HC Deb 19 March 1889 vol 334 cc193-9
*MR. M. CONWAYsaid (Leitrim, N.)

I am anxious to get some explanation from the Vice President of the Privy Council on certain points. I complain that very little elasticity is given to this Estimate. Looking to the Annual Report, we see that while the day schools earn 18s. 1d. per head of the average attendance, our voluntary schools earn 17s. 0¼d. per head, then it is understood by the House that 17s. 6d. per head can be earned very readily without any assistance from voluntary sources, I think the Government will be doing their duty if they make the annual grant on the Estimates a little more liberal in the near future than they made it last year or are likely to make it this year, according to the information placed before the House. The Government know that the voluntary schools can easily earn 17s. 6d., so that it will be seen that 1½d. is scarcely a liberal estimate to make. By cutting down the Estimates there is no opportunity given for schools to educate their children up to the Schedules of the Code, especially Schedule IV., which formulates a goodly number of advanced subjects and provides for any scheme of instruction, manual or otherwise, which is marked with illustration and experiment, there by earning for every individual pass in any given one or two such subjects 4s. per pass. I think, therefore, the Department ought to come to the House to ask for a more liberal grant than they are asking. Contrast this sum with the Naval Vote. We were told last year that our Navy was in a state to resist any two Powers, and to-day we are asked to spend some millions in order to strengthen the Navy, which it was said could do such excellent work last year. If a million or two were given to education and a million or two deducted from the Naval vote, the country would be far better off in the way of investment. I wish the Department to take into consideration the advisability of increasing the popular grant, so that more elasticity may be given to the work of the managers and teachers of schools in the country. How does this plan work by keeping the grant at 17s. 7½d. per head? It comes to this, that the teachers and managers of the country are of opinion that private instructions are given to the Inspectors to the effect that the merit grant "excellent" should not be given to more than 17 per cent for the whole of the schools of the country. We know that schools which receive a "bad" merit grant in 1888 will work hard in 1889 to obtain the mark "good" or "excellent." When it is understood that the merit grant makes a difference of £5 on an average attendance of 100 in a school contrasting the mark "good" with the mark "excellent," and of £10 contrasting "excellent" with "fair," hon. Members will see what a difference is made in the apportioning of the "merit" grants to the schools. It comes to this: that schools which work very hard in 1889 to redeem themselves from the stain on 1888, at the end of the year are unable to get the mark "excellent" because of the rigid limit of administration of the popular grant, which is estimated on shabby lines by the Department. That should be plainly understood. My object in getting up is to draw the attention of the Vice President to this state of things, and to induce him to use his influence for its improvement. Teachers are in a state of nervous trepidation in respect of examinations; knowing very well that by reason of the instructions given to the Inspectors, it is utterly impossible for them to obtain the mark "excellent" because of the necessity that inspectors are under to keep down the grant. But. Sir, there is another point: we have actually a rule published by the Department, that singing shall not be paid for in infant schools unless the senior girls' department are taught singing by note, so that little children of from three to seven years cannot earn the singing grant. I ask the Vice President whether the girls' schools have not decreased in numbers in the matter of earning the singing grant? Fancy little children being sent to school and not being allowed to use their voices in singing in the senior girls' school, because no singing is to be taught except by note. Fancy the Education Department coming down on the infant department and preventing little angel voices being heard unless their elders in another department are taught by note. They are not allowed to relieve the tedium of their school life a little save on that condition; they get no grant otherwise. I shall call the Vice President's attention to these things in Committee, and I shall use every means the House affords me to press upon him those questions. Another question is that of technical education, which ought to be popularly encouraged. I hope it will be found that when the Vice President places his Estimate for Education upon the Table that he has provided for technical education in a liberal manner.

*SIR W. HART DYKE (Dartford, Kent)

Mr. Speaker—Sir, the observations of the hon. Member were directed to two points. The first point deals more especially with the grant given on the Education Estimates. Well, as regards that grant, I am not here to say whether it is a good or evil thing that it has been maintained at this particular point; but I may impress this upon hon. Members—that any change in this respect requires an Act of Parliament, which must be very carefully considered. But with regard to the other points raised in the hon. Member's speech, I think the changes proposed in the Code, which proposals will be distributed amongst hon. Members on Saturday next, or at the latest on Monday, will meet many of the difficulties to which the hon. Member has referred, and especially the difficulties under which teachers labour. I believe that those difficulties will be absolutely met by the proposals which are to be distributed amongst Members. The hon. Member has referred to the question of singing in girls' schools. I will take particular note of what he has said; but I must say that it is new to me that which I have heard with respect to singing by note. It is our object to promote the taste for singing in all classes. All I can say is that, if the new Code introduces a change in the least degree in that respect, there will be no difficulty in amending it. The hon. Member has referred also to technical education. Well, Sir, I am not here this evening to divulge what will appear in the new Code; but I have already said in this House on more than one occasion that we should propose very much to open the schools in future in the case of additional subjects taught. In fact, the policy in which we hope to enlarge the new Code is this—to secure that the three R's are thoroughly taught in the schools, and for all other additional subjects greater freedom will be allowed than has ever hitherto obtained. I am sure the hon. Member will forgive my not replying to his observations at greater length, because in a very few days their new Code will be in the hands of hon. Members, when it will be fairly discussed.

