HC Deb 13 March 1890 vol 342 cc815-28
(12.1.) MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)

I beg to move that An humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying her to withhold her sanction from the Code (1890) of the Scotch Education Department unless and until the same he amended as follows:—Paragraph 133, leave out all after line 6 to end of paragraph 134, and insert 'Scholars who have not yet passed the Fifth Standard.' It is much to be regretted that we are compelled to take after midnight the discussion of a question involving an important principle, and which may be followed by serious political consequences. This, however, only affords another illustration, if indeed such were needed, to prove the utter impossibility of domestic legislation being properly dealt with in this House. The effect of the Amendment to the Code which I move, is that the Probate Duty grant will only be given to those schools and School Boards which charge no fees in the compulsory standards. It has been found that the Probate Duty grant has been sufficient to free education in all the 3,126 State-aided schools in Scotland, excepting in only 85 schools. As regards 25 of those, school fees have been abolished in all cases up to Standard IV., and are chargeable only to a proportion of schools in Standards IV. and V. Fees are chargeable for all standards in only 44 schools, whilst the remaining 16 do not claim any share of the grant. It will thus be seen that only 44 out of the 3,126 State-aided schools in Scotland have been sanctioned as free-paying schools. The Probate Duty grant has therefore been found sufficient to meet the just contribution of parents towards the cost of education throughout Scotland generally. If in some cases the amount has not been found sufficient it is simply because some School Boards have been charging fees in excess of what School Boards in Scotland generally have been charging, and have considered to be the just contribution of parents towards the cost of education. Edinburgh has been able to free education in all the standards, whilst it seems that there is a deficiency in Glasgow to meet the fees payable in the compulsory standards. This arises from the fact that the school fees in Edinburgh are only 10s. per child in average attendance, as against 16s. 8d. charged by the Glasgow School Board. The unhappy position the Glasgow School Board finds itself in as compared with Edinburgh is simply the result of the over-exactions made by them from the Glasgow parents in the past. I propose to point out to the Glasgow School Board a method of meeting their deficiency without either imposing a burden upon the rates or charging fees against the parents. Teachers' salaries in Edinburgh amount to £1 7s. per child in average attendance, whilst in Glasgow the amount is £1 15s. per child, representing a difference of £19,000 per annum on that one item alone. It may he said that the Glasgow School Board cultivate the higher standards more than all Scotland or Edinburgh. Be it so; but then the total sum allowed by the Glasgow School Board for about 5,500 children on the roll above the compulsory standards, and all this higher education, does not exceed £5,000. What I would point out is, if the Glasgow School Board are going to provide high-class education, they must charge the cost to such higher education and not to the compulsory standards. As, therefore, the Probate Duty grant has been found sufficient to free education on the compulsory standards in Edinburgh, and in all Scotland with few exceptions, it is, and ought to be, sufficient in the case of Glasgow, so far as the Glasgow parent or Parliament is concerned. The financial difficulty in the case of Glasgow began with an alleged deficiency of £12,000. The result of the discussions that have taken place have been to narrow the deficiency down to £5,000, the school fees in the compulsory standards in the 10 fee-paying schools in Glasgow being reduced to an amount which will bring in £5,000. It is over this sum that the battle between the parents and the School Board in Glasgow is to rage, and for which, children are being expelled from certain schools unless they pay school fees. This £5,000, even although the whole sum is to fall upon the ratepayers, represents only an additional tax of ½d. per £1. Now, the Government have themselves taken 3d. per £1 out of the pockets of the ratepayers of Scotland for free education, and yet here they stand, sword in hand, in Glasgow over this ½d. Surely if 3½d. per £1 is required to free education to all the children in the compulsory standards, there is neither reason nor justice why the whole community should be taxed 3d. to provide free education to one section of the community, whilst it is to be denied to others. If the difficulty is merely a pecuniary one, the extra ½d. can be found where the 3d. is found. But, as I have already pointed out, no increase of the rates will be required in the case of Glasgow, if the cost of education is fairly apportioned between compulsory and higher. It is a mistake to suppose that I, and those who think with me, wish to burden the already overburdened ratepayer in Glasgow. We wish for free education in England as well as in Scotland. The English ratepayer has got his money. If free education be given to England, then it must come out of the Imperial purse, and be accompanied by an equal grant to Scotland. Free education in England means a restoration to the Scotch ratepayer of 3d. per£1 rental. Meanwhile, it is most objectionable to introduce distinctions in local and State-aided schools in the application of the Probate Duty grant. The object of this grant is to abolish, not to reduce, school fees. The Glasgow School Board acts most unfairly in selecting as fee-paying schools 10 of the ordinary Board schools, erected to meet the ordinary educational wants of the districts in which they are situated, and then saying to the parents whose children are attending these schools, "Either pay school fees or we will expel your children." The result has been in some districts, in Dennistoun district for example, that the free schools in the vicinity are overcrowded, whilst 3,000 places are vacant in the 10 fee-paying schools.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to withhold Her sanction from the Code (1890) of the Scotch Education Department, now lying upon the Table of the House, unless and until the same shall be amended, as follows: Paragraph 133, leave out all after line 6 to end of paragraph 134, and insert "Scholars who have not yet passed the fifth standard:"—Mr. Caldwell.

