HC Deb 08 May 1888 vol 325 cc1725-9
MR. KERANS (Lincoln)

said, in rising to address the House for the first time, he would offer no apology, for he had been a silent Member for two years; but he would ask indulgence while he endeavoured, with brevity, to put the case in support of the Resolution of which he had given Notice. As nearly every Member of the House would be aware, on reading the Resolution, it was practically directed to what was called Article 114 of the Education Code. That Article was founded on previous enactments, and the effect of it, briefly, was to restrict to a very large extent the Parliamentary grants made to voluntary schools by the Article; if the subscriptions and fees did not amount to the sum claimed as a Parliamentary grant, then by so much was the Parliamentary grant reduced. To begin with, he might say that he had had the advantage of a conversation with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), who had, to a large extent, made him understand exactly how that came about. When the Education Act was passed, there was no school entitled to a grant of more than 15s. 9d., and it was scarcely conceived possible that any school would reach the limit of 17s. 6d. But owing mainly to the establishment of board schools, and the impetus given to education in a large majority of schools, that limit was reached or exceeded. But it must be obvious to any hon. Member who had considered the question, that now that the grant was so often exceeded, there must be numerous cases of hardship connected with its allocation, that while in richer districts it might be easy to raise subscriptions to equal the Parliamentary grant, in poor districts it was extremely hard to do so. That applied not only to Church schools, but even more severely to those belonging to other and poorer Bodies. He would ask the House to consider whether it was fair or just in practice that a poor district, where the rateable value of property was extremely low, should be mulcted in a certain amount of the Parliamentary grant, while in a richer district, where rates were high, the whole grant was retained without difficulty. It was such a practical injustice that no man could avoid seeing it. In the Education Act of 1870, Section 97, Sub-section 2, it was provided that the grant— Shall not, in any year, exceed the income of the year derived from voluntary subscriptions from school fees or from other sources except the Parliamentary grant. No doubt, Parliament saw the injustice of this hard and fast line, for in the Act of 1870, Section 19, Sub-section 1, it enacted that such grant should not be reduced in any one year by reason of its excess above the income of the school if the amount of the grant did not exceed 17s. 6d. per child in average attendance, but should not exceed that except in proportion to the amount raised from school fees or other sources than the Parliamentary grant. He drew attention to the latter part of the Sub-section, for it provided that a school which had an endowment was entitled to the grant, whereas one would think that in the case of an endowment the amount of that endowment would be deducted from the Parliamentary grant. Such, however, was the present state of the law. He should be very reluctant to obtrude this matter on the House, if only for the reason that a Royal Commission was at the present time sitting to inquire into the subject of education; but he was still more reluctant, because the Vice President of the Council had given him reason to believe that the Government would consider with all earnestness this question of grants to voluntary schools. He would not detain the House longer; he would merely ask the Vice President to say whether there was any intention on the part of the Government to deal with the matter, which was one of extreme importance to the voluntary schools of the country. There were some doctrinaires who would have all education free, and would suppress all voluntary schools; but even those doctrinaires would admit that the time had not arrived yet for imposing such an additional burden as this would involve upon the taxpayers and ratepayers of the country. Meanwhile, until public opinion was ripe for such a change as that, they should do their best to remedy the defects in the Act and to complete the educational system on its present lines as far as possible with the growing demands of the country.

MR. TOMLINSON (Preston),

in seconding the Motion, said, he did not consider that any apology was needed for bringing it forward or supporting it; nor did he think that the possibility of the establishment, at some future time, of a general system of free schools was any reason against bringing forward any tangible and existing grievance. He was glad to have the opportunity of referring to the subject, for it was one that affected his own constituency. It was unnecessary again to travel over the explanation his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Kerans) had given of the manner in which the hardship to voluntary schools arose; but he should like to point out how the position of voluntary schools was affected as compared with board schools, and for that purpose he took two cases—a town having a school board and board schools; and one, like his own constituency, without a school board or board schools. The board school received its Government grant, and was never in danger of having that grant diminished, for it had always the power of going to the rates to make up a deficiency in other resources. But, on the other hand, there might be a school which, to its credit, had been carrying on an excellent system of education for years, put in a position of disadvantage by reason of the establishment of a board school, and, in the result, the voluntary school was mulcted of its fair share of the Government grant, gradually brought into a condition of decay, and the rates, as in London, were very largely increased by the consequent discontinuance of efficient voluntary schools. Where there were no board schools, there might be schools not rich enough to find from their own resources the requisite proportionate sum to meet the Government grant; they might be good schools, might give an education equal to any board school, but yet might find themselves in imminent danger of losing part of the Government grant, being in a poor neighbourhood and not having subscriptions or endowments to supplement the school pence. The education might be as good or better than that in the schools receiving the full Government grant; and yet, because they were unable to raise the sum equal to the Government grant, they were made still poorer by being mulcted of a portion of that grant. They had no power to call in the aid of the rates, and were deprived of that Government assistance their efficiency entitled them to, and were thus punished for their efficiency. In this there was a distinct hardship. He knew this matter was under the consideration of the Royal Commission, which he hoped would report before long, and that then the House would deal thoroughly with what was a serious mischief; but, at the same time, there was an advantage in calling public attention to what was keenly felt as a serious hardship to voluntary schools.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the principle of the Parliamentary Grant in aid of Voluntary Schools is unjust, and that the Grant should be allocated rather in proportion to the poverty of School Districts than their wealth."—(Mr. Kerans.)


said, that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Kerans), who had brought forward the question, had himself mentioned that a Royal Commission was now inquiring into educational matters, and he must be aware that among the many thorny and difficult points with which that Commission had to deal, one of the most thorny and difficult of them related to the present Parliamentary grants and their hearing on board schools and the voluntary schools of the country. His hon. Friend would therefore not be surprised if he declined at present to enter upon the subject which he had introduced, seeing that the Report of the Commission would probably be placed in their hands before many weeks were over. When the recommendations of the Commissioners came to be considered, that question of the grant would, no doubt, have to receive the attention of the Government and of Parliament before long. Although he (Sir William Hart Dyke) must now refrain from entering into the broader aspect of the question raised by his hon. Friend, he might, however, assure him, in regard to some minor points, that the interests of the voluntary schools in the poorer districts had not been neglected by the Education Department. The Department had for years strongly urged on the inspectors that in the distribution of the merit grant reasonable allowance should be made for special circumstances—such as the shifting, or scattered, or poor character of the population of the district, or any other circumstance which made attendance at school difficult; and those instructions had been invariably followed—a fact which had proved of some advantage to the poorer class of schools. Again, Article 111 of the Code dealt with exceptionally poor districts with populations of 300 and 200. He found that in 1878, 614 schools connected with the Church of England were dealt with under the £10 grant, which applied to the case of 300 population; and 249 schools under the larger grant of £15 where the population was 200, making together a total of 863 schools in 1878 receiving a total grant of £9,742. In 1887, on the other hand, there were 1,261 schools dealt with under the £10 grant and 811 under the £15 grant; the total amount of the grant they received being £24,968, as against £9,742 in 1878. Another point in which some further advantage had been given to the voluntary schools was in regard to drawing, as to which some change was made in the Code last year. In conclusion, he could assure his hon. Friend that when the Report of the Commission had been presented, the grave subject which his hon. Friend had brought forward would be fully and adequately considered by the Government.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.