HC Deb 17 March 1868 vol 190 cc1816-26

, in moving for leave to introduce a Bill to provide for Elementary Education in England and Wales, said, he believed no opposition would be offered to the Motion. It would be convenient to the House and to many persons outside it that he should state shortly the provisions of the Bill, and point out more especially its variations from the Bill of last year. The Bill he proposed last year might be briefly described as one for permissive rating. Its object was to give every community throughout the country the power of raising funds to provide a sufficient education for the inhabitants of the district. If such a Bill would not have accomplished all that was to be desired it would, at least, have afforded a means of reducing evils the existence of which all deplored. He had no doubt such a Bill would have been adopted in many most important centres of population. The most cheering results had followed a similar experiment in Canada, where, under a permissive Bill, the country had been covered with schools, supported out of the rates with a liberality which even exceeded that of the State of New York, where education was compulsory. He was bound to say that many thought the Bill of last year did not go far enough, and throughout the country, wherever he had consulted those who took a deep interest in the matter, he found the feeling was almost universal that a permissive Bill alone would be insufficient. It was argued that, although, undoubtedly, the primary duty of providing education for children rested with the parents, it was obligatory upon the State to see that they performed their duty, and that obligation could not be fulfilled under any merely permissive Bill. It was said that if it rested with a municipality to take an initiative which it was indisposed to take in the way of supplying a deficiency of school accommodation, there would still be thousands of children uneducated. Such a conclusion pointed inevitably to the necessity for some compulsory measure. He yielded to the arguments that were so advanced, and he undertook that in the Bill it was his intention to introduce this year means should be provided to meet the case of an indifferent local authority. Therefore, the present Bill contained all the main principles and provisions of the Bill of 1867, with the addition of machinery for its compulsory enforcement where the existence of educational destitution had, after formal inquiry, been proved. It did not propose to interfere or to give any power of interference with districts adequately supplied under the existing voluntary system. It provided in the first place for the voluntary adoption of the Act, first, by all municipal boroughs and places under the jurisdiction of a local Board, or of Commissioners or trustees intrusted by any local Act with powers of improvement, &c.; secondly, by all unions which are not coextensive with or included in the places before mentioned; thirdly, by special districts formed under an Order in Council; and fourthly, by the union of districts, or of parts of parishes and districts. It was obvious that, as all districts adequately supplied with schools were withdrawn from the operation of the Act, and as all boroughs and places having a Board of Health or local Commissioners would form separate districts, there must remain fragmentary portions of the country, greatly varying in extent, in population, and in the character and description of their inhabitants. These were the special districts for the formation of which very elastic powers were necessary, and this necessarily involved complicated financial arrangements. Sometimes a part of a populous and extensive parish might be formed into a school district, sometimes a combination of parishes or of parts of parishes might be necessary, the boundaries of which could only be fixed after careful inquiry conducted on the spot. The Committee of Council was authorized to allow the withdrawal of a parish from a union, but not from a borough or other district. The reasons for this distinction were obvious. Boroughs and Board of Health districts had common interests and a common civic life, which was not the case with the parishes forming parts of extensive unions, united together only for the administration of the Poor Law. An order for the compulsory application of the Act either to an ordinary or a special district might be made by the Committee of Council after due inquiry. This inquiry might either be demanded by one-tenth in number or rateable value of the persons who were or would be electors of the district, or it might be directed by the Committee of Council on their own authority. It would be conducted on the spot, after due notice, by a Commissioner, who would report fully to the Committee of Council, stating the reasons for the adoption of the Act and the objections, and concluding with his recommendations. The Committee of Council would thereupon make such order as they might think expedient, either enforcing or not the adoption of the Act. He now came to the constitution of the school committee. In municipal boroughs it might be elected by the Council either wholly or partly out of their own body, so that persons might be placed upon it who, not being members of the Council, were known to be specially qualified for the work. In all other districts the committee would be elected by ratepayers from among the owners and occupiers of any land, &c., in the district of an annual value of not less than £10. The numbers of the committee were to be six, nine, or twelve. They would appoint a clerk, treasurer, and inspector. The managers of every school in the district, whatever its denomination, fulfilling certain conditions, and not exacting a weekly payment of more than 9d., might apply to be received into union. If the school committee refused to admit a school into union an appeal would lie to the Committee of Council. The conditions on which they would be received into union were as follows:—1. That they shall be open to inspection both by Her Majesty's and by local Inspectors. 