HC Deb 10 March 1876 vol 227 cc1800-12

, in rising to call attention to the Education Code; and to move— That, while reading, writing, and arithmetic should be obligatory in all Elementary Schools, it is desirable that the choice of other subjects should, as heretofore, be left to the School Board or Committee of Management, began by thanking the noble Lord (Viscount Sandon) for the improvements he had effected in the Code, but as the question of elementary education was one on which there was a great divergence of opinion, he trusted he might be allowed to express his views in reference to it. Until the Code issued last year came into operation the school boards and committees could select such one or more of the so-called "extra subjects" as they thought most suitable; nor had there ever been any allegation that the power thus confided to them was injudiciously exercised. Under the Code of last year, however, they were compelled to take up as two subjects History, Geography, or Grammar. That constituted, for all practical purposes, an exclusion of all other subjects. He submitted to Her Majesty's Government that there was still so much difference of opinion as to the best system of education that it was very undesirable to lay down cast-iron rules of this kind, and thus to stereotype a system which after all might prove to be by no means the best. No doubt the great majority of schools had selected these subjects, but some, on the other hand, made a different choice. The Committee of Council, indeed, said that "a fair proportion of scholars take up other branches of study." Well, then, if they themselves admitted that the school boards had acted with judgment, why take away a power which had been so wisely exercised? By the New Code the subject of domestic economy was put into the shade and confined to girls, whereas there were many matters connected with it—such as the importance of ventilation and cleanliness in their homes—which ought to be as strongly impressed on the minds of boys as of girls. He showed that several successive Committees and Commissions had recommended that instruction in the elements of natural science should be made an essential part of the course of instruction in elementary schools. Grammar, at any rate as it was ordinarily taught, seemed to be of very doubtful value. At present a knowledge of grammar, even in the upper classes, was a matter of practice and taste rather than of tuition. Again, he would have the teaching of history improved. If properly taught, it was a most important branch of education; but as taught at present, it was little better than a list of dates and battles, enlivened by bloody murders and other crimes, with a sprinkling of sensational stories, most of which, he believed, were no longer regarded as true. It was said that happy was the country that had no history, and though it could not be said that happy was the child who did not read history, still the short histories in general use were very dry and uninteresting. The quotations from history used in these schools dwelt more on times and acts of war than times of peace; whereas in reality the true condition of a country depended more on wisdom in times of peace than success in times of war. If, however, among those who were best qualified to judge there was a general opinion that History, Geography, and Grammar were clearly the best subjects, the case would be very different. But that was not so. Perhaps there had never been more successful village schools in England than those organized by Dean Dawes and by Mr. Henslow. Dean Dawes' school at King's Somborne was the subject of a special Report made to the Education Department by Mr. Mosely, and to what did Mr. Mosely principally attribute the excellence of the school? He said— That feature in the King's Somborne School which constitutes, probably, its greatest excellence, and to which Mr. Dawes attributes chiefly its influence with the agricultural population round him, is the union of instruction in a few simple principles of natural science, applicable to the things familiar to the children's daily observation, with everything else usually taught in a National School. Dean Dawes himself, in his excellent Suggestive Hints on Secular Instruction in Schools, dwelt most forcibly on the great value of elementary science as a means of education. He said— In no way can the teachers in our higher class of elementary schools give such a character of usefulness to their instruction as by qualifying themselves to teach in these subjects, introducing simple and easy experiments which illustrate the things happening before their eyes every day, and convey conviction with them the moment they are seen and explained. It is a great mistake to suppose that boys of 12 and 13 years of age cannot understand elementary knowledge of this kind, when brought before them by experiment. The Committee of that House which was appointed in 1868, on the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson), reported that the opportunities of acquiring knowledge of elementary science in the National Schools were far greater on the Continent than in this country, and added that the witnesses they examined concurred in considering "that nothing less will suffice here if we are to maintain our position in the van of industrial nations." They recommended, therefore, that elementary instruction "in the phenomena of nature "should be introduced into our National Schools. In their reports to the Education Department several of the Inspectors of Schools, whose official position and practical experience gave great weight to their opinions, expressed grave doubts whether History and Grammar were the best subjects which could be selected. Moreover, it was remarkable, as showing how much different Departments of Government differed even among themselves with reference to the choice of subjects, that there was one—namely, agriculture—which was absolutely ignored in England, which had not even a place in the specific subjects, and which was in Ireland absolutely obligatory. The children there received simple explanations of the different kinds of soil—clay, sands, &c.; of the