HC Deb 28 July 1845 vol 82 cc1140-9

On the Motion that the Order of the Day forgoing into Committee of Supply be read,

Mr. Ewart

said, that when the Military, the Naval, and the Ordnance Estimates were brought before the House, a statement was made of the prospects and condition of those branches of the public service respectively; and he did not see why, in like manner, there should not be an annual statement of the condition and prospects of the Educational Institutions which were supported partly or wholly by the public funds. What he called for was not a published Report, but a vivâ voce statement on this important subject. The publication of a blue book was not the most effectual way of bringing this matter before the House and the country, and he thought that the Annual Report, prepared by Commissioners and Inspectors appointed to go the round of the country, furnished a convenient mode not of developing, but of concealing such a question. Amongst other improvements which he thought were called for in connexion with the subject of education, was that of raising the condition of the schoolmasters of the country, and of increasing their pay. He trusted that this important improvement would be speedily realized. There was also a necessity for increasing the number and the efficiency of the training schools of the country, as a greater number of training masters than were at present to be had were required. As to the grant appropriated for the purpose of education, he thought that 75,000l. was but a paltry grant for the supply of the educational wants of such a country as this. In Scotland, as well as in England, the pay of the schoolmaster was very inadequate. In both countries he was anxious to see the condition of the schoolmasters much improved. Connected with this question was the important consideration, as to Scotland, of the improvement of the condition of the schoolmasters belonging to the Free Church. He gave credit to the Government for their new system of education in Ireland, and did not apprehend that the fears of those who thought that that system would make the Irish an irreligious people would be at all realized. In reference to education, he thought that the Government could only interfere collaterally and not directly. So much for the first portion of the Motion of which he had given notice. Another portion of that Motion referred to public libraries, a subject to which he had, on former occasions, called the attention of the House. On one occasion, on which he had alluded to it, he was answered by the right hon. Baronet that there were libraries of a public nature already established in England, such as those connected with mechanics' institutes in our large manufacturing towns. But there was only one library in this country, of which he was aware, that could be compared with the libraries which were so numerous on the Continent. In France, in Italy, in Germany, and in other continental countries, not only in the large, but in many of the smaller towns, there were public libraries accessible to all classes, and to the foreigner as well as the native. If the Government of this country would only assist in promoting the establishment of such libraries in all our large towns, they would confer upon the public a great and a lasting boon. He did not ask the Government to originate them, he only asked them to assist in their establishment. There was another point which he deemed of great importance, which was, that Government should promote, as far as it could, the encouragement of education, by the examination of those persons who were candidates for subordinate offices under Government. This might be regarded by some as a very visionary proposal, and as a thing which could not be carried into effect. But he had been told by Members of the late Government that the experiment had been tried, Lord Melbourne having set aside three clerkships of the Treasury for that purpose, and that it had been successful. He thought such educational appointments would work well, and that the public servants thus selected would be found efficient and well qualified for their duties. It was simply his desire, in the present instance, to call the attention of the Government and of the House to this consideration, which he thought a very important one. Every point of the Motion which he was about to lay before the House had reference to the mode in which Government might promote, without unduly interfering with, the question of education. Undue interference in this matter he deprecated. Undue interference the people of this country would not tolerate. Upon this whole subject he felt so strongly, that he considered himself bound to take the sense of the House, if necessary, upon it. The hon. Gentleman concluded by laying the following Resolutions on the Table, and moving the first—

  1. "1. That a statement be made, on the part of the Government, of the condition and prospect of such Educational Establishments as are supported wholly or partially by a vote of this House.
  2. "2. That it is expedient that the formation of Public Libraries, freely open to the public, be encouraged.
  3. "3. That it is expedient that Schools for the training of Masters be mote extensively promoted.
  4. "4. That it is expedient that appointments to the subordinate offices of Government be made (as far as possible) by examination of the merits of the candidates for such offices."