(12.15.) MR. JOHN WILSON (Govan)

I rise to support the contention put forward by my hon. Friend, and to say that as far as Glasgow is concerned the people are very much opposed to the system adopted by the Government. That is also the case in the large parish of Govan. Out of 19 schools in the parish of Govan built by the ratepayers six are fee-paying schools. In other words, the School Board of Govan are unable to provide free education in six of the schools because the Probate Grant is not sufficient to clear the expenses. Under these circumstances, I would strongly urge the Government to increase the Probate Grant to Glasgow and Govan, so that all the schools under the School Board may really get what this House last year thought fit to give to the people of Scotland, namely, free education in all the compulsory standards.

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

I very willingly recognise the zeal of the hon. Member for St. Rollox Division (Mr. Caldwell) in the cause of education. I am not always able to agree with him, however, and I find myself in that position this evening. A great deal of what the hon. Member has said as to differences between Glasgow and some other places in Scotland in the matter of schools, is not new to us. It was all considered by us last year. The proposal of the hon. Member is simply that this House should to-night reverse a decision to which it came last year when discussing the Local Government (Scotland) Bill. The case is this, that the money derived from the Probate Duty although sufficient to cover the fee on an average for the Compulsory Standard, was not sufficient to do so in some places, and was more than sufficient in others. Under the School Board of Glasgow there were higher fees than in some other places, simply because the expense was greater. The difference of cost under the Edinburg Board and under the Glasgow Board has been referred to. That can easily be explained. In Glasgow there are several grades of schools, whilst in Edinburgh, under the School Board, there is practically only one grade, for this reason, that Edinburgh is well supplied with endowed schools. As to the wisdom of the; action of School Boards, it seems to me that this House is not the arena for the discussion of such, a question. The School Boards are responsible to the ratepayers, who are quite able to look after their own interests, and as regards the School Board of Glasgow, I think it is quite able to defend what it has done. In Scotland there are 44 schools in which fees have been retained, and these schools are in 12 different counties. Now, has it been proved that it is necessary to retain the fee-paying system in such a number of schools? Have the people shown that they are willing to keep their children at schools where fees are charged, when they have the opportunity of sanding them to free schools? I think there is a satisfactory answer to these questions. I find from a Return which was moved for by the hon. Member, that during the month of February the attendance in the 44 fee-paying schools was 21,000—a sufficient number to justify their retention with fees. These schools are, upon the whole, those in which the greatest attention is paid to the higher branches of education. In Glasgow, which has 10 fee-paying schools, the percentage of scholars in these schools who are in the Sixth Standard and over it is 24½—that is to say, every fourth scholar is in the higher standards. On the other hand, in the 55 other schools of the Glasgow Board, in which the lower standards are free, the percentage in the higher standards is only 6 2-3rds. Of the scholars in the whole of the schools under the Glasgow Board, who are in the Sixth Standard and over that standard, 42½ per cent. of them are found in the 10 fee-paying schools. In Govan, where there are five fee-paying schools, the percen- tage of children in the higher standards in these schools is no less than 26. It must be remembered that on this question