HC Deb 10 July 1877 vol 235 cc1060-9

who had given Notice of his intention to move— That it is desirable to modify the Education Code in such a manner as to give School Boards and Committees more latitude in the selection of subjects, and in determining the order and mode in which those subjects should be taught, said, that, though he was prevented by the Forms of the House from moving his Resolution, he desired to direct the attention of the House to this important question. It was true that a number of so-called special subjects were nominally permitted to be taught; but it was, he feared, evident that practically the Schedule to the Code must remain a dead letter. Until the last year or two, reading, writing, and arithmetic were the only compulsory subjects; and regarding others, the school managers were allowed to select anything they pleased out of a certain list. Suddenly, however, without any reason given, or any discussion in this House, this discretion had been abrogated, and history, geography, and grammar, or two of them, were made compulsory. Now this regulation practically excluded other subjects; because, according to the last Report of the Education Department, which dealt with the year before the present Code came into operation, only 13 children in the whole of England were sent in for examination in more than two subjects. Practically, almost all discretion and all power in these matters had been taken from the local school managers, and concentrated in the Privy Council. He doubted whether, under any circumstances, it would be desirable thus to stereotype one form of education for every school in the Kingdom; but surely we ought not to do so without being very clear as to the best system. There was, however, very great difference of opinion on this head. The first authority to which he would refer, was that of a Committee of that House. It was presided over by his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Sa-muelson), and, after careful inquiry, they reported that, in their opinion, "elementary instruction in the phenomena of nature should be given in elementary schools." The next authority which he would quote was the Royal Commission, presided over by the Duke of Devonshire, which unanimously recommended that more substantial encouragement should be given to the teaching of the rudiments of science in our elementary schools. In Scotland, too, great dissatisfaction was felt with the present system. At the last Conference of elementary teachers, held in London, and very numerously attended, it was resolved that the system of payment "embodied in the Code is unsound in principle and injurious to the progress of true education." The Inspectors of schools differed greatly as to the most suitable subjects. Even in regard to geography, they were not unanimous. This, as a subject, was said to lend itself very much to "cram." One of the Inspectors gave in support some very amusing answers. For instance, in answer to a question of "What are mountains and rivers?" one girl replied that "Mountains in some parts of the world are very useful. In Africa, for instance, they shoot out gold." Of rivers she had not so favourable an opinion, though she thought "they were all very well in some countries where there was very little rain." He confessed, however, that he thought geography a very good subject, though he was not convinced that it ought to be continued during the whole course, to the exclusion of other subjects. The mere skeleton of history taught in our elementary schools contained little more than dates, wars, and murders; but dates and crimes no more constituted the history of a nation than sinews and bones made a man. As regarded grammar, the Inspectors were by no means agreed, and many of them, it would seem from the Report, even a majority, were strongly against it. After referring to the mode in which, according to Mr. Fearon, grammar was to be taught, the hon. Baronet proceeded to point out that language had been created and perfected by use and not by study. If our ancestors had been educated under the system of the noble Lord, our language would be far less terse, and would have attained far less convenience than fortunately it had acquired. But, if the best authorities disapproved of grammar, which the Education Department had rendered almost compulsory, there seemed a very general agreement that literature—which they had excluded—was the very best of all the subjects. Mr. Currey thought it "as useful and satisfactory as any," and would like to see greater encouragement given to it. Mr. Williams preferred it to any of the other subjects. Literature, however, would be almost excluded by the present Code. It was true that the children had to learn a certain number of lines by heart. That was all very well, but it was not literature. Again, in the teeth of strong Reports by a Committee of that House, and by a Royal Commission, in favour of teaching elementary science in schools, the Code was so framed that science was practically excluded. Now, did Her Majesty's Inspectors approve of this? Not at all. Mr. Danby regretted— the entire absence of any attempt to teach the smallest rudiments of experimental science. The consequent atrophy of one set of faculties is a result to be much deplored. I humbly submit to your Lordships the advisability of directly encouraging in the school course such kind and amount of teaching as will furnish scholars with the acquaintance with the primary conceptions of physical science. MR. Legard said— One of the weakest points about our English elementary education is its unscientific character; the idea that there is such a thing as a science of education is quite a novel one, and our backwardness in this respect is one of the reasons why the results in schools are not more satisfactory. He had referred at some length to the opinions of Her Majesty's Inspectors, because their views would have great weight with the House; but there was one class whose opinions were entitled to even greater consideration — namely, the children themselves. They might trust to the instincts of healthy, sensible children in the selection of food for the mind, as well as for the body. They knew what they could assimilate, and the present system being essentially bookish, overtaxed their memory, but appealed neither to their reason nor to their imagination, and was therefore distasteful to them. Now, it was noticeable that in the Scotch Schedule there were five subjects, and in the Irish no less than 10, which were entirely excluded from England. The Education Department might, indeed, say that they had not the same control in Ireland, but that argument could not apply to Scotland. Again, domestic economy was confined to the girls. It included, according to the rules laid down, a knowledge of "Food, clothing and its materials, the dwelling, cleansing, and ventilation." Why should not boys learn about cleanliness and ventilation, the management of income, expenditure, and