HC Deb 30 April 1888 vol 325 cc1004-14
MR. SINCLAIR (Falkirk, &c.) ,

in moving the Resolution, said, he believed that if the alteration against which this Resolution was directed were carried out, it would result in the lowering of the standard of education at present in force in Scotland. The Article of the Code to which objection was taken read as follows:— That the ordinary payments in respect of instruction for each child must not exceed ninepence a week upon the average number. In the former Code, which would be superseded if the new one were sanctioned, the clause ran in precisely the same way, save that these words were added—and a great safeguard they were—"except with the consent of the Department"—that was to say, that with the consent of the Department, the limit of fees charged on an average in Scotch schools might exceed 9d. He did not propose to go into the question why this change was made. He would confine himself to the working of the Education Act in Scotland under the former Code, and the effect of the proposed change. There was a great difference—as he had no doubt hon. Members knew—between the educational legislation which affected England and that which affected Scotland. The importance which was attached to superior education in Scotland was part of the past history of that country. It had been recognized at all times, and it was especially recognized at the time when the Scotch Education Act of 1872 was passed. The title of that Act indicated very clearly that it was an Act dealing not with education of an elementary character alone, but providing that the education of Scotland in the future should be conducted on the same lines as in the past. It recognized the necessity for a higher education than was recognized by the English Act of 1870. Indeed, the English Act of 1870 was called "The Elementary Education Act," whereas there was no such word as "elementary" in the Scotch Act. Again, there was no limit as to the fees to be charged in Scotland, whereas such a limit was imposed by the English Act, as applied by the English Code. There was no definition of an "elementary school" in the Scotch Act, and there was a definition in the English Act. In fact, the intention of the Scotch Act was clearly to provide not only for elementary, but also for superior education. One reason why that was so was that the people of Scotland attached a high value to the character of education given in the past. They looked not at the amount of instruction imparted, but to the fact that by the education formerly given there was created a habit of thought and a mental training for the scholars which constituted a good preparation for life's work, and which had done much for the advancement not only of Scotland, but of the entire British Empire, both at home and in our Colonies and Dependencies. This attempt to continue the character of the education formerly given was very successful, and the system that was adopted under the Act of 1876 gave satisfaction to the parents who desired to have a higher education for their children than was given at purely elementary schools. The school boards which carried out the Act were satisfied, for it was felt that the cost incurred was repaid, and the parents were satisfied with the better and higher education their children received. A serious change in this state of things was threatened by the alteration of the wording of the Code, against which his Resolution was directed. That alteration would put an end to the discretion now exercised by the Department with regard to the average fees charged in Scottish schools; and, not only so, but it would interfere with the arrangements which had been made in many places, and which were based upon the former Code. On the faith of that discretion, many school boards entered into engagements with respect to the education of the children under their control, which it would be difficult, if not impossible, to carry out, if the alteration of the Code were maintained. It must be borne in mind that they did not do so merely of their own desire, and without being called upon to do so by the public opinion of Scotland. The improved elementary education that was given created and stimulated the demand for higher education. The problem to be solved was how to give effective instruction at a moderate cost alike to the parent, the ratepayer, and the taxpayer. He did not know that he could better illustrate what was the result of the working of the old system than by taking the example of one of the school boards that had been most successful in educational teaching of this character. The school board of Govan dealt with one of the very largest and most important parishes in Scotland. It was a typical parish, and contained a population of a very varied. character. There was not only an industrial population, but also a large residential population, consisting of those having business in Glasgow. The Govan School Board had established two kinds of schools—namely, the ordinary elementary schools, with very moderate fees, and schools with higher fees. The higher fee schools had been extremely successful. The education they gave was of a very high character, and the only question to be considered was whether that education had resulted in extravagant cost to the ratepayer or taxpayer, or whether it had been borne, as it ought to have been borne, to a very large extent, by the parents of the children. As a matter of fact, owing to the Board being able to charge a higher fee, in consequence of the discretion given by the Code before the alteration was made, the cost of this higher education had been almost entirely paid by the parents. If he might give the House a short series of statistics, it would appear very clearly that that was the case. In the seven higher fee schools the fees paid by parents amounted to £6,400, whilst the grant was £3,400, so that the fees exceeded the grant by £3,000. In the 12 ordinary schools, the grant amounted to £9,600, and the fees to £6,400, so that the grant exceeded the fees by £3,200. Therefore, whilst in the higher - fee schools the grant was £3,000 less than the fees, in the ordinary schools it was £3,200 more. Taking the rate per child, in the higher schools the Government grant was 18s. 4d. per head, whereas in the lower schools it was 18s., so that this higher education was given at a a difference of only 4d. extra to the State. Under these circumstances, he thought the House would consider that this education, which was of a character that was suited to the people and was desired by the people, was given at a very small cost alike to the ratepayer and the taxpayer, and that the discretion which allowed such instruction to be imparted ought not to be removed for a light cause. The people of Scotland felt that, as they paid the school board rates, they should have their children educated as they desired, and they would not be contented with an elementary education. What he asked was that the policy embodied in the Scotch Education Acts should not be reversed by this alteration of the Code; that the policy of the former Code should be maintained; and that if it was necessary to introduce legislation in order to make the matter clear, this should bo done. He trusted that the Government would be able to assure the people of Scotland that the education which had done so much for them in the past would in the future be conducted on the same satisfactory lines.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her to withhold Her Assent from the alteration in Article 6 (d) of the Code of the Scotch Education Department proposed for this year, which (contrary to the provisions of Section 67 of 'The Education (Scotland) Act, 1872,') will have the effect of lowering the standard of education that now exists in the public schools of Scotland."—(Mr. Sinclair.)

DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

said, he rose immediately after his hon. Friend, because he opposed the Motion, and he thought it right that the House should know that there were two sets of opinion on this subject in Scotland. The School Board of Govan, whose proceedings had been referred to by his hon. Friend, had, as a matter of fact, set up two different sets of schools in that district. He (Dr. Cameron) did not know that it was a right principle to subsidize the education of the more genteel schools—for that was what they were doing—which had been started in Govan. Such schools did not impart a better education at all than those of a less pretentious character. In the old days of the parish schools, before any of these subsidies were given, people had all they wanted in the way of education in Scotland. Grants were now given out of the rates, but the fees were not reduced; and it was a question whether the character of the education was improved. At that hour of the night, he did not think he need follow his hon. Friend into the details of his speech; but he hoped the Government would not imagine that the opinion of all the Representatives of Scotland ran in one direction, but would believe that a number of them disliked very much to turn their schools into genteel schools at the expense of the ratepayers.

MR. CRAIG SELLAR (Lanarkshire, Partick)

said, he could not agree with the last speaker that the Question was one between genteel schools and schools which were not genteel. The matter was a much more important and serious one, and involved a peculiar legal point. The point was, no doubt, a small one; but it involved a very large subject. It was really a collision between the Scotch and the English Acts. Under the English Act of 1870, the fees were fixed by the Department, and were limited to 9d. a-week. Under the Scotch Act, the fees were entirely a matter for the school boards, who were entitled to fix a reasonable fee, or, if they chose, to have none at all. Up to 1876, the grants were given on the same principle in England and Scotland; and in 1876 a measure was brought into Parliament by Lord Sandon which applied only to England, and which raised the grants from 15s. to 17s. 6d. It was desired—he believed very late at night—to extend this provision to Scotland also, and accordingly a clause was introduced into the tail end of Lord Sandon's Act, the effect of which was to apply it to Scotland as far as grants were concerned. He understood that the Auditor General refused to allow the Scotch grants to be given on the old principle because of that clause, and the Law Officers seemed to have expressed the opinion that his reading of the clause was right. It was not for him, as a layman, to criticize the opinion of the Law Officers, although he had formed a clear opinion of his own on the subject. Assuming, however, that the opinion of the Law Officers was right, although the Scotch Education Act allowed the school boards to fix the fees, those fees must remain at 9d., and other provisions of the English Act must also be adopted. For instance, under the English Act, board schools were prohibited from teaching any Catechism. Nearly every one of the Scotch schools taught the Scotch Catechism, and there would be a great disturbance of the present system if this custom was to be changed. In the same way, a great disturbance would also be created if the Scotch school boards were prevented from charging what fees they liked. If the opinion of the Law Officers was right, the Department would, to a large extent, revolutionize the system of teaching in the Scotch schools, and would degrade those schools which were never intended to be elementary schools alone to the position of elementary schools. The expression "elementary education" was not to be found in the Scotch Act, and it certainly was never intended that the English Act should be made to apply to the Scotch system of education. He was quite certain that Parliament never meant, by means of a clause three or four lines in length, to revolutionize the whole Scotch system. As a matter of fact, Parliament could not change that system. The effect of the opinion expressed by the Law Officers would be that the fees, instead of being paid as they were now by the parents, would come upon the rates, because the Scotch people would not change their system of education. The question was how could the present difficulty be got rid of. He believed it could be removed in a very simple manner. It could be done by a declaratory Bill of a single clause, to rectify the oversight which had been committed in the drafting of the clause in the English Act; or the clause could be rescinded, and an Act passed explaining that, in future, the Scotch schools as well as the English were to have the benefit of the 17s. 6d. grant.