2. That the discipline and instructions shall be in all respects conformable to the Minutes of the Committee of Council. Provided always that no scholar shall be required, when attending the school, to learn any Catechism or religious formulary to which the parent in writing objects, nor to be present at any lesson, instruction, or observance to which such objection has been made. 3. That no scholar, tendering the weekly fee, shall be refused admission for any reason but mental or physical incapacity, conviction for crime, or expulsion from some other school. The managers will have power to expel for misconduct. 4. The qualifications of teachers shall, where schools are in receipt of the Parliamentary grant, be the same as those required by the Government Code. In other cases they shall be such as shall be prescribed by the school committee. 5. That the school rooms be healthy, well-ventilated, &c. 6. That they be open for forty weeks in every year on five days in each week, exclusive of Sundays, and for not less than four hours each day. The breach of these conditions would subject a school to exclusion from the union, with an appeal to the Committee of Council. There were also some general regulations as to the number of teachers, the proportion of the size of the school to the number of scholars, the payment of school fees, and the keeping of registers, for the breach of which regulations the school would be liable to lose a portion of the local grant. It would be the duty of the school committee to see that these conditions and regulations were observed, but not otherwise to interfere with the constitution, management, arrangements, discipline, or instruction of any united school. The managers might, after three months' notice, withdraw from union, or might, under certain conditions, transfer the school to the committee. It would be the duty of the committee to inquire into the school accommodation of the district. When found to be insufficient they would give notice to the district in manner specified, and any person might, within sixty days after the last notice, serve on the school committee an undertaking to provide sufficient schools within twelve months. If he failed within six months to commence work, or within eighteen months to have the school in operation, the school committee might provide it themselves. These schools might be either free or aided schools, and must be conducted in accordance with the general conditions and regulations prescribed by the Act. The committee may either manage them themselves or delegate the management to others. The school committee would have the same powers of contributing to industrial schools which were given to the prison authorities by the Industrial Schools Act. Provision was also made for the case of the local committee neglecting its duty in providing new schools. Power was given to the Committee of Council to inquire into the alleged neglect, to make an order limiting the time for the performance of their duty by the local committee; and to appoint a person to perform the same in the event of the order being set at nought. It would be the duty of the inspectors appointed by the school committee to inspect the united schools once every six months, and to examine those which were not in the receipt of Parliamentary grants. The schools might be admitted into union either as free or aided schools. The grants might be calculated on a scale arranged between the managers and the school committee, but not be less than the following weekly payments:—If for a free school—for a boy above six years, 6d.; for a girl above six years, 5d.; for a boy or girl under six, 4d. If the school were an aided school, the scale should be not less than one-half of the above-mentioned sums. Where the school was not in receipt of an annual grant from the Committee of Council a further grant of 2s. 4d. for every pass in reading, writing, and arithmetic would be made. Where, however, the local committee could prove to the Committee of Council that the weekly contributions were unnecessarily large, they could be reduced to the amount required for the due support of the school. No fees should be taken in free schools. In aided schools they should be on a scale arranged between the managers and the committee. The school committee might, on the application of the managers, permit them to receive, in an aided school, particular scholars or classes of scholars without any payment, or with a smaller payment than that arranged. In such cases the grant to the managers would be on the scale of scholars at free schools. The expenses of the school committee would be paid out of a fund called the school fund, raised in the following manner:—In the City of London, out of a consolidated rate; in the parishes and districts formed by the union of parishes under the Metropolis Management Act, 1855, out of the general rate leviable under that Act; in boroughs, out of the borough fund or rate; in places under the jurisdiction of a local Board, out of the general district rate; in places under the Improvement Commissioners, &c., out of the rate leviable by them; in unions, out of the union rate. The money provided for building a new school would be charged on the parish in which the school was situate. This expense might be spread over any number of years not exceeding thirty, and the school committee might borrow money on the security of the school fund. Where the expense in providing and fitting up such school exceeded £200, half the cost would be chargeable on the owners of the rateable property. Provision was made for the audit of the accounts of every school committee. The Government code would be construed as if the contributions from the local fund arose from voluntary subscriptions. And, lastly, provision was made for night schools. He would now touch on a few points of difference between this scheme and that suggested during the Recess by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowe), and which appeared to be received with considerable success by the public. His right hon. Friend proposed that the Committee of Council should immediately issue a Commission to inquire into the state and condition of the country with respect to education, and wherever it was found that the voluntary system had failed to supply a district with proper means of education, there the Act should be at once enforced. The Bill which he was now submitting to the House proceeded less