advantage of drainage and manure; of the implements and machines used in agriculture; of the principal crops and the rotation of crops; and the kinds of cattle and stock. Surely that was a very suitable and practicable subject for country schools; and it would, he had no doubt, be far more interesting and important to the children than some of our English subjects. He might even be permitted to point out that Her Majesty's Government was not always consistent with itself in this matter, and it was somewhat remarkable that out of 14 specific subjects which were included in the Scotch Code, more than one-third were excluded from that of England. Now, why should that be? Was there any one in that House who would maintain that the system which was best for one school was necessarily best for another? Surely, differences of locality, of district, of situation, were sufficient to negative that view. Her Majesty's Government admitted, that in principle, because in Northumberland they did not propose that the subjects should be the same as in Roxburghshire. But surely the differences between England and Scotland were not the only ones? "Was it not conceivable that in towns where there was some special manufacture, the upper Standards might with advantage receive some instruction which would lead up to the occupations of their after life? Again, something must depend on the schoolmaster. A schoolmaster might have special gifts in, or knowledge of, some special subject, which it would in such a case be very desirable to utilize. Even assuming that History, Grammar, and Geography were the best subjects, why should they receive the whole of the time? The classes affected by the provision were five—that was to say, they covered five years of school life; and surely that was unreasonable. Even admitting that they should come first, ought not other subjects to come somewhere? One objection which might be raised to the Resolution was, that they should not throw upon the rates any instruction, except on the most elementary subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic. That objection hardly applied to that Resolution, because the teaching of the specific subjects to which he had referred would not cost more than those special subjects which were now so much favoured. Another objection which had been raised by the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council was that it was undesirable to make continual alterations in the Code. He admitted the force of that argument, but it hardly applied to the present suggestion, which was merely that greater freedom in the choice of these subjects should be allowed to the local bodies. If it were suggested to impose any new restrictions or any fresh conditions, there would be much weight in the objection; but in this case he only wished to restore a power which the local authorities possessed until last year, and which they were admitted to have exercised with sound discretion. Those managers who did not notice the change could not be affected by it, so that could not lead to inconvenience or confusion. Every one in that House, he might add, would admit that centralization was in itself objectionable. Perhaps, however, that was peculiarly the case in matters relating to education. It was most desirable that we should induce the very best men and women to serve on school boards, but in order to secure them we must not interfere with them more than could be possibly avoided; we must leave them a real interest and responsibility. But if we practically took out of their hands all control over the system of education pursued in the schools, we certainly diminished very considerably the interest they would otherwise feel, and thereby tended greatly to impair the efficiency of our schools. Every one knew that there were the greatest differences of opinion as to the best system of education. To many it seemed that our present methods relied too much on memory and too little on thought; that they sacrificed education to instruction; that they confused book learning with real knowledge; that, instead of training the mind to act with freedom and effect, they choked the machinery of the brain with the dry dust of facts which at best were but committed to memory, instead of becoming a part and parcel of the child. In education, and especially, perhaps, in elementary schools, our object, he contended, should be to train, rather than to teach, the child. What the children knew when they left school was comparatively unimportant. The real question was, whether we had given them a wish for knowledge and a power of acquiring it. What they learnt at school would soon be lost, if it was not added to. The great thing was to interest them, and not so much to teach them as to make them wish to teach themselves. Unfortunately, our system of education had too often the very opposite effect, and under it the acquirement of knowledge had become an effort rather than a pleasure. He had been good-naturedly criticized, both in that House and out of it, as an enthusiast on that subject; but every one who loved children must know how anxious they were for information, how they longed to understand the facts of nature, how every bird and beast and flower was full of interest for them. Under these circumstances, he would appeal to Her Majesty's Government not to stereotype their present system, not to restrict the education given in our elementary schools to the outlines of slates, the technicalities of grammar, and the series of crimes and accidents which was misnamed history. He hoped he should not be thought unduly pertinaceous in urging these views, but he did so under the conviction that the more we could make the schools interesting to the children, the more they would conduce to the benefit of the country. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving the Resolution.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "while reading, writing, and arithmetic should he obligatory in all Elementary Schools, it is desirable that the choice of other subjects should, as heretofore, be left to the School Board or Committee of Management,"—(Sir John Lubbock,) —instead thereof.