MR. J. W. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)

said, this was too important a question for the Education Department to settle. As the last speaker had admitted, the matter could only be set right by the passing of a new Act, and, that being so, he would not detain the House except to make one observation. The wealthy people of Govan, who had been referred to by the Mover of the Resolution, seemed to have arranged to have the education of their children at a very cheap rate, and they were practically subsidized by the State in the manner described. For his own part, he (Mr. Barclay) believed that elementary education ought to be given free; but he thought that those who desired to have higher education for their children ought to pay for it themselves. Poor children who were qualified to go beyond the elementary stage had a chance of availing themselves of educational endowments and exhibitions. He certainly objected to the wealthy classes being paid either out of the rates or by the State for the education of their children.

MR. CALDAWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)

said, the Govan School Board district was in the most wealthy portion of Glasgow, and the children who attended the so-called higher school belonged entirely to the wealthier class. Although the fees were high, the education given was not of a superior character. The working - class children were excluded from the school, and what was now desired was to have two or three separate schools under the same school board for elementary instruction, in order to correspond with various social grades. Surely, it there were to be board schools at all, they ought to be open to all classes of the community for elementary education. Of course, if people wanted secondary education, they might expect to have higher fees to pay. It was not, however, the school fees charged for secondary education which raised the limit in these schools above the 9d. a-week; but it was the exceptionally high fees charged for purely elementary instruction, as much as £1 10s. per quarter, or £6 per annum, being charged for Standard V. The old parish schools, which were the former providers of secondary education, never charged fees amounting to anything like an average of 9d. a-week, and there was not a single school in the country districts of Scotland where the average was so high. It was only in a few large towns that people wanted to have schools for the benefit of children of the wealthier class, where the school fees charged even for elementary subjects would be such as to exclude the children of the general public. At present the Code said that grants were not to be given, except where the average fees were not more than 9d. a-week, and he objected to the Resolution as one having the effect of bringing pressure to bear on the Government to alter that state of things.

MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)

said, it had been his duty to make inquiry into this matter, and he knew a little of the schools to which his hon. Friend (Mr. Caldwell) referred. He did not think it was a fair way of putting it, to say the schools were genteel schools meant for the higher classes of society. True, some of them were in parts of the town where there were few children of the working class, but these were in no sense excluded; the only reason why fees were high for the elder children was because parents requested that the education might be higher than it otherwise would be, and pressed upon the school board the acceptance of higher fees to bear the expense of higher education. That was quite in accordance with tradition in Scotland, where many children of the middle class used to get higher education in ordinary schools. There was really no Act expressing the deliberate intention of Parliament that they should be confined by any such limit as an average fee of 9d. He had looked closely into the subject, and found how the limitation came about. In 1876 Lord Sandon was giving certain pecuniary advantages to English schools, and Mr. Duncan M'Laren asked for the same thing for Scotland. It was late in the night when he made the request, and an Amendment was hurriedly improvised; but the clause in its present form was introduced in the House of Lords, probably at the suggestion of the Scotch Education Department, by the then Lord President, the Duke of Richmond. He moved in general terms, "that the provisions of this Act with respect to the conditions to be fulfilled by schools in order to obtain an annual Parliamentary grant shall apply to Scotland." Thus the words were introduced which were now held to bring the schools under the English Act of 1870. That, however, escaped notice at the time, for, when the Bill came back to the Commons, Lord Sandon described the Amendments made by the Lords as merely formal and verbal, and they passed without discussion. Though, therefore, the words appeared in the Act, it was not the intention of Parliament to impose the 9d. limit on Scotland. The difficulty was now a legal one, and if it was rightly held by the Law Officers that the schools had been inadvertently placed under the English Act, the Education Department could not make the Code otherwise. But he urged that a very simple Bill of one clause would set things straight, and put Scotch schools back to where they were without the limitation. They would still be under the control of the Education Department, which was by no means very ready to permit fees in excess of the 9d. limit. They had allowed it in a few cases, and would, no doubt, continue to use the power with due reserve. Such being the case, he hoped that few Scotch Members would vote so as to become parties to placing on record a confirmation of a slip that placed Scotch schools under a limitation only intended for England.

THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)

said, they might congratulate themselves on the impartiality with which the discussion had been conducted. Three Scotch speakers said one thing and three said the other, and, in this balance of opinion, the Government had to make up its mind. What had happened was in consequence of the insertion of a clause in the Act of 1876, and he hoped it might act as a warning to hon. Members not to seek to get their object carried out by far-reaching and ill - considered Amendments. Whether the object were good or not, at least it should induce more care in its attainment. His late friend, Mr. Duncan M'Laren, at the last moment, thinking he saw a pecuniary advantage for Scotland, with his usual determination took advantage of the Bill of 1876, and by his blandishments or threats, or a combination of both, pressed his Amendment on a too yielding Government. This procedure had gone on for a number of years without difficulty, until the Auditor General intervened, and it was made clear that the Education Department had not the power in their hands, and so were driven to the necessity of leaving out the words in the Code; for it would have been absolute hypocrisy to pretend to have the power to give consent when they actually had no such power, and would be altogether misleading. The only question was whether a change should be made in the law; and on that, he thought, everyone must agree, that the Government, having listened to six Scotch Members, three on one side and three on the other, could not be expected to do more than say that they would give the subject their most serious attention. For himself, he confessed he had listened to the arguments on either side with very great attention, but was quite unable, at the moment, to give a verdict as between hon. Gentlemen who spoke with equal ability and earnestness; and either side would allow that the other was animated with a sincere desire for the best interests of Scotch education. He would appeal to the hon. Member (Mr. Sinclair) not to press his Motion further. He repeated it was a matter that required serious consideration, and that consideration it should receive from Her Majesty's Government. No doubt, as his hon. Friend (Mr. Craig Sellar) said, if the state of matters that existed before the Auditor General intervened was to be restored, it could easily be done; there was no technical difficulty, and it would not involve much waste of public time to do it; but the question whether that should be done was the matter to consider.

MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

said, he only rose to state what was the practice of the Department when he was connected with it. The Department then were advised that the 9d. limit did not apply to Scotland, and under that advice the limit had been extended in the way referred to, with the consent of the Scotch Department. However, he had only this to say, that he believed the schools that had been established above the 9d. limit, with the consent of the Scotch Department, had not been general schools, but admirable secondary schools, and he could not believe that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate would consent that these schools should suffer from the lack of such a change as had been suggested. He only wished that there had been opportunity for establishing such schools in England. He hoped the First Lord of the Treasury would have learned from the debate what had been doing in this direction in Scotland, and recognize the advantages of such a system of secondary education in England.


said, after what had fallen from the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, he did not think it would be right for him to press his Motion to a Division. He hoped the subject would have the careful attention of the Government. With regard to what the hon. Member (Mr. Caldwell) had said, as to the high fees in Govan, it was quite incorrect to say that the schools supplied only the superior and villa parts of the parish; only three out of seven schools charged the higher fees. He asked leave to withdraw the Resolution.

MR. J. A. CAMPBELL (Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities)

said, he was a little disappointed that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate had not given more encouragement in the desired direction. The matter had been brought to the attention of the Government by deputations to the Secretary for Scotland, representing the school boards of Scotland, whose opinion was practically unanimous. The only question was, whether there should not be some remedy to remove the legal difficulty created by a clause in an English Act, which was now applied in a way never intended by Parliament. He hoped there would be no difficulty in introducing a Bill that would put the matter right, and restore to Scotland the right of her school boards to have full control over the fees.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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