sharply and summarily. First, it enabled any place which chose to adopt the Act, to do so voluntarily. Surely, the Act was more likely to work satisfactorily if towns like Manchester and Birmingham, which were alive to the wants of education, had the opportunity of adopting the Act voluntarily instead of having it forced upon them. In the next place, there would be a great disadvantage in attempting at once summarily to impose upon the country one uniform system. A national system of education could only be of gradual growth. Parliament could not, by merely wishing it, create such a system. Their fiat would be powerless for such an object. For instance, it would be impossible at once to supply all the schools of the country with proper instructors. His right hon. Friend had shown conclusively that the success of a school depended upon the efficiency of the master. But you could not at once create a supply of efficient masters. If you had a railway to make, you could insure a sufficient number of labourers; but the mere issue of an ad- vertisement would not give you skilled teachers. Then, again, although the voluntary system had to some extent failed, it had done a great deal, and we might fairly expect that it would do more under the gentle compulsion which would be exercised by this Bill. He believed that if it was clear to the inhabitants of a given district that, unless sufficient provision were made for education within a certain time by voluntary effort, compulsion would be used, the necessary effort would generally be made. The House would remember that, however perfect the details might appear upon paper, any scheme must depend, after all, upon the cheerful support and vigorous co-operation of the people themselves. It was so in America and in Prussia, and must of necessity be so in this country. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowe) was of opinion that although the Government grant might be continued as at present to schools of all denominations, that local rates should only be applied to those which were conducted upon the secular system. Now, he (Mr. Bruce) objected to this proposal. He was not one of those who spoke of secular teaching with the contempt which it sometimes met with from Gentlemen who treated this subject. On the contrary, it seemed to him that good secular instruction was absolutely necessary for the worthy reception of religious truth. It was impossible that there could be a proper understanding of the relations between man and his Creator by persons who had not received a good secular instruction. On the other hand, he admitted that the truths of religion were best taught through the medium of school instruction. Whilst, therefore, it was the duty of the State to see that good secular instruction should be offered, it was equally its duty to see that religious instruction was imparted according to the tenets of the parents of the children. Up to this time the State had expended many millions in fostering a system of religious teaching, and, in his opinion, it would be a monstrous thing now to turn round upon persons who had hitherto acted on the faith of the denominational system supported by Parliament, and to say that under the new compulsory system denominational schools should receive no advantage. The adoption of a sufficient Conscience Clause would meet all reasonable objections, and on this point an alteration had been made in the Bill which he hoped would render it more acceptable than that of last yean He was anxious to anti- cipate another objection that might be taken to the Bill—namely, that it did not completely provide for such compulsory action as might be necessary in districts where sufficient education was not afforded. He proposed that one-tenth in number, or in value, of the ratepayers might apply to the Committee of Council for an inquiry into the educational state of their district, and that, thereupon, an order might be made; and the Bill also provided that, in default of such application, the Committee of Council might itself take action. But it might be asked, "Suppose that the Committee of Council neglect their duty, what remedy do you provide in that case?" Well, he believed that the remedy was to be found in the responsibility of the Committee of Council to Parliament. But, if it were found necessary hereafter to make that responsibility more direct and complete, he had no doubt Parliament would take the proper measures for securing that result. It seemed to him inevitable that before long, considering the extent to which it was proposed that the State should deal with the schools not only of the lower but of the middle classes, a Minister of Education must be appointed; and Parliament would take care that such a Minister was responsible to it for the proper performance of his duties. He (Mr. Bruce) had had much more frequent recourse to that Deus ex machinâ, the Committee of Council, than he could have wished, but that was simply from the want of proper local machinery. The great difficulty of anything like a national system of education in this country was the want of a proper local organization; and that difficulty was immensely increased by the fact that, under the voluntary system, a large portion of the kingdom was sufficiently supplied, because the districts left unsupplied might not be conterminous with the union or any other division known to the law. It was necessary, therefore, to deal with all those districts; and with respect to the question whether a district was sufficiently supplied or not, and many other matters, he would infinitely prefer leaving them to a local Committee. He looked forward to the creation of such a body before long. The Report of the School Commission just published made the appointment of such a Committee absolutely essential to the carrying out of their scheme, and it would be easy to transfer such functions to it. Another point was whether the Bill ought to provide, under any circumstances, for the support of a free school. He admitted that it was one of great difficulty; but it was well known that the Bill, in its original form, though it had since undergone many changes, emanated from the Manchester and Salford Education Committee, whose free schools were certainly conducted with