HC Deb 31 May 1872 vol 211 cc939-48

, in rising to move— That this House will, upon Thursday next, resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House, to consider of an humble Address to Her Majesty, praying that, by a deduction from the Parliamentary Grant in aid of Public Elementary Schools, a provision may be made for granting Annuities to the Certificated Teachers of such Schools upon their retirement by reason of age and infirmity; and to assure Her Majesty that this House will make good the same, said, that during the time when the Education Bill was before the House the subject had so much attracted the attention, and nearly the unanimous sympathy, of hon. Gentlemen on both sides, that the Vice President of the Council had promised it should receive his serious attention, and he hoped, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would now be able to announce that he would accept the Motion. The subject of superannuations had much engaged the attention of the teachers, and had been brought under the notice of the Education Department by deputations to the Privy Council Office. There had also been a meeting of 5,000 teachers at Birmingham, and another at Manchester, where resolutions were passed in support of some such scheme as he now submitted to the House. Seeing that such was the unanimous feeling of a body of men to whom the country was indebted for the position it had attained to in respect to education, he certainly thought that their opinion was deserving of attention by the part of the House. Everyone knew that the work of these teachers was highly important and very laborious; it lasted from Monday morning till Friday night, and often on Sundays also, and was generally carried on in rooms of which the atmosphere was far from wholesome. They did not ask for any additional Government grant, but only that out of the present capitation grant as much might be set aside as would enable the Education Department, by such a system of arrangement as might be found desirable, to provide a small annuity for the teachers in the time when the infirmities of age should overtake them. He had intended to introduce a Bill on the subject, but he found that the Rules of the House forbad it, so that he was obliged to explain the details of the scheme in connection with the Motion. The proposal was this—that, in the first year after the plan had been decided upon, 1 per cent from the capitation grant should be deducted; in the second year, 2 per cent; and an additional 1 per cent up till five years, when a sufficient sum would have been provided to meet all contingencies that need be anticipated. He also proposed that a similar percentage should be deducted from the teachers' salaries. He knew it would be objected that by such a scheme, the younger teachers would be providing for the elder ones; but that would really not be the case, because it was certain that the Capitation Grant would last as long as the number of years likely to be attained by any teacher now living. It might also be said that teachers earning larger salaries ought to receive larger pensions; but his proposal was, that at the age of 55 years every teacher who had served 30 years should be entitled to a pension for the number of years he had served at the rate of £1 per year for males, and 15s. per year for female teachers. The teachers had themselves fully contemplated the point, and were unanimously in favour of the system he proposed, and he trusted, therefore, that the House would not consider the scheme an impossible one. If the Government, however, consented to refer the difficulties, admittedly connected with the question, to a Committee upstairs, he should be perfectly satisfied. Teachers were not public servants in one sense, though they were employed in the public interest, nor did he expect in any new measure that their relations to the State would be changed; but they nevertheless felt themselves to be public servants, and entitled to the superannuation enjoyed by other servants of the State. There were few employments so depressing, and those who followed the profession had only a gloomy picture to look forward to, with nothing to brighten the prospect in their old age. They asked no more than what the State had already given; all they wished was that it should be differently appropriated; and what they asked was simply that their scheme which evinced prescience and self-denial on their part, should be encouraged. In 1846 the Government did actually promise pensions, and several teachers were induced to take service under them on that account. In 1851 a large sum was paid to carry out the promise given in 1846, and in 1870 something like £466 was devoted to that purpose; but he would not enter into the details of that extraordinary promise, or breach of promise. His system was to deduct from the payments of the present a sufficient sum to provide future superannuations; and inasmuch as the Scotch Education Bill contained a clause providing for superannuation, and, moreover, as they had just passed a Bill to enable corporations to grant superannuation allowances to their town clerks and other officials, they really should not forget the claims of the teachers, for town clerks had generally something besides to look to, but the poor teachers had hardly anything else. The number of letters he had received from members of that useful body detailing their painful situation, their poverty, disease, and trials were such as to harrow his feelings morning after morning; he must, however, say that they had made every exertion their scanty means enabled them to obviate those evils, and it was to their credit that they had established a benevolent society, and out of their own subscriptions they granted sums varying from £10 to £20 to those of their number who were obliged to leave their duties. He hoped he had said enough to secure for his Motion the sympathy, if not the support of the House, and would conclude by laying it before them to deal with as they thought fit.