Parliament simply gave permission to the School Board to meet a demand if it should find one. I see that in the 10 Glasgow schools in which fees are retained the attendance last month was 8,045, whilst in February last year, when there were no free schools in their neighbourhood, the attendance was 9,827. I maintain that the difference between these two figures is not more than might have been expected, when we bear in mind that there are now in the neighbourhood schools in which the compulsory standards are quite free. It is further to be noted that in these 10 schools 645 scholars have been enrolled since the 1st of October, at which date the lower standards were made free in the other schools. Of these—I quote from a Report of the words of the Chairman of the School Board— 539 were entered specifically because the schools were fee-paying schools. There were also 37 scholars who had left for a time, and had returned to the schools because they were fee-paying, and 200 of those who had been absent from their schools had returned and paid their fees. No doubt there has been some agitation in Glasgow—whether altogether spontaneous I ant not prepared to say. The agitation, however, does not seem to be general. I do not hear, for instance, that there is any agitation in Falkirk, where there is a fee paying school. If a School Board anywhere finds that there is a settled dislike to such a school, manifested by the people not sending their children to it, of course it will be discontinued. The Code simply proposes to continue a system which has been in operation for only five months, and it seems a rather strong measure to make a complete change after so short an experience. To accept this Motion would be to throw the educational arrangements of Scotland, especially as regards the higher standards, into complete confusion. As regards secondary or higher education the position in Scotland is somewhat different from that in England. Our Education Act is not for elementary work merely. The word elementary does not occur in its title. There is an express provision that whereas parish schools were always accustomed to give a high standard of education, care shall be taken that that standard shall not be lowered in future. We do not consider it an Elementary Education Act. Even in the Annual Report of the Scotch Education Department Members will find a chapter headed "Secondary Education." I may be told that what we are now doing is creating an invidious distinction, and that all classes, whether they go forward to higher education or whether they do not, have hitherto been accustomed to go to the same school. I admit that as regards country schools. It is not so in large towns, and it is idle to suppose that in the towns you can have the same mixture of stations in life as you have in the schools in the country. At the same time, while I object to the Motion, I must say that I am by no means satisfied with the position of education in Scotland. In some respects, and especially as regards secondary education, we expect a great deal more from the Government. I know that my hon. Friend has objected to the action of educational authorities in connection with the ninepenny limit, and for my part I wish it were abolished—this ninepenny limit. It was imposed on Scotland by a stupid blunder, and ought to be removed. We ought to have assistance from Imperial funds for secondary education whatever the fee is. I am afraid, however, that this Motion would simply make matters worse, and would lower the standard of education throughout. I particularly regret that it should be Ill-ought forward in connection with a Code that deserves the gratitude of all educationalists. For this Code introduces a very salutary change by abolishing payment on individual examinations, and substituting the system of distributing the Government grant on the result of class examinations—a change which has long been earnestly desired. I trust the Motion will not be accepted by the House.