saving? Surely, these subjects were most important. He also pointed out the inconvenience of the minute and stringent rules laid down by the Department. For instance, whatever subject a school determined to take up, it had to conform to the most minute rules as to the mode in which that subject was to be taught, and the order of succession in which various parts of it were to be taken up. A specified part was to be taken in the first year, another in the second, and a third in a third. But that arrangement would work very ill in the numerous class of schools in which only about 20 or 30 children would learn some special subject, as the Code would practically require them to be divided into three separate classes. He deprecated, therefore, these minute rules, and maintained, that even if the highest authorities were agreed as to the best system, it would not be wise to lay it down as an imperative and universal rule. Her Majesty's Government had recognized this principle by having a different Code for each of the Three Kingdoms; but different parts of England differed from one another at least as much as Dumfries from Northumberland. Surely in an agricultural school agriculture ought not to be excluded; while in mining and manufacturing districts a certain amount of chemical or physical instruction, bearing on the staple industries, would not be out of place. Again, much would depend on the character of the master. Dean Dawes and Mr. Henslowe had created schools proverbial for excellence. In both cases great weight was attached to elementary science, and the schools had been very successful. He did not on that account propose that elementary science should be made compulsory, but he submitted that it ought not to be excluded. Many persons regretted that School Committee elections turned so much on theological questions; but, under existing arrangements, who could wonder at this? School boards had, in fact, scarcely any voice in educational questions. It was most desirable that the best men and women should consent to act on school boards; but how could they be expected to do so, if deprived of the most important of their legitimate functions. Again, it was admitted that, under the old system, the masses of the school might have been neglected in some cases and attention given too exclusively to the clever ones; but was there not now a danger of falling into the opposite and more fatal error of neglecting the masses for the sake of the stupid children? He would not disguise from the House that the present system of elementary education was very far from being his own ideal. Not that he wished to make education more laborious, more difficult, or more abstruse. Far from it. The present system overtaxed the children; it wearied memory, neglected imagination, and discouraged thought. The subjects taught had too little reference to the realities of life. The wearisome monotony of dates and tattles, the abstruse technicalities of grammar, were more trying, more difficult to children than the subjects he recommended. He did not, however, ask Her Majesty's Government to substitute other subjects for those which they had chosen; all he said was, Do not unnecessarily impose on schools a system as to the wisdom of which, to say the least of it, there are grave doubts, and do not deprive school managers of the power they have hitherto exercised, and which you yourselves admit they have used with judgment. He would urge as modifications of the Code that grammar, history, and geography should be restored to the Schedule. The result would be that reading, writing, and arithmetic would be the compulsory subjects, and school managers would select and arrange the other subjects as they thought best. The instructions contained in the Code as regarded the mode of teaching the special subjects should be regarded as suggestive merely, leaving the actual details to be settled between the school authorities and the Inspector. Chemistry and agriculture should be added to the list of special subjects, and in some of the manufacturing and mining districts elementary classes bearing on the special industry of the locality might be desirable. Agriculture was included in the Irish Code, and the Irish Board had produced a very excellent little book on the subject. At any rate, it was a curious commentary on the present system that so many subjects which were included in Ireland should be forbidden in England. Finally, boys should not be excluded from the classes on domestic economy. The noble Lord might say that it was not desirable to disturb the Code again. That would be a strong argument, if any new conditions were proposed; but the noble Lord would in candour admit that it was no argument against a relaxation. The course he ventured to suggest would impose no new duties or conditions on school managers or on school committees. Those who preferred the present system would continue to act as at present. Thus the alteration could not reasonably be objected to from that point of view. He did not ask that education should be made more difficult, or more abstruse. Quite the reverse. He wished to see it made more amusing, and he thought that explanations should be given of the simple phenomena of nature, of day and night, summer and winter, of dews and frost, of the properties of air and water, of the simple rules which regulate health, of the nature of the simpler processes of agriculture, of the different sorts of soil, and of the common domestic animals. All he asked was that while reading, writing, and arithmetic were compulsory, Boards and Committees should be permitted to select such of the other special subjects as they might prefer, and should teach them as they might think best. He would trouble the House with only one more quotation—from the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lord, speaking in the House, had said— It became the House well to consider what might be the effect of interfering with the habit of self-government by the people of England. It appeared to him that the Society of Education, that school of philosophers, were, with all their vaunted intellect and learning, fast returning to the system of a barbarous age—the system of paternal government. Wherever was found what was called a paternal government, was found a State education. … It had been discovered that the best way to insure implicit obedience was to commence tyranny in the nursery. The truth was that, where everything was left to the Government, the subject became a machine. But this was just what the noble Lord himself was now doing, and Her Majesty's Government, that "school of philosophers" were too prone to centralization. They were depriving local authorities of duties and functions which they had hitherto exercised. Local self-government, however, was the basis of political freedom; and in the cause of freedom, no less than in that of education, he hoped the House would approve the policy which he had advocated.