remarkable success. To those schools were admitted the children of those parents only who were known to be incapable of paying; the education given in them was excellent, and the average attendance—the real test of the efficiency of schools—was greater than in the ordinary denominational schools. Whereas, during the time he was connected with the Privy Council, the average attendance was about 75 per cent of the number on the books, and was at this moment considerably less, the average attendance at the Manchester and Salford free schools was as high as 92 per cent, or nearly equal to that of Prussia. In certain districts it might be convenient to erect free schools for the children of extremely poor persons. The Bill gave a power to do so, which, however, would be exercised cautiously, and only in extreme cases, as it would enable the local committee to arrange with the manager for making payments in that special class of cases for poor children whose parents were known to be unable to pay. In most instances that would be sufficient to meet local peculiarities; but he saw no reason why places like Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham should not have free schools if they chose, and he did not fear that they would be largely brought into competition with the other schools so as to ruin their resources. It might be asked why, considering that the Government had given notice of their intention to deal with that subject, he had not exercised a little patience and kept back his Bill until they had brought in theirs. Now, he and his Friends would truly rejoice if the Bill of the Government was one which they could support and which would enable them to dispense with the further prosecution of their own Bill. He asked leave to introduce that measure only in order that the principles on which he thought education should be conducted might be before the country, and that in case the Bill of the Government should not contain arrangements for covering the country in process of time with sufficient schools, he might have the power of proceeding with his measure. There seemed but two methods of providing schools where they were re- quired—namely, either by local funds locally administered, or by Imperial funds administered under the control of the State. It was next to impossible that any Government would have the boldness to propose the provision of funds for the education of the country out of Imperial funds to be administered by local irresponsible authorities. Last year he mentioned that in London there were no fewer than seventeen districts without any schools at all, and no fewer than 107 districts, with an average population of 5,000 each, which were most imperfectly supplied with schools. How, he asked, was it possible for the State to undertake to provide funds for the support of schools in those neglected districts, when all around them voluntary efforts and great local exertions were made? Were those places to be rewarded for their negligence with funds drawn from the Imperial Exchequer? Again, local authorities might administer economically funds raised by themselves; but there would be no limit to their liberality and generosity when they dealt with funds supplied by the State. Again, the Revised Code had greatly reduced the payment formerly made for each child educated at the schools assisted by the State. That payment had been about 11s. 6d. per head on the average attendance, but it was reduced to 8s.—afterwards to 9s.—under the Revised Code. Some of the schools had suffered in efficiency in consequence, while others, even under the reduced rate, received more than they actually required, and might support themselves with a much smaller amount of State aid, and even in some cases with none at all. How were these things to be remedied? It was impossible to intrust a central Department with the power of giving every school a sum, varying in their opinion, with its peculiar wants. It seemed, therefore, absolutely essential that some local body should have an elastic power of supplying by a rate the funds requisite in such cases. In districts like London the contribution to be raised by a rate in addition to the Government Grant would be extremely small; in the country districts it would necessarily be greater. That question was a very large one. He fully accepted the statement of the President of the Council that the number of parishes which had frequently appeared in print as not receiving State aid—namely, 11,000—was exaggerated. He did not then wish to enter into the question of the educational destitution existing in many of the large towns. Beyond all question, they had in London, at any rate, immense districts, numbering their tens of thousands of population, without any school at all. How they should be provided with schools was a matter of the utmost importance, and it was because he was anxious that it should be properly considered, and considered once for all, that he proposed that Bill, which seemed to him to provide fully for the ultimate needs of the case, which respected and enabled them to avail themselves to the utmost of all that had been already done, which respected the religious convictions of all classes of the people, and which, over and above the aid given by the State, would supply the local funds and local administration for the wants of all their population. He believed that the advantage of calling forth that local effort would be far greater than any disadvantage which might arise from the presumed unfitness of local authority in many cases to discharge such functions; and they knew by experience what the effects of such a Bill as that had been in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman was aware that the Government would offer no opposition to the introduction of the Bill, and, though they were desirous to have a full discussion on the details of the measure, they did not think the present moment an advantageous opportunity for the purpose.

Motion agreed to. Bill to provide for Elementary Education in England and Wales, ordered to be brought in by Mr. HENRY AUSTIN BRUCE, Mr. WILLIAM EDWARD FORSIER, and Mr. ALGERNON EGERTON. Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 64.]

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