said, he thought the hon. Baronet was somewhat premature in bringing his Resolution under the notice of the House before the New Code was submitted to its consideration. What he proposed to do was to cancel some of the most material alterations in the Code which were made last year—a course which, in his opinion, it would be somewhat precipitate to take before the House had some experience of the results which those alterations produced. As yet no school had been examined under the altered system. He was not prepared to say that the Schedule of extra subjects might not be enlarged; but he thought we should go on with cautious steps, and not be in too great a hurry again to make a change. Since the question of the Code had been started, he would say a word on the subject of physical education in elementary schools, which had been overlooked for many years, and which deserved the attention of the Legislature. Take the case of swimming, for instance, which was an accomplishment quite as valuable as the drill ordinarily taught in schools. He should be glad if the Vice President of the Council would allow attendances at swimming to rank as school attendances, such attendances, under proper instruction, to be alternative with military drill. In large towns very little attention was paid to the proper development of the physical faculties of children, and he trusted his noble Friend would see his way to do something in this important and hitherto overlooked branch of education, by allowing attendances at an adequately conducted gymnasium to also count as attendances at school. He wished also to call attention to the hardship inflicted on infant schools by the provisions of the Code as they at present stood. It had been usual for the teachers to present a small number of their best scholars for examination in the Standards. That was the only adequate test they could get of their ability to teach and of their assiduity in teaching, but it was no longer possible for the children to be presented in the usual way. He thought, however, the hon. Baronet's Motion was somewhat inopportune, and hoped he would not deem it necessary to press it to a division.


thought the Resolution covered more things than had been mentioned by the hon. Baronet, and that his object was, as it always had been, that children in elementary schools should he trained in far higher subjects than those to which he had referred. However, the two points raised by the Resolution ought to be carefully considered by the House. Considering the class of children they had to deal with in the agricultural districts, it would be very hard if fresh requirements should now be demanded of managers of schools, who were making every effort to come up to the requirements imposed by the Code of last year. In agricultural schools there were so many difficulties to contend with, that even his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett), if he went into all these considerations, would agree that much more energy was being displayed than formerly, and that there was a real determination throughout the country to give to children the benefit of education. It must be remembered, however, that all these things could not be done in a hurry, and that time must be allowed in order to get gradually into a good working system. He would, however, ask the hon. Baronet if these children were educated too highly, what were they to do? It must not be forgotten that the great majority of them must earn their bread by daily toil; and what would be the effect upon them through life, if the hon. Baronet's suggestions were adopted? Then, again, there was the class of children immediately above them in social life. What was to become of them? They would be unable to obtain such an education as it was proposed to give these children at the expense of the State, and the injustice thus committed was manifest. Much had been said by the hon. Baronet with regard to education in Scotland. Well, he himself was greatly struck with the admirable way in which instruction was imparted in the schools he had visited in the Highlands. The Scotch teachers, he was bound to admit, excelled pre-eminently in imparting knowledge to their pupils. What we wanted was not merely knowledge in the schoolmasters and mistresses themselves, but also an aptitude for imparting it to others. As he had said, the great majority of the children had to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, and while we were educating them we must not prevent them from learning that which must be their mainstay in after life. He hoped his noble Friend would not assent to the Resolution, because it would lead to great difficulty in the future, would cover more than the hon. Baronet stated, and would produce no good results for the people of this country.