(12.40.) SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

I am very glad to have followed the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, because I know the interest he takes in education, and I also know that we can always rely upon his statistics. And it is from those statistics that he has given that I propose to argue this case. In the first place he seemed to think that this discussion was barred, owing to our having discussed and voted upon it when the clauses of the Local Government Bill of last year were before us. An Amendment was introduced upon that occasion by my hon. Friend the Member for the College Division of Glasgow, whoso absence we all deeply regret, and who shares with the hon. Member for North Aberdeen the honours in regard to this question of free education. And on that Amendment the opinion of the House was that the discussion ought to be put off until the Educational Code was introduced. That was the opinion of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen, who was in favour of the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for the College Division, and that also was the opinion of the hon. Member for Perth, who, I believe, was against it. Practically throughout the debate it was said that when we got the Code before us would be the proper time for the discussion. An hon. Member opposite says "Then what is the difference?" Well, the difference is that we did not then know the consequences and now we do. Parliament wished to have free education in Scotland, and allotted a sum which was hoped would be sufficient, and that sum is sufficient for the purpose. There are 3,126 schools in Scotland, and out of this 3,041 find themselves able, either out of the probate grants or by some increase in the rates, to give free education in all the compulsory standards. In the great city of Edinburgh, with its 70 schools and 30,000 children, elementary education is everywhere absolutely free. If we except Glasgow and Govan—and here I may say, with all due respect to hon. Members, that Govan is part of Glasgow—and if we except the schools there, there are only 26 schools in all broad Scotland charging fees. It is quite evident, therefore, that, if only proper arrangements and proper sacrifices are made, the thing can be done throughout the whole of Scotland. But instead of that, in Glasgow and Govan, the School Board have inflicted, at the inspiration of the Government, a most grievous wrong upon individuals, and cut at the root of the principle of free education. In Glasgow there are 65 schools, and among these, fees are charged in 10, and the children of parents who do not choose to pay these fees, and who claim the gift of free education from Parliament, are bodily turned away and kept out of these schools. I say that it is not right to the tax-payers and to the ratepayers of the country that this should be done. One third of the scholars in these schools have had to go elsewhere, and when it is said that there has been no great dislocation of educational arrangements, let it be remembered that in six of these schools alone, 1,000 children have had to be removed, and that at a time when it is most important that the connection between teacher and taught should be maintained. Let mo notice what defence the School Board makes for this action. In the case of a memorial sent by the parents of the children attending the Kent Road School in Glasgow, the Board say— We have made a careful examination of the residences of the parents who signed the memorial, and we find that, in the majority of the cases, Kent Road School is not the nearest. Well, but what does this mean? It simply means that the parents did care for education, and did care what school they sent their children to. They did not take the nearest, but they took what they thought a good school, and the reason why they are now excluded is because this is one of the best schools in Glasgow. That is why it is chosen for the charging of fees, and I do not think the hon. Gentleman opposite will deny it. Then, in the case of the John Street School, the School Board are building rooms for the teaching of cookery and for drawing, and there, also, children are to be excluded from free education. But I maintain that the Board have no right to exclude those children whose parents wish to avail themselves of these subjects. It is not only the parents of the children who are expelled that I pity. I pity the parents who, paying the fees for their children's education which Parliament has said should be free, also pay in the rates for the education of the children of their neighbours. Not only are these schools from which these children are excluded the best, but they will become better and better, while the tendency of the other schools will be to become still more inferior. The parents who avail themselves of higher education for their children will influence the School Board, and may indeed become members of the Board themselves, and these fee schools will get the advantage of better teaching and equipment, while the other schools will be starved. Into these latter schools all the waifs and strays will be sent, and the tendency of these schools will be to go from bad to worse. It is a class measure, if ever there was one, and that in the very last department of social life in which it ought to be introduced. What do we look for in free education? To raise the level all over the field of education by applying it to all classes. Up to this time there has been no class distinction in Scotland, but now that the Government have justified and sanctified this idea of class distinction I venture to say that within throe years we shall not find a single person who sets up to be "smart" or to belong to or be near the upper classes sending his children to a school where fees are not paid, if he is within a railway journey of a school where fees are paid. Why not leave the schools of Glasgow as they were? There is talk about a deficit of £12,000 a year. We should bear in mind that before the Parochial Boards paid £4,000 a year. That is paid no longer, and the deficit becomes reduced to £8,000, which is surely not too great a burden for such a city as Glasgow. The hon. Gentleman says we ought to leave these matters to the local representatives—that is, the School Board. In this case that goes for nothing at all. The Glasgow School Board was elected before there was any idea of free education. Not only is it an entirely new question, but there was not even a public discussion at the Board before the regulations were brought out by which 10 of the schools were left as fee-paying schools, by which a very serious dislocation of educational interests took place. If I know anything of the feeling of Glasgow, this will be the last Board elected with that feeling, and by passing the Amendment we shall lay down the principle that all School Boards that took a share of the Probrate Grant should see that in every school there is free education.