, in seconding the Motion said, he wished to bear testimony to the great interest with which this debate was watched by many thousands of teachers, and also to the great moderation of their wishes. It was not that they asked for an increase of salary, but rather for recognition in some degree as public servants, and for the establishment of some system of life assurance under Government guarantee, which they might look forward to without fear of risk. Speaking for the managers, he might also say, that they were almost as unanimous on the matter as the teachers. There was no position more painful than that in which a school manager was placed when he found the capitation grant falling off, and his school losing ground, because the masters or mistresses were getting a little past their work; and it would be a great advantage if, without an appearance of too much hardship, he felt he might give a hint to the teachers to leave their situations within a certain time. There were, however, some serious difficulties in the way of adopting the Resolutions; for instance, his hon. Friend the Member for Kendal had proceeded on the assumption that the capitation grant went direct to the masters and mistresses; but in that he was in error, for in many instances that was not so. It also made retirement from age the sole condition of superannuation; but no scheme would be satisfactory which did not take into consideration cases of infirmity brought on by the energetic discharge of duty. He was certain, therefore, it would be wise if Her Majesty's Government met with favour the proposal of his hon. Friend for some inquiry.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon Thursday next, resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House, to consider of an humble Address to Her Majesty, praying that, by a deduction from the Parliamentary Grant in aid of Public Elementary Schools, a provision may be made for granting Annuities to the Certificated Teachers of such Schools upon their retirement by reason of age and infirmity; and to assure Her Majesty that this House will make good the same,"—(Mr. Whitwell,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he understood that Her Majesty's Government were prepared to accept the principle of the Motion, but that its terms were not the most desirable, and therefore it should be referred to a Committee for careful examination. Two considerations ought to weigh with the House in taking that course—first, the comfort and wellbeing of the teachers, who in after life, had little opportunity of earning a livelihood after they had quitted the profession; and secondly, in the prospect of a great increase in the number of elementary teachers, it was the duty of Parliament not only to maintain, but to improve the standard. He agreed with those who thought that the matter should be referred to a Select Committee, or, at all events, that some means should be taken for seeing whether the scheme could or could not be worked. The House must feel that by affording to teachers such a resource their profession would be elevated; and none who had had practical experience of elementary schools could doubt the importance of improving the standard of the teachers, looking especially to the large increase that there would probably be in their number. It was only necessary to remind the House that not a shilling would be added to the present burdens of the country.


said, he sympathized with the views of the hon. Member for Kendal, and hoped that the inquiry would be extended to the Irish teachers, whose necessity was as great, if not greater than any other part of the kingdom, and who would feel disappointed if they were not treated in the same manner as the teachers in English schools.


said, he would remind the House that from the Returns of the salaries of the teachers all over the country they did not average £90 a-year. He might be told that curates worked for less, but they had the prospect of preferment, whereas the persons in question had no prospect but that of teaching in schools, while a curate, who received about the average amount of salary that was paid to a schoolmaster, might become Archbishop of Canterbury. Teachers, indeed, were not eligible to become even sub-Inspectors of schools, unless they qualified by taking the degree of B.A. at the University of London, although the prospect of such advancement might stimulate them in the performance of their duties. He was glad to hear that to some extent the Government sympathized with the Resolution, for the demand which the teachers made was a moderate one; although he was, as a matter of principle, opposed to superannuation, as he thought that all persons should be paid a sufficient sum for their own labour to enable them to make provisions for old age.


also hoped that Her Majesty's Government would allow the whole question, in the broadest form, to go before a Committee. They were not going then to enter its details, but, representing, as he did, the London School Board, he begged to say that that body was most anxious to have the whole question investigated. He believed that such investigation would give great satisfaction to the teachers, than whom there was not a more meritorious class of persons in the country, nor any who were worse paid. Under these circumstances, he felt bound to support the Motion for referring the matter to a Committee.


also supported the Resolution, believing its object to be of great importance as affecting the energy of teachers, for with a good master, there would be a good school with an indifferent set of regulations; while with a bad master, there would be a bad school, in spite of the best regulations.


also desired that this inquiry should be extended to the teachers of Ireland in accordance with their expectation.