MR. CONYBEARE (Camborne)

I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has made a reference to the new Code, and I sincerely hope it will fulfil the expectations which on former occasions he has led us to entertain. I hope that drawing is to be reinstated in the girls' schools, and that it will be restored to the position which it ought to occupy. There have been great complaints about this among those who are interested in girls' education, and it is a great mistake to suppose that drawing is not supported in girls' as well as boys' schools. I desire, however, rather to ask for an explanation of the figures in the Supplementary Estimates. It does seem to me an extraordinary thing that there should be a deficit of no less than £24,690 in the Estimates which are proposed in a matter like this of education. It is a matter of calculation, and I cannot understand how it is that you should be asking us for an additional sum. The fact that it is so suggests to some of us, at any rate, that there has been a tendency on the part of the Department rather to set an example of cutting down than of raising the whole scheme of education. In the absence of the information I ask for, it would, perhaps, hardly be fair to complain of the Government in this respect; but I may remark that it does suggest that the Department has not been too anxious to increase the number of day scholars to the extent we should desire. I hope that during the coming year they will be able to calculate with sufficient exactness what is required for the succeeding year, so that it will not afterwards be necessary to ask for a further large sum. I do not understand on what principle the amount of the grant for the 3,663,000 day scholars has been arrived at so as to be put at 17s. 7½d., because in the last quarter of 1887–8 the grant for Board Schools was put at 18s 1d., and for the Voluntary Schools at 17s. 0¼d. I should have thought that, if the case was as in the preceding year, we should have required an increased grant for the expected increasing number of scholars of the following year, and I do not know on what principle the Government have calculated their anticipated increase in the number of scholars for the year now closing. From their own confession, indeed, they have miscalculated. In 1887 the average attendance of day scholars was 3,527,381, and now they give us in the details of the Vote asked for the number of 3,663,000 day scholars, which seems to me to be a very small increase compared with what might have been expected from the yearly increase of the population. In the same way, in 1887 the number of night scholars was stated at 30,984, but the estimate for the following year was only 36,000. I have drawn attention to these figures because it does not seem to me that the Government have done what might have been expected from them in the shape of allowing an ample margin for the development of education. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has already spoken, that we look to the Government to do everything in their power to set a good example on this matter, and not to give the public the impression that they are trying to cut down and limit either the sum to be expended or the number of children to be educated. I hope we shall have no such procedure as was seen in the case of the last London School Board, whose practice was rather to restrict than to extend the scope of education. The hon. Baronet the Treasurer of the London School Board (Sir R. Temple) shakes his head; but we know very well that this matter has been gone into, and the general impression in the Metropolis to-day is that such was the case. For my part, I trust it will be the case no more, and I venture to express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council will see his way to prevent for the future the miscalculations to which attention has been called.

DR. TANNER (Mid Cork)

Before any decision is taken on this matter, I wish to say that the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council has not been what we on this side of the House are entitled to expect. In answer to the speeches that have been made, he said, "Oh, wait till my Code is introduced, and then you will see how all these matters will be dealt with." Might I suggest to the right hon. Baronet—for really in dealing with one matter we are dealing with all—that instead of his giving us only Returns in connection with the two difficult questions which the right hon. Gentleman just now spoke of, in respect to the 17s. 6d. rate and the singing by note, surely the House of Commons is, or at any rate ought to be, entitled to more than the indefinite Returns it has received from him. The right hon. Gentleman is always extremely courteous, and in most cases extremely willing, to give us some information as to the Department over which he rules; but I cannot say he has been so to-night, and I sincerely hope that instead of the indefinite system which appears to pervade responsible Members of the Government, and instead of this matter with regard to the little children who have been referred to by my hon. Friend—


Order, order! I must warn the hon. Member that he is not speaking with any intelligent relevancy to the subject now before the House.


In order to make myself thoroughly relevant, I must say that my hon. Friend near me has called attention to the 17s. 6d. rate and also to the question of singing by note, and I wrote down the answer of the right hon. Gentleman as to both these points, and certainly as a private Member I should think it would be better when responsible Ministers of the Crown get up to answer such matters if, instead of saying they will be dealt with at some future time by a Bill, they said they should be dealt with on the instant, or that at any rate definite Returns should be given showing the amount by which the Government propose to deal with these things. I, however, hesitate to go further into controversy on this matter, because I freely admit I have not studied the matter of English education, though at the same time I hope hon. Members will permit an Irishman to express his opinion on the narrow methods and means employed by English Members of the present Administration.

Resolved, "That this House do agree with the Committee in the second Resolution." Question proposed, "That this House do agree with the Committee in the third Resolution."