thought the hon. and gallant Baronet who had just addressed the House had somewhat misunderstood the intention of his hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock), whose proposal would not increase the difficulties of managers in earning the Government money. They would only have greater latitude given to them as to what they should do. His hon. Friend bad not expressed a wish that a great number of subjects should be taught, but considered that two would be sufficient. The question was whether there was too much limitation in regard, not to the special subjects for individual scholars, but to those subjects upon which the classes were examined. For his own part, he confessed he thought his hon. Friend ought to wait two or three years before he asked for an alteration. It should be recollected that everything taught in these schools, in order to have much effect, must be imparted according to some system. With regard to the special subjects, quite as much choice was allowed now as had been allowed before, with the additional advantage that more money could be earned.


said, he very much wished, if it were possible, that no public money should be granted for any subject but reading, writing, and arithmetic. He apprehended, however, that it was not possible now, because education was proceeding on different lines from those of former days. So far, however, as his experience went in education in the country, unless we were very cautious, it struck him that we were running great risk of departing from that which ought to be the first object of elementary education—namely, to qualify children for doing their work in the position in which their work lay. In the case of girls, needlework was obviously a subject for which public money ought to be granted; because it was necessary to enable children to fill the station in life to which they would be called. But he thought the children were overcrammed, and the teaching of history, particularly of the kinds of history to which reference had been made, did not come within the same scope of necessary preparation, and it had the further inconvenience of entailing unnecessary and very arduous labour on the pupil teachers. He feared that already both children and pupil teachers were crammed with subjects far beyond those which ought to be insisted upon from them. There was a danger lest the result of this pressure upon the brain should injure the health and strength of pupil teachers, especially girls. It must be remembered that, while working up these extra subjects, they were engaged in teaching. At present throe-fourths of the work in our elementary schools was done by the pupil teachers, and in increasing the special subjects for which public money could be earned there was great risk that many of the pupil teachers would overtask their strength in order to enable the schools to earn this public money. The result of such a state of things must be that the pupils would receive an unsatisfactory education as far as the elementary branches were concerned, while the energies of the pupil teachers would be over-strained, and their health imperilled.