, in expressing a similar wish, asked how the proposition of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hermon) could be applied to the Irish teacher, the payments to whom only averaged £35 per annum. With the utmost self-denial it was impossible to make provision for old age out of such a pittance.


said, this question was not only interesting in itself, but it vitally affected the interests of many thousands of persons to whom the House should give every consideration. As regarded the Irish teachers, however, he thought it would not be to their advantage to be included in this inquiry, for, although he was not departmentally informed of their position, he had some knowledge of it. He did not, in that, by any means say that there might not be reasons for inquiring into their condition; but their position was different from that of the English teachers, while the sources from which they received payment were not the same, neither were their relations to the State similar, and he felt that they would not gain by being included in the proposed inquiry as to England and Scotland. And here he must take the opportunity of informing the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hermon) that he was in error in saying that schoolmasters could not become inspectors' assistants, because they were not only able to do so, but the appointments were limited to them. As to the particular question before the House, he sympathized with the object of the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Whitwell), for he thought there was no more deserving body of persons in England than the certificated teachers, and it was desirable that they should be able to look forward to some provision in their old age, for their labour was one which wore out life quickly, and, after a comparatively early age, did not leave either men or women able to do other work. Unquestionably some provision should be made for them, but the question was, in what manner such a provision could be made; whether by voluntary association, or assistance from individuals, or from the State. It was a matter which deeply affected the interests of individuals for whom every one felt a great sympathy, but it was only kindness for a person in his position to point out what he considered the actual relations of these persons to the State and to the House of Commons as guardians of the public purse. Schoolmasters and schoolmistresses were not Civil servants nor public servants. The State did not employ them, and ever since the Revised Code of 1862 they had received no pay from the State, for one of the main principles of the Revised Code was, that the question of pay and employment was left between them and the managers of schools, and they still remained in that position. But although the State did not employ or pay them, it had this relation to them, that it had conferred upon them two great services. In the first place, it had trained them almost entirely at the expense of the taxpayers; and in the second place, it gave them by the action of the Code and the Education Act, if not a monopoly in the business of teaching, a great preference over any of their competitors. Having put them in such a position, they were left to the general condition of supply and demand. It was true that the Act passed two years ago had somewhat changed their condition. But in what manner? It had improved their position throughout England—and the Scotch Education Act would do the same for them in two ways, first, by increasing the funds out of which they were paid; and, secondly, by increasing the demand for their services. That being the case, he came to the consideration of the plan proposed by the hon. Member for Kendal. Last year he (Mr. W. E. Forster) stated that he had looked into the question with great care and anxiety, and that he was prepared to consider any plan that could be brought forward with the assent of the large body of the managers of schools; but he stated also that he did not consider there was any claim for a State grant, and that the State could not increase the Parliamentary grant now made. The hon. Member for Kendal had now taken up the question—and he congratulated the teachers on having put their case into such able hands—but he regretted that the Rules of the House prevented the plan being brought forward in the shape of a Bill, in which it might have been considered more fully and more clearly. Whilst, however, he sympathized with the object which the hon. Member had in view, and whilst he admitted that the hon. Member's scheme did not attempt to obtain any grant from the public purse, yet he thought difficulties which were almost insuperable would be found in its working. The plan was that the Education Department should begin with a deduction of 1 per cent from all the grants to managers of schools, and that it should go on increasing until it reached 5 per cent; that the sum thus deducted should be put to the credit of an account; and that out of that sum persons should be paid on this principle—that any master or mistress, upon proof being given that he or she had taught for a certain number of years, a certain sum should be paid to them. The meaning of that was, that the young and strong teachers would have to pay the old and weak teachers. The hon. Member had