said, what he understood the hon. Baronet to suggest was that power should be given to school boards and managers of schools to make a larger selection of subjects beyond those which the Code made imperative with a view to interest the children. There were now 10 of those subjects, and there were three or four with regard to which a very large discretion was exercised by managers of schools. There were many thousands of children who were now receiving instruction in Latin, Mathematics, Animal Physiology, and Domestic Economy. He found from the Returns made to the Department that 34,000 children had presented themselves in English literature, 5,000 in Mathematics, and 5,200 in Animal Physiology. There was, therefore, at present, a large power of selection. The hon. Baronet wished that there should be less dictation and more liberty with regard to this choice of subjects. There was, however, very considerable liberty in this respect, and the hon. Baronet and the House should never forget that over the children in the elementary schools we could have control only until they were 13 years of age, and that of 26,400 children presented in the 6th standard no fewer than 19,000 failed in one or other of the three elementary subjects— reading, writing, and arithmetic. And if we were to widen the area of selection with regard to the subjects in the fourth Schedule of the Code we must not conceal from ourselves that it would necessarily involve either a larger expenditure in providing additional masters or the straining of the powers of the present masters and certificated teachers, who were already worked hard enough, and which he would be very sorry to see done. When we had got such a large number of children who were not up in the standard subjects, he thought it useless to add special subjects which they were not likely to be able to assimilate. The Inspectors and all who had most experience in the working of our schools told us that the elementary subjects were far from being thoroughly learnt; and therefore we ought to take care that a higher standard should be attained in those subjects before we went further. In the School Board of London, taking simply the teaching power, each child cost £2 12s. per annum, or at the rate of 1s. per week. Of that 1s. 2d. was paid by private means, as the fees in the board schools averaged 2d. per week, and the remaining 10d. was borne by the public funds. He did not grudge that money if the children were properly taught. But when five-sixths of the cost of elementary teaching came from the public funds, it was time they looked at the manner in which the money was spent. He was afraid if they widened the area so as to include the extra subjects proposed by the hon. Baronet they would be giving the children of tradesmen and upper servants, for a contribution of 2d. per week, an education such as he could only get for his boy at Eton, though the parents were perfectly able to pay the full cost of their children's education. If they altered the Code under pressure in this matter they would be landed in a system which the rate and taxpayers of England would not at all fancy. It was idle to suppose that they could increase the area of these extra subjects without considerably increasing their teaching power, and that would necessarily greatly add to the expense. He therefore felt it to be his duty to oppose the Amendment of the hon. Baronet.


thought there was great force in the observations of his hon. Friend (Sir John Lubbock), which was not in any degree weakened by the contention of the hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House. The question of expense he considered they might safely leave to the local authorities. The proposal was not that the school boards should be compelled to teach these subjects, but that they should be permitted to teach them, and therefore the argument of expense did not come in. He wished to call attention to the importance of promoting instruction in domestic economy in the public Elementary Schools, and chiefly as regarded cookery. He could speak with some authority on the matter, having for the last three or four years paid great attention to it. He had acted as Chairman of the Committee for carrying out the Training School of Cookery at South Kensington. In March last 2,444 pupils had passed through that school, and cookery schools were now established in nearly all large towns in England and Scotland. Of the printed recipes for different dishes there were sold last year at South Kensington School, at 1d. each, 38,000 copies. In December they established 15 local classes in and about the Metropolis, the success of which had been most remarkable. The attendance had exceeded 13,000, chiefly the wives of small shopkeepers. The fees ranged from 2d. to 6d. But the wives of artizans were, of all others, the class specially interested, and there seemed to be great difficulty in getting them to attend those classes. The only way to get at them would be to teach cookery in school. That was the opinion of some of the school boards in the country. The London School Board had last year estab- lished four local centres for teaching cookery. In order that real and lasting good might be done by instruction in cookery, it must be given by persons who had themselves been specially taught. There had been sent to the Department many memorials thanking the Government for the valuable recognition it had given, and urging it to go further. Previously theoretical information respecting food and its preparations had been disseminated, and the subject had been connected with clothing and materials for clothing, and it was thought that food might be made a separate subject, and payments made for practical instruction in the same manner as for the teaching of elementary sciences. The principles of agriculture had been added to the list of special subjects; and as regarded the practical result there was an essential correspondence between agriculture and the preparation of food. An increase in the number of instructors was necessary, but the cost of that increase would be comparatively slight, for a good instructor could teach a very large number of persons. It would also be necessary to have special Inspectors to see that the work was thoroughly and efficiently done. Although cookery was a very important matter, it did not take long to learn. A very few days were sufficient for the purpose; but, when learnt, its application made a wonderful difference in the working man's home, and it was on that account he believed it worth while doing what he could to induce the Government to encourage the study of it.