Sir R. Peel

said: However late the period of the Session, and however severe the pressure of public business, I cannot but think the importance of the subject justifies the hon. Gentleman in calling the attention of the House to the question of education. I shall very briefly notice the particular points to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, taking in order the Resolutions of which he has given notice. The House will have laboured under erroneous impressions if they supposed that there was not full information afforded with regard to the progress of education. I need not refer to the volume presented annually to the House as a reason why any oral statement should not be made to the House on the part of the Government, with regard to the progress of education during the preceding year. But for the purpose of indicating to those Members who take an interest in the question, I may say that there are annually presented to Parliament the Reports of the inspectors appointed by a Committee of this House, which Reports contain the most detailed and valuable information on the subject of education. There is the volume presented in the course of the present year, containing the able and full reports of the several Inspectors of Education. But I am not at all prepared to contend against the principle suggested by the hon. Gentleman. It is possible that because the information is so full and vague that Members may not readily acquire that knowledge of the subject which possibly they might obtain from an oral statement made by a Member of the Government. I am therefore disposed, on the part of the Government, to give my serious consideration during the recess to the proposition of the hon. Member. I think I can undertake to say, that during the course of the next Session this Vote will not be moved on the part of the Crown without such an explanation being made as shall answer the purpose of the hon. Member. I think it possible that such a statement may awaken public attention more forcibly to the subject, than the presentation of this volume, and will better enable Members to discuss the matter, and bring their local information to bear upon it. At any rate it will be a proof that the Government and Parliament attach due importance to the subject. I think I have said enough to show the hon. Gentleman that it will not be necessary for him to ask on this occasion for any expression of opinion on the part of the House. With reference to the grant for educational purposes, the hon. Gentleman says he deeply regrets the limited amount. The amount, however, has been an increase upon the grant of last year. The amount last year was 40,000l. The amount in the present year is 75,000l. Therefore, in the present year, as compared with the past, we have proposed a vote nearly double. For education in Ireland we have also voted 75,000l.; so that we have proposed to vote for educational purposes in England and Ireland, in the present year, no less a sum than 150,000l. That is a strong indication of the wish of the Government to apply the public money, so far as they can, to the purposes of education. I advise the hon. Gentleman, therefore, to leave this matter in the hands of the Government, and to rest satisfied that they will next year, if necessary, make an increased grant to further the object to which he has called attention. I entirely agree with him in what he says as to the status of the schoolmaster. I think his position ought to be regarded as honourable; and, by attaching importance and value to his labours, we shall be amply repaid. The hon. Gentleman has also referred to the necessity of increased grants for the normal schools in which the schoolmasters are prepared for their labours. He will find that, within the last two years, the Vote for that specific purpose has been increased—at least, that there has been an application for an increased sum for that purpose. Some years since the sum of 10,000l. was granted for the normal schools of the British and Foreign School Society. In addition to that the sum of 10,000l. was granted for the establishment of the schools of the Committee of Council. Within the last two years an annual grant of 1,000l. was given to the National Society, and 750l. was given to the British and Foreign Schools for their annual maintenance. There was also a grant of 3,700l. made for the building and establishment of the Chester Diocesan Training School; and a grant of 3,200l, towards the Training School in Lancashire; 3,500l. was also given towards the building and establishment of the York Diocesan Normal School. In Scotland, towards the building and establishment of the Edinburgh Normal School, 4,000l. was granted; and 5,000l. towards the establishment of the Normal School in Glasgow. I think these Votes a sufficient proof that the Government have not undervalued the importance of the subject introduced by the hon. Gentleman. The supply of masters, properly qualified, is at the root of the whole system; and I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman, that you cannot more effectually promote education—local education—than by making a proper provision for the masters. The Committee of Council feel that one of the most important objects to which their attention has been directed, is the increase of the means of providing masters properly qualified, and of good character, for the education of youth. Within a recent period, we have extended the objects for which the annual grant is made. In England, in 1840, a sum of money was granted for the erection of 211 schools. In the year ending August, 1843, a sum was granted for the erection of 251 schools; but in the year ending August, 1844, funds were supplied for the purpose of building not less than 380 schools. Then we have made another addition to the object for which the Vote was given. We have consented to give Votes towards the construction of schoolmasters' houses; because we think it of great importance that the master should reside in the neighbourhood of the schools; and, by providing the masters with a comfortable residence, you hold out an increased inducement to persons of competent attainments to undertake the important task of education. As I said before, in addition to the objects to which the Vote was applied, we found it necessary to propose an increase to the Vote, to the amount of 35,000l. I am bound, at the same time, to admit that I doubt whether that increase ought to be the limit of future grants. So great is the desire of persons interested in the welfare of the working classes to increase the means of instruction, that I much doubt whether the application of an increased sum in the course of next year would not be fully justified by the circumstances of the case. I think, after what I have stated, that it will be hardly necessary for the hon. Gentleman to call for any expression of the sense of the House. The last Resolution moved by the hon. Gentleman, and the last topic to which he adverted, was the policy of making the appointment to the subordinate offices of Government depend, as far as possible, on an examination of the merits of the candidates for such offices. I doubt whether the system at present adopted in the different departments of Government is not better. In almost all cases, the appointment is for the first year as a probationer. The individual is appointed with the distinct understanding, that if his conduct and attainments do not justify the permanent retention of his services, he is liable to lose his situation. The appointment of a person to the public service should not entirely depend on the exhibition he may make on examination; there are points connected with the moral character that ought to be taken into the account. The mere exhibition of superiority in an examination must be necessarily imperfect; and if you were to rely on it, you would find that you were not securing in all cases a supply of trustworthy persons. I admit there ought to be evidence of sufficient attainment to justify an appointment; but I doubt whether that rule of giving a trial for the first year is not, on the whole, a better mode of securing faithful, trustworthy, public servants, than making their eligibility depend on such an exhibition. As to extending Government patronage to boys educated in those schools, there would be great difficulty in acting practically on that suggestion. The youths leave school at fourteen or fifteen, and were not eligible for public employment till twenty-one. During that interval their time would not be very usefully employed, if led to rely on an appointment at the end of six years. A similar encouragement held out to the schoolmaster would tend to interfere with a sufficient supply of schoolmasters. The hon. Gentleman himself will see the difficulty of practically carrying that suggestion into effect; besides, such appointments would have the effect of discouraging those who were unsuccessful. Under these circumstances, I hope I have met the proposition of the hon. Member in the spirit in which it deserves to be met. I hope the hon. Gentleman will allow the question to be put from the Chair without calling for a division.