said, no apology was necessary from Ms hon. Friend opposite (Sir John Lubbock) for bringing forward a subject involving a question of science, with which he was preeminently qualified to deal; and the House was to be congratulated on having among its Members one who showed an ardent enthusiasm upon such questions, and who handled them with the grace which distinguished every act of the hon. Baronet in that House. Unfortunately his hon. Friend was absent during an interesting discussion which took place last year on the New Code, when the changes proposed to be made received a warm assent from the House. On that occasion, while he (Viscount Sandon) did not pretend that the curriculum so altered was the best in the world, he then urged the House to support him in resisting proposals for changes during the next two or three years, and when he announced this view it was strongly supported by the House. Nothing was more destructive to our elementary schools, more annoying to teachers, or more discouraging to school managers than the introduction of constant changes in our curriculum of education. He appealed, therefore, to his hon. Friend not to press his Motion. It was undesirable, he thought, that he should enter now into the various points that had been raised in the discussion; but he would observe that some useful remarks had been made in the course of it which should receive his attention. His hon. Friend, however, could hardly blame the Government for showing some amount of coolness towards subjects of education other than those which were clearly the most necessary or desirable. They increased the grant for extra subjects from 3s. to 4s. per head, and these extra subjects were mathematics, Latin, French, German, mechanics, animal physiology, physical geography, botany, and domestic economy. While doing so, without wishing to disparage their utility, he thought it questionable whether the study of such subjects could be of any certain advantage to those who were educated in these schools. At the same time, the substantial grant which was given to these extra subjects to meet the wishes and wants of different schools and communities showed that the Government had no hostility, but rather a warm wish to raise the standard of education if they could. But he felt strongly that the business of his Department was to try and make the work of education as solid as possible. They were dealing with a new class of scholars; they were fighting against irregular attendance and other difficulties; and it was, therefore, undesirable that anything should be done by which these difficulties would in all probability be increased. The great object was to impress upon children, teachers, and parents the necessity of laying a permanent basis of education. Now, if you gave loopholes for introducing what he might term, without undervaluing them, more fanciful and less necessary subjects, there was a danger lest young teachers should be led away to cultivate these higher subjects at the expense of the more solid ones. Information which came before him led him also to agree with the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. A. Mills) that there was considerable danger of the younger teachers being intellectually overworked in their zeal and anxiety for knowledge. It would be disastrous to a national system of education to have a body of teachers highly developed intellectually, but with constitutions shaken and shattered by their intellectual work. A body of dyspeptic teachers would, in the long run, tend to very bad results in the way of education, and such a danger was by no means a fanciful one. This danger affected pupil teachers not only in that career, but afterwards in the training colleges. He begged the House, therefore, to support him for rather holding back at present in this matter—first, because it was not well to be constantly meddling with the Code; and next, because further changes to any considerable extent would interfere with the solid basis of national education which everybody desired, and with which it would not be well at present to interfere. He should not forget the subjects mentioned by his hon. Friend, though he could not for the present accede to the Motion.


defended his hon. Friend for having brought on the discussion, because one of the objects of the Code being laid on the Table so many weeks before it became law was to enable Members of Parliament to enforce their suggestions on the Vice President of the Council. What his hon. Friend wanted was to produce a certain elasticity in the working of the Code; he did not desire to increase the subjects taught in schools in agricultural districts, but only to give the managers of these schools the option of teaching the children something about their own occupation, such as the soil, the plants that grew upon it, and the manure that was used to dress it, instead of confining their attention to grammar and history; and he put it to hon. Members whether that information was not more likely to be useful to them than a knowledge of trifling questions in history, such as to the number of Queen Anne's children who died in infancy? What his hon. Friend's object was, not so much to have many subjects taught, as those subjects which might be adapted to the wants of particular districts. The Scotch had been very much complimented on their success in teaching, but the secret of it was this, that they encouraged the teachers to teach what they knew best. After what had been said, however, he would advise his hon. Friend not to press his Motion, but to remain satisfied with the discussion the subject had received, and which he thought would not be found unproductive of good results hereafter.


said, he had devoted some attention to the subject to which the discussion related, and he must say he deprecated the extent to which scientific education in primary schools was sometimes carried at the present day. He even thought the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh University would not find very many to go with him the whole extent of his views on the subject, even among those who were engaged in scientific teaching. He doubted, in fact, the value of the scientific teaching which the right hon. Gentleman had advocated for agricultural districts, and thought, on the contrary, that such subjects were too much cultivated. It appeared to him that they had a craze in favour of scientific teaching, and that it would be far better to keep to the good old lines, and give sound instruction in grammar, geography, and history, rather than go into so many branches of science. In Ireland the national system of education excluded national history. History was excluded, and its exclusion, he thought, was unfortunate and a blot upon that system. But that was in despite of the people of Ireland. It was because they had in Ireland that which did not exist in England—an injurious governmental system—that they consented to the entire and complete exclusion of history from their schools. If their history was a sad one, still they were not to be congratulated upon its exclusion in Ireland.


said, he was quite willing, with the leave of the House, to withdraw the Resolution. ["No, no!"]

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