HC Deb 09 September 1886 vol 308 cc1757-64
MR. CONWAY (Leitrim, N.)

, in rising to move— That this House is of opinion that it is expedient that every school conducted in suitable premises, with an attendance of not less than thirty scholars, under a duly certified teacher or teachers, and complying with the other provisions of the Code, and favourably reported on by Her Majesty's Inspector as being efficiently taught, shall be entitled to a share in the annual Parliamentary Grant for Public Education, said, that at the time Board schools were first introduced it was intended that they should only supplement voluntary schools where the latter did not meet the necessities of the districts; but in the small country places, where the School Boards were not so enlightened as in, for instance, London or Liverpool, the Boards refused to give their consent to the building of new voluntary schools, and ignored the claims of the denominationalists. The House ought to come to the rescue of the voluntary schools, and prevent small Boards, such as those he had referred to, refusing their consent. If the Motion were adopted, he contended that no harm would be done to the cause of popular education. The grievances which the people complained of would be removed, and the schools which were fulfilling all the conditions of the Code would be sharing in the grant for public elementary education. Since the Education Act came into force no fewer than 48 of these voluntary schools had been suppressed by a powerful minority, and £6,000,000 sunk in aid of the cause of education was practically lost. His Resolution was intended to rescue the denominational schools, and, at the same time, to relieve the Vice President of the Council of much labour connected with all schools which complained of the action of the Board.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House is of opinion that it is expedient that every school conducted in suitable premises, with an attendance of not less than thirty scholars, under a duly certified teacher or teachers, and complying with the other provisions of the Code, and favourably reported on by Her Majesty's Inspector as being efficiently taught, shall be entitled to a share in the annual Parliamentary Grant for Public Education,"—(MR. Conway,) —instead thereof.

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


said, he was inclined to agree with a great deal of what had fallen from the hon Member. The House might not be aware that the Motion stated exactly the practice of the Department which was followed in districts not under School Boards; but he understood the chief objection of the hon. Member to apply to cases within a School Board district, and to the fact that voluntary schools were not allowed to earn grants in a district where a Board school had been once set up. In considering this point it was necessary to bear in mind that a School Board was not started unless there was a deficiency of voluntary work. A School Board was only called into action when they could not obtain a voluntary school in a district to supply insufficiency of school accommodation. Upon failure of voluntary action the Department had no option but to fall back on the ratepayers, and insist on their finding school accommodation. Directly a School Board was started it had certain powers vested in it by the Act of Parliament; it was bound to find sufficient accommodation in the district; and, further, if at any subsequent time sufficient accommodation was wanting, it was bound to provide it. The Education Department was bound to see that sufficient accommodation was provided, and the School Board were bound by the Act of 1870 to provide it. Supposing that the managers of a voluntary school came forward and said that they desired to start a voluntary school within a School Board district, it was the duty of the Department first to ascertain whether there was or was not sufficient suitable accommodation in the district; and if there was sufficient the Department would not allow a grant to the voluntary school. If they did, it would be hardly fair by the ratepayers who had had to contribute to the School Board, and who, in fact, had created a public elementary school which was giving sufficient accommodation for the district. It must be observed, also, that if this concession was made to one voluntary and denominational school, it must be made to any others in the district that could fulfil the conditions and secure the minimum average attendance. This would tend to the multiplication of small rival schools, unnecessary from the educational point of view; there would be danger of lowering the standard of education, as was found to be the case in small schools as compared with larger schools; and there would be an unnecessary expenditure, as every school, however small, must have the proper staff. Supposing, again, a time arrived when there was not sufficient accommodation in the district, and a representation to that effect was made to the Department, they would at once call on the School Board to find sufficient accommodation. If the managers of a voluntary school came forward and said, "Give the grant to us, and we will find that accommodation," the Education Department would be obliged in these circumstances, according to the present system, first to say to the School Board, "Will you find that accommodation? If not, we shall give the grant to the voluntary school; but it is your duty first to find the accommodation, and we call upon you to do your duty." If the School Board is unwilling or fails to provide the accommodation, the Department would make a grant to a voluntary school fulfilling the necessary conditions; or they would make that grant at once to the school, if the Board assented to the want of accommodation being supplied by a voluntary school. Where a voluntary school had been started for denominational purposes in a School Board district, and was certified as efficient, if it came to the Education Department and asked for a grant, it was the practice of the Education Department to say to the School Board, "Do you object to a grant being given to the school?" and the cases were very rare indeed in the large towns, and comparatively rare in the country, where the School Board objected. But School Boards did object sometimes, and especially, he thought, in Wales. In a case of that kind he agreed so far with the hon. Member as to wish that the Education Department had a little more power. He did not agree with the hon. Member in thinking that, if the Motion were adopted, it would relieve the Vice President of the Council of much labour; because, on the contrary, it would impose on the Department a more careful examination than now took place. But the Department ought to be prepared to take that responsibility; and, therefore, he agreed with the hon. Member so far. He hoped the hon. Member would not think that he was discourteous, or that he underrated the importance of the question, if he hesitated to discuss the full bearings of the Act and the Code on this point; and for this reason—that the whole matter, and other important questions of a kindred character, were at the present time under the consideration of a Royal Commission on Elementary Education. Evidence had already been given on this point; the practice and system of the Department had been fully and ably stated by the Permanent Secretary of the Department; and further evidence would, no doubt, be forthcoming. Seeing, therefore, that if any change were made in the direction desired by the hon. Member, or in the direction indicated by himself, some legislation would be required, he thought the Education Department would not be justified in introducing legislation, or, indeed, any important change in the present system of education, until they were made aware of the views of the Royal Commissioners. He could assure the hon. Member that the question, which was one of importance, and in which great and increasing interest was felt throughout the country, would not be lost sight of. He trusted the hon. Member would be satisfied with having brought the matter before the House and obtaining a discussion upon it, and that he would not press for a division, but withdraw his Resolution.

MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)

said, that the Motion of the hon. Member was exactly consonant with the spirit of the Act of 1870. The object of that Act was not to supersede voluntary effort, but that the School Board system was to be supplementary to the existing voluntary system. In carrying out the Act, however, the English Education Department and also the School Boards had interpreted its meaning as if School Boards were to supplant private schools wherever they possibly could. The Vice President pointed out what he thought would be a hardship in the case of Board schools having been erected, and of private schools rising up afterwards. There was, practically, no hardship, supposing they sanctioned a private school where there was sufficient accommodation in the Board school, for this reason—that a school was not a profitable investment in any case. Apart from the cost of the school buildings, the maintenance of the school, however numerous the pupils, was a positive loss; and the loss need not be increased by a reduction of pupils, the School Board correspondingly reducing the teaching staff and expenditure. There was no reason why the community should not have the bene- fit of the private competition if the Board school, for any reason cognizant to the parents, was not doing its duty. He, therefore, considered that if there was a Board school half empty it was better that it should remain so, in order that the community should have the full benefit of the private enterprise and competition. The Vice President of the Council practically held the position that once a School Board was formed in a district there was an end to private enterprize, because if the School Board was willing to provide sufficient school accommodation, then private schools were to be kept out. The effect of that was simply that where a Board school had got possession of a district it would practically exclude private enterprize for all time coming, even if the private schools were able to increase their accommodation. The consequence would be that in England, as in Scotland, private enterprize would be driven out of the field, and education would be placed solely in the hands of the Board schools. When they reached the Scottish Education Estimates he would show that to be the result in Scotland, and they were tending in the same direction in England. He could not understand how there could be any objection to giving a grant to any voluntary school which complied with the conditions set forth in the Amendment. There was no fear of private enterprize starting useless schools. No managers would undertake the building of schools that would not fulfil the requirements of the Code, and they were not likely to do it out of mere grudge to the School Boards. It should be the object of the Department to foster and encourage education, and to give the community the benefit of this competition so long as they protected the interest of the ratepayers by refusing to give grants to schools unless they were thoroughly efficient in the terms of the Code.

VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N.E., Darwen)

said, he desired to express his sympathy with the object of the hon. Member who had moved this Amendment. From the statement of the Vice President of the Council, he understood that in cases where there was no Board school the Department acted in accordance with the view expressed in the Amendment; but in cases where there were Board schools with sufficient accommodation there was a very great difficulty in the way of giving grants to voluntary schools, which he did not think the hon. Member for Glasgow appreciated. If the grant were given to the voluntary school as well as to the Board school the Department would have to pay twice over. In such cases he should be unwilling to see the House express any opinion; but it was different in cases where Board schools existed and did not give sufficient accommodation. In those circumstances he confessed he should like to see the Department give preference to the voluntary schools over the Board schools. That was a change in the law which he confidently looked for as a result of the Royal Commission sitting on the subject. Although sympathizing with the hon. Member, yet, as that Royal Commission was sitting, he trusted most earnestly that the hon. Member would not press his Motion to a division. At the present moment, when the Royal Commission was sitting, it was impossible for the House to come to any definite and satisfactory conclusion; and, at the same time, many hon. Members on the Conservative side of the House were unwilling to appear to be opposed to the objects of the Mover of the Amendment, with which they were in sympathy.

MR. SALT (Stafford)

observed, that the Amendment was limited in its scope, and did not express all the points that the Mover desired to bring forward. Moreover, although the views of the hon. Member met with sympathy from all parts of the House, yet, as had been pointed out, it would be better to let them go on until the subject was ripe for discussion than to force a division at that particular moment. This matter would be much better thrashed out by the Royal Commission than by a discussion in the House at the present time. As to the financial aspect of the question, he doubted whether the proposal of the hon. Member to give denominational schools, side by side with Board schools, the grant in certain cases, would really injure the ratepayers very much. If a portion of the children in a district were educated at the Board schools and a part at denominational schools, it could not injure the ratepayers to divide the Vote between them.

MR. E. S. POWELL (Wigan)

said, he thought the hon. Member, by his Amend- ment, had hit a blot in the Education Act; and he trusted that Her Majesty's Government, when they received the Report of the Royal Commission, would take steps without delay to remove what he considered a serious injustice. If at present, in a place where it was perceived that a growth of population would occur, persons out of their own funds built a school, he could see no reason why the Department should refuse to acknowledge it. This was one of many cases where great hardship and wrong was now inflicted under the present system. There were some districts where Board schools were not in accordance with the views of the population; and if they, out of their own fund, built a denominational school to give religious instruction with a proper teaching staff it ought to be recognized and receive the grant. He sincerely trusted that this question would not be allowed to drop, but that on some future occasion a change might be made in the law. In the meantime, the hon. Member who had moved the Amendment might be satisfied with the discussion that had taken place.

MR. HARRIS (Galway, E.)

said, he professed to be a Liberal, but he did not agree with that portion of the Liberal Party who were in favour of mixed as against denominational education. He thought it would be a truly Liberal programme to give denominational education to those who desired to have it.


said, that considering the Ministry had expressed themselves to a great extent in sympathy with the views of the hon. Member, and considering that a Royal Commission was investigating the education question, he could not help feeling that his hon. Friend would be ill-advised if he proceeded further with his Motion at present.


said, he would accept the advice of his hon. Friend (MR. Arthur O'Connor) and withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."