Mr. Wyse

said, he was about to second the Motion of his hon. Friend; but the observations of the right hon. Baronet had gone far to remove the motives which might have induced his hon. Friend to press this question to a division. The right hon. Baronet had omitted in his statement any allusion to what the hon. Member (Mr. Ewart) had said respecting libraries. The observations of the hon. Member on that head were most important, and highly deserving of the attention of the Government. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, of giving a more comfortable house to the master, and a more comfortable school to the pupils, was deserving of the greatest praise. He hoped that the right hon. Baronet would go further, and allow a small portion of land in the agricultural districts to the teacher, so as to enable him to command more comfort. This would be peculiarly applicable in the case of Ireland, and more so than in the case of England, as land would be more easily procured for such purpose. He wished to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet to the means that might be taken to improve the condition of teachers, in Ireland particularly. It was proposed, that the National Board of Education in Ireland should be incorporated, so as to enable them to take lands for the purposes to which he (Mr. Wyse) had adverted. He thought that great improvement might be made in the normal schools, upon the understanding that a certain system of education should be adopted in those schools which would be satisfactory. He thought that, under such an arrangement, an increased sum of money might be given for the improvement and enlargement of those schools. He rejoiced at the statement which had been made by the right hon. Baronet, and which he had reason to think from his observation of the conduct pursued by the right hon. Baronet on this question on former occasions, he was sure—that those observations were not made lightly, but that they would be followed, as they had heretofore been, by deeds and measures. He hoped that, after the observations that had been made by the right hon. Baronet—a declaration which was most satisfactory—that his hon. Friend (Mr. Ewart) would be induced to withdraw his Motion.

Mr. Hume

expressed the pleasure which he felt at the declaration of the right hon. Baronet on the subject of education. He was glad to find that a subject of such great importance had been brought forward by his hon. Friend. He was happy to hear, from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that the cause of education, and the education of the people at large, engaged the best attention of the Government. He was glad to find that the desire of the Government was that all classes should be educated without exclusion. He was glad to see, in the increased grant for education, an increased desire on the part of the Government to promote the education of all classes without exclusion. He was glad to see that their interest in the cause of education had induced them to increase the grant for education in England and Ireland. He hoped that if this grant should be found insufficient for its object, that the grant would be increased, and that some report would be laid before the House of the application of the former grant, the various points of expenditure, and the mode in which the money was disposed of. He was glad to see that the Committee of the Privy Council had increased their exertions in assisting schools with school materials, such as maps. He thought this a matter of great importance. He believed that no people were more ignorant of the extent, the various circumstances, and statistics of the British possessions, than the British people generally were. Now in Prussia this was not the case. Every school in Prussia was furnished with an atlas, containing an exposition of the extent and relations of the Prussian dominions; and to which was appended a various and extensive amount of statistical facts with respect to the population, revenue, extent of territory, and various other circumstances appertaining to Prussia, so that every boy in those schools in Prussia was made acquainted with the leading facts connected with the geographical and statistical state and relations of Prussia. He thought that this was a subject worthy of consideration, and means ought to be taken to diffuse a similar knowledge with respect to Great Britain, through the means of those schools, to the boys educated in them. He hoped that if the right hon. Baronet should find the grant of 75,000l. insufficient, that he would recommend a larger grant. He concluded by expressing his satisfaction at what had been stated by the right hon. Baronet, and he thought that after that declaration his hon. Friend could not do better than to leave the matter in the hands of the Government.

Mr. Hawes

was glad that the Motion of his hon. Friend had been brought forward, as it had elicited the important declaration of the right hon. Baronet. No grant which the Government could propose would meet with more cordial satisfaction from that House, than an increased grant for the purposes of education. In saying this, he could not but consider the grant of 75,000l. as inadequate for the great purposes to which it was intended to be applied. The education now afforded in our public schools was very imperfect. Private teachers were necessary in addition to the school instruction. This increased the expenses, which were so great as to put it out of the power of the middle classes to avail themselves of them. He thought something like the collegiate system which they had lately established in Ireland might be introduced into this country with great advantage. It was necessary, also, to improve the position of teachers, and to induce men of talent and ability, by holding out to them sufficient advantages, to continue to devote themselves to the instruction of youth. With this view, he would suggest that a fixed annual sum should be allowed, in the shape of a pension, say from 50l. to 100l. each, to such schoolmasters as had distinguished themselves by great talent and long service in the instruction of youth.

Amendment negatived.