stated that the young teachers were willing to submit to such a sacrifice. If so, it was much to their credit; but the House ought to be well informed on the subject before making such self-denial compulsory. It would, moreover, give precisely the same sum to teachers with a small salary as to those in receipt of a large salary—the same sum to the teacher of a small school as to the teacher of a large one, so that the pension to be given was irrespective of the sum which had been paid for what he might call insurance. Now, that was contrary to the general principles of insurance. It might be the best way of meeting the difficulty; but if he had proposed such a plan on the part of the Government, he should have received many assurances that it was not a fair plan, and he did not think it would be right to assent to the principle of such a plan unless he was assured, that the teachers thought it the best plan. The House ought also to be satisfied that the managers were willing to put such a plan into force, for the result of the working of the plan would he this—that 5 per cent reduction being made, the managers of large schools would have to submit to a larger reduction than the managers of small schools, whilst the payment to their teachers would not be larger than the payment to the teachers of small schools. He thought, therefore, there were great doubts whether the teachers and managers would assent to such a plan. Under all the circumstances it was doubtful whether the teachers would be benefited by the scheme, and again it was doubtful whether the pensions could be paid out of the sum it was proposed to deduct. Now, it was very unwise to encourage expectations of a pension and then withhold it from want of funds, and he feared the ground for withholding it being founded on the fact that the framers of the scheme had made a mistake would not be held sufficient, and that the public purse would eventually be drawn upon to supply the deficiency, despite the resolution that the pension should cease on the fund becoming exhausted. There were also difficulties in regard to the machinery by which the system would have to be managed. His hon. Friend was no doubt to some extent conscious of those difficulties, and therefore he proposed that there should be an inquiry into the subject upstairs. Now, he thought they ought to be very cautious before they agreed to a Committee on that matter, for two reasons—first, that all those who had work to do had so much on their hands that they had little time to spare; and it was always found that Committees were best formed of those who were busy people, and who therefore had to make great exertions to attend. Again, they ought not to enter upon an inquiry of that kind, the very fact of instituting which would excite expectations among a large body of persons, unless they had real and strong grounds for entering upon it. Therefore, if the House assented to appoint the Committee, he was very anxious that the teachers should not be under any misapprehension as to its appointment, and consequently, the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Birley) must allow him to correct his assumption, that the Government accepted the principle of the Motion, for the difficulties surrounding the matter appeared to him at present to be so great that that was far too strong a statement for the hon. Member to make. But, at the same time, he was very anxious that the large body of persons who were assisting them in the work of education should feel that the Government and the House gave every fair consideration to their position, and he should be exceedingly sorry if they thought that, from any dislike to engage in a troublesome inquiry, the Government were unwilling thoroughly to weigh their statements and their own propositions for meeting the difficulty which certainly did them credit. If such an inquiry were made, it might perhaps be found that some such plan would effect the object in view, or, on the other hand, that the difficulties were so great that they must ask the teachers to band themselves together in a voluntary association. If it should be found necessary to take the latter course, no doubt many people in the country who took an interest in education would be ready to assist them in any way they thought desirable. He would not anticipate the result of the Committee; but, under all the circumstances, the case was one which might fairly be inquired into, and therefore if the hon. Member would withdraw his Resolution, and substitute for it a Motion for a Select Committee, he had no doubt the inquiry would be granted without further discussion.


said, he thought the course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman a reasonable one, and would hope that the parties interested would be able to present to the Committee a fair, reasonable, and proper scheme for carrying out that which would be so much for the benefit of the teachers, and which would enable the managers of the schools to carry on their work in a much more effective way. He also thought there was no doubt whatever that the teachers would feel grateful for the way in which their services had been recognized by the House and the country.


said, he would withdraw his Resolution.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.