply ourselves to the removal of their causes. He rejoiced that this question had ceased to be made a topic of party conflict. The mode of administering the funds granted by Parliament for the purposes of education had been adopted, which conciliated the support of Churchman, Dissenter, and Roman Catholic. He trusted therefore that the time was come, more especially after the recent avowals of the leader of the Conservative party, of his desire to enlighten the humbler classes of the community, when all parties might vie with each other in endeavouring to secure for the people of England that which was among the greatest of social blessings, the benefit of a good system of national education.

Sir G. Grey

said he felt that he could scarcely do justice to the subject then under discussion, looking to the state of the benches at that moment. He did not, however, attribute that fact to a proof of a want of good feeling upon the subject matter of the motion, but rather to the circumstance that that was the last day of meeting before the adjournment for the Easter holidays, and also to the fact, that many hon. Members who took a deep interest in the question had left town, under the impression that the subject of national education would not be brought forward at present. To the motion of his hon. Friend he entertained objections, founded not so much upon the proposal made, as in the difficulty of carrying the scheme into execution. He agreed in the feeling expressed by his hon. Friend that that. House could not direct its attention to a more important object than that of the advancement of all practical measures to extend the blessings of education to all classes of the community. He agreed as to the deficiency of education in the coun- try, extending, as it did, also to the character of the education which was given in many of the schools; but he must say he thought his hon. Friend had overlooked what had been done within the last few years on this subject. Looking at the difficulties—looking at the feelings which had been excited by the discussions on the subject which had taken place in that House and out of it—he certainly feared that if the proposal of his hon. Friend was seriously taken up it would excite those feelings and that discussion which was now happily allayed. Nevertheless great good had resulted from these discussions, and from the propositions that had been submitted to the House with regard to national education. He would not state at length what these results were, because the hon. Member would shortly be enabled to judge for himself; for the information which he anticipated would be the result of a Minister of Education, had been already supplied by the labours of the Inspectors appointed by the Privy Council. The labours of those gentlemen had not been confined to the mere objects of their appointment, but they had attended, by the voluntary invitation of many of the managers, schools throughout the country, and especially in Scotland, from whence they had derived much useful knowledge respecting the improvement of our present system of education. Under the circumstances he hoped his hon. Friend would not press his motion to a division, which, in the present state of the House, could not express the deliberate opinion of the House upon the subject. He hoped, therefore, he would postpone all further general discussion on the question until the information, which was ready to be produced, was laid on the Table of the House. There would be ample opportunity to renew the discussion of the subject on the vote of the estimates for education.

Mr. Ewart

said he had been anxious to do justice to the efforts of the Inspectors and of the Government. He at once frankly and fully acceded to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman, thinking that although he might have a majority, it would not, under the circumstances express the opinion of the House. He therefore gave notice that when the estimates were brought forward he should move an addition to the paltry grant of 30,000l. for educational purposes.

Motion withdrawn.