(12.55.) MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)

Having just passed through a contested election at Partick, which is part of the parish of Govan, and in exactly the same position as Glasgow, I may be allowed to say that during that election this question has not in any way been brought before me. No question was asked at any of my meetings, nor was the matter brought to the notice of my opponent, so far as I know. This shows pretty definitely that the agitation is not very widely felt. In this matter some temporary friction was inevitable, and I think the effect of it will soon pass away. The hon. Member who brought the question forward said this is a matter of class legislation. It appears to me that it is an essential part of the legislation by which Scotland has arrived at its present excellent system of education. These schools that are selected as fee-paying schools are the best schools, and they are the best schools because hitherto they have been the most expensive. We are agreed now that secondary education is a great want, and it appears to me that this Amendment will kill the schools which are just those which pretend to give a good secondary education. and it is perfect madnesss to reduce their system into chaos in the way this Amendment would reduce it.

*(1.0.) SIR LYON PLAYFAIR (Leeds)

My right hon. Friend anticipates that when the new School Board is elected the higher schools will be made free. If that should be so we shall all rejoice. I am as much in favour of free education as anyone, but I maintain that you must have some elasticity in your educational system. The School Boards elected by the ratepayers have been told that they might have a few fee-paying schools in order to keep up a higher system of education. It is easy to level down, but it is much more difficult to level up; ratepayers, like children, require to be educated, and when they have been sufficiently educated to understand the value of higher schools, no doubt they will make additional contributions from the rates, in order to keep them up. But, at present, we have no evidence of their willingness to do this. The hon. Member for the University of Glasgow has stated that the percentage of children in the higher standards is greater in fee-paying schools than in free ones. In Glasgow, not only was the percentage in the higher standards in the fee-paying schools much higher than in the others, but in regard to specific subjects, while only 3 per cent. passed in the free schools, 17 per cent. passed in the fee-paying schools. Although I am in favour of free education, I am also in favour of a certain amount of elasticity being allowed to the School Boards, knowing that as soon as public opinion demands that all the schools shall be free they will be made free by the School Boards, elected by the people, and without the need of special legislation.

(1.5.) MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)

My right hon. Friend the Member for the Bridgeton Division has referred to the opinion I expressed on a former occasion, that before discussing this subject we ought to wait until we saw the Code, and I think the House will now admit that through the delay we have been enabled to debate the question with more advantage. But I agree also with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, that it is desirable, likewise, before any further change is made we should have the experience of the School Board elections so soon to take place. It is easy to make assertions on either side, but those elections will show whether or not the ratepayers and parents approve of retaining some fee-schools. In the meantime I regard the present as being in a great degree a temporary and makeshift arrangement. I agree there is a good deal of force in the argument about creating class distinction; but hitherto in Scotland it has been the practice for those parents who can afford it to pay fees. If this be entirely forbidden, what I fear is that the Boards may be short of money to keep up the high standard hitherto maintained, until we can educate the ratepayers up to doing so. A great deal has yet to be done in regard to secondary education, and we shall require more aid both from rates and taxes. I doubt whether we shall get all we want unless we economise what we already have, and what could be a better or more natural source of income than to allow parents to continue to pay fees where they are both able and willing to do so?

(1.10.) The House divided:—Ayes 69; Noes 121.—(Div. List, No. 27.)

House adjourned at twenty minutes after One o'clock,