HC Deb 23 March 1888 vol 324 cc222-7
SIR HENRY ROSCOE (Manchester, S.)

said, it would be in the recollection of the House that on the 15th of February, in answer to his hon. Friend the Member for South Salford (Mr. Howorth), the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. E. Stanhope) stated the preponderance of marks in the Examinations at Woolwich was given for subjects which were of the most practical value to the majority of officers, and which were able to be least easily crammed. In this examination it was clear that the marks attached to scientific subjects were low, out of all proportion to their importance; for while no less than 11,000 marks might be obtained by candidates for languages alone, only 2,000 marks could be obtained for those subjects which went under the wide title of experimental science, the practical importance of which, with regard to the Army, was admitted by the War Office themselves. For on page 13 of the Regulations it will be seen that in the course which was compulsory on those who had entered the Academy, Science stood next to Mathematics, while it stood above Modern Languages. It was, therefore, clear that the War Department itself attached importance to the teaching of Science, although in the entrance examinations for Woolwich its value was practically ignored. So much, then, for the statement that the War Office in these examinations laid stress upon those subjects which were of practical importance to the majority of officers. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War had gone on to say, in reply to the Question of his hon. Friend, that those subjects least easily crammed were included in the Examinations. That was an important statement, because the subject of Experimental Science was not easy or liable to be crammed. The result of former examinations showed that Science was offered less frequently than other subjects by successful candidates—that meant that the candidates did not find it pay to bring in Science and that it could not be easily crammed. Another important matter was the influence which the new Code of Regulations had on the great public schools of the country, from which a large number of candidates came. He said that in those schools, having regard to the disproportion of marks as between Science and languages, Science teaching would fail and gradually disappear because it would not pay. It seemed to him that, under the present system, young men might be chosen who had not the slightest aptitude for the scientific work which at the present day was absolutely necessary in this the chief scientific arm of the Service. A young man might enter Woolwich now with purely linguistic acquirements; at any rate, a young man might pass who had those acquirements in addition to mathematical training; and he maintained that by the system at present in force it was impossible for the authorities who examined the candidates to choose those young men who showed a capacity for scientific training. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War had also said that this question had been considered by a strong Committee. But was it strong in an educational or a military sense? He could not believe that a strong educational Committee could have framed the present rules, because they were full of faults. First, they led to the rejection of candidates best fitted for the work that had to be done. Then they offered, too, a high premium for modern languages, and thus ran the risk that young men would prefer to go abroad in order to acquire languages rather than stay at home and pass through the regular curriculum of our great public schools. Thirdly, the regulations were liable to act fatally on the general tendency of what it was now most desirable to encourage—scientific training in our schools. He trusted they might hear that the Secretary of State for War, with the frankness that distinguished him in his statements, would undertake that these regulations should be remodelled, so as to give Science its proper position in these preliminary examinations.

THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE) (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)

said, he had listened to the statement of the hon. Member with all the interest which attached to his high authority on the subject. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that he would pay the greatest possible attention to the views which had been urged. He explained that the regulations alloting a number of marks to particular subjects on examination for the Royal Military College were made in 1884. At that time there had been a very careful investigation, and the number of marks awarded for Science was reduced. Representations were made to the Se- cretary of State for War at that time by various scientific authorities, and the result was that the number of marks allotted to Science was raised. Practically, that system was established by a general consensus of opinion, was recommended by upwards of 50 head-masters, and considered by the Civil Service Commissioners and other high authorities. That system had been tried in the Royal Military College since 1884, and it was curious that, although the hon. Member appeared to complain of the regulations, as far as any experience seemed to show, the War Office had only heard that the regulations with regard to the Royal Military College had worked exceedingly well since that date. There had been an investigation by a Committee, presided over by Lord Morley, and it recommended that the original intention should be carried out, and that the system of the Royal Military Academy should be assimilated to that in the Royal Military College. It was not, however, a matter thoroughly adapted for being brought before the House. He would be glad to meet the hon. Gentleman and others who might be interested in the subject in order to hear and discuss what considerations should be urged in order to induce him to modify the regulations and see what alterations should be made.


said, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman had met the case very fairly. The question was one of great public importance. Woolwich had given more impulse to the study of science in the public schools in the country than any other motive power. When the scheme of 1884 was brought forward for Sandhurst, it was modified owing to representations made in the House. But what had been the result? The result had been exceedingly disastrous to scientific education. Before 1884, 8 per cent of the candidates at Sandhurst took science subjects. Since then only 2 per cent had done so. In the collegiate education at Woolwich, Experimental Science had a greater position than modern languages, but, according to the system which they were now bringing forward, a lad might enter Woolwich as a candidate for a scientific service without scientific knowledge. The linguistic capacity of a man was a perfectly different thing from his scientific capacity; and though he approved of high marks for French and German, yet he thought they should take care that they did not, by their entrance examination, admit men who gave no evidence, by previous training, of scientific capacity. They were about to bring young men into a scientific institution without sifting them to see whether they had scientific knowledge or a scientific capacity. They might get 11,000 marks through languages, and it would only be possible for them to get 2,000 marks by experimental science. Therefore, all the schools of the country would go back to the old mode of preparing lads in languages, and would discontinue preparing them in sciences. He asked that the growing love of Science, which was important for the interests of this country, should not be extinguished. They had a scheme brought before them which would certainly prevent the colleges which were not giving so much attention to Experimental Science from going on with that work, because it would not pay. By the conference to which the Secretary of State for War had invited them, in order more fully to discuss that matter, he hoped to be able to convince the right hon. Gentleman, and to induce him to consent to a small change. They only wanted him to raise the 2,000 marks for science to 3,000 marks, and put it on the same footing as languages, French, German, and Latin, and they would then be content.

SIR HENRY TYLER (Great Yarmouth)

said, there were many schools now engaged in preparing candidates for Woolwich, the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and other Institutions; and it was, of course, the desire of the masters as well as of the boys in such schools to prepare for those subjects which commanded the most marks. He was, therefore, correct in saying that the education given was really in a great measure dependent on the number of marks allotted to each subject at the examinations. That being so, it was very desirable not only that the marks should be properly regulated as between the different subjects, including, of course, modern languages and science, but that there should be a system thoroughly considered and organized, and recognized as a durable system; because it had been a great evil in the past that constant changes had been made, sometimes backwards and forwards, and the systems were not of a more permanent character. He had considerable experience, and took a great interest in the matter, having himself been at Woolwich, having passed five sons through the Royal Military Academy, and hoping to pass a sixth; and he felt that it was a great evil that changes were being constantly made in the system of examinations. Every boy intended for a Woolwich military career had to spend four or five years in preparatory studies, at great labour and expense, and he thought it a great hardship that a boy should find that the number of marks allotted to the different subjects had been altogether altered at the end of his preparatory course, and that, consequently, a great part of his time and money had been more or less wasted. He was, therefore, glad that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War had invited the scientific Gentlemen opposite to confer with him, and he hoped that an arrangement would be made of a more durable as well as of a more satisfactory character than those which had obtained in the past.

Resolved, That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee of Supply.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."