HC Deb 15 March 1894 vol 22 cc378-91

8. £207,864, Supplementary, Public Education.


said, in reference to the grants-in-aid, in the case of some of these schools the managers had sent out circulars to the parents of the children asking for subscriptions in lieu of fees. He did not say that was illegal, but a feeling was aroused in people's minds that some sort of pressure was being used to compel even parents who paid fees to give subscriptions under threat of some kind that unless they gave money their children would not receive the same advantages as others. Unfortunately, the moment any question was raised the parties interested denied all knowledge and were careful enough to leave no proof behind them. What did the right hon. Gentleman think of such practices, and had he ever heard anything in the nature of threats or undue pressure being put on the parents of children? If he found himself in a position to condemn the practice it would have a good effect upon school managers and prevent them using such threats in future.

* MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

said, the Committee would notgrudge any extra expenditure for elementary education, but it would grudge any increase in the expenditure which was only caused by the worrying of those who carried on the elementary education of the country. The first item of this Vote included the salaries of an increased staff of officials, who had become a necessity owing to the increase of the amount of work to be got through. Some of the gentlemen in the Education Department would not have felt this increase of work so heavily if they had not been directed to spend their time in putting upon the managers of schools requirements which were unreasonable—if not in themselves, at least in the mode of their application. What he was about to say did not apply exclusively to voluntary schools. Those requirements were imposed just as much upon the Board schools as they were upon the voluntary schools, and therefore in saying this he was urging the case of the one as well as of the other. He was fully aware that the present was not the best time to raise such an im- portant question as this, but he felt he could not take too early an opportunity to bring forward certain grievances which he wished to urge upon the attention of the Committee. Was it under the sanction of the Vice President of the Council that these measures were allowed, and, if so, were not he and the Department straining their power if the Department should refuse to pay a grant which had been legitimately earned because certain requirements made after these grants had been earned had not been carried out? He would only ask the attention of the Committee now to two special cases. The first one was that of the National school at Luton. There the allegation was that the grant for the year ending September 30 last had been kept back pending the submission of plans for certain improvements. It was said that the payment was delayed because the sanitary conditions of the school were not satisfactory, and because the managers had not carried out certain alterations which they had been called upon to make. He could quite understand that it was proper to bring strong pressure to bear upon managers, if that were the only way to secure the sanitary condition of the schools being kept up to the standard required. At the same time, however, the pressure used must be a legitimate one, and, in the present case, in his opinion, that was not the case. If the Department were to say to the managers of a particular school, "Unless such and such alterations are carried out by you, we shall not give you another grant," well and good, for in that ease the Department would be acting fairly. But to withhold a grant already earned because something, which was mentioned for the first time after the grant had been earned, was not done, was, he contended, most unjust. In the case of this school, the Annual Report for the year 1892 did not refer to any sanitary defects in the building which required attention. No notice was then given of the required improvements until November, 1893, yet the grant had been withheld from September until January of the present year. The other case was that of the school at Christchurch, Hants. There the Government had suspended the grant because the scheme for certain alterations then considered necessary by the Department had not been submitted for their approval, and so it might actually happen that the salaries which had been earned by the school teachers would have to be kept back because those alterations which had only been suggested had not been submitted for the approval of the Department. These grievances might be very small in actual monetary figures, but he could assure hon. Members that it was a very serious matter to many of those who were directly coucerned; and it was the more annoying because it was a difficulty which could be easily remedied by a little care. It was the business of the House to see that these stretches of Departmental authority should not be allowed to continue. Of course, there might be parallel cases among the teachers engaged in the Board schools. The Department had no more right to withhold these grants from the schools than that House would have a right to withhold the salary of a Minister who might have incurred a Vote of Censure after his year of Office was completed. This was not a matter which had been going on for any long period in the Department, and he felt certain that the House of Commons would censure such a practice. He thought the Department should watch more narrowly the tendency of their Inspectors to manufacture grievances. He had always been an advocate of having all schools, whether Board or voluntary, in a state of complete efficiency, but at the same time he thought the requirements of the Department were not always enforced in a reasonable way. The Inspectors sometimes imagined that it was as easy to provide a playground in a crowded town as it was in a country district, and they put upon the managers requirements which, if they were not impossible to carry out, could not be acted upon without the expenditure of a good deal of time. He hoped that an alteration would be made in this respect, so that the great work of education could be carried out with as little friction as possible.


With reference to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. A. C. Morton), I from time to time receive letters stating that there is a certain amount of pressure placed upon parents in order to induce them to give subscriptions as a substitute for the fees from which they have been relieved by the Free Education Act. I always say in reply to these letters that some proof must be offered that undue pressure is placed upon children, and I do not recall for a moment any case in which tangible proof of such undue pressure has been given. Of course, parents are perfectly at liberty to pay subscriptions, and unless proof were offered that the children have really suffered in some way I should not be inclined to interfere. With reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Talbot), I was glad to see that the question he raised with reference to the grievances of schools respecting the requirements of the Department apply alike to voluntary and Board schools. I can assure him, although I know that a great many places in the country will not believe me, that what I do to secure the sanitary efficiency of schools applies to Nonconformist, Church, and Board schools alike. I do not see how people can imagine that the Department would wish to treat one class of school differently from another. If the Department gave instructions for differential treatment of different schools we should very soon find the carrying out of its work impossible. I am very glad, therefore, that I am not charged with treating one school differently from another. I would like to indicate to the hon. Gentleman what the conditions are upon which grants are made. If he will look at that part of the Code which is headed "Annual Grants—General Conditions" he will see that the Code makes these grants subject to certain conditions, and one of those conditions is that the Department must be satisfied that the school premises are healthy, properly constructed, warmed, and cleaned, and so forth. The grant is in a certain sense forfeited if these conditions are not fulfilled. That is the view the Department has always taken, and they ask for an undertaking that the conditions shall be fulfilled before they pay the grant, which, unless the conditions have been fulfilled, has not really become due. I think that position is entirely justified by the provisions of the Code. I am not familiar with the particular eases that have been mentioned, but I would like to say that we never hang up the grant if the undertaking is given. All we want is a reasonable pledge, by plan or otherwise, that the requirements are going to be fulfilled, and as soon as we get that we pay the grant as promptly as we can. With reference to playgrounds, I fully recognise that in a great many urban districts—and I am very sorry for it—playgrounds are practically almost impossible. I have just received a Report from one of our best Inspectors, the Rev. G. W. Sharpe, in which he points out the enormous disadvantages which apply to schools that have no playgrounds. There are schools within a mile or two of this place where play grounds do not exist, and cannot exist. Although much has been said which is thoroughly hostile to what the Department has been trying to do in these matters, I think that, on the whole, although there may be exceptions where the Inspectors have insisted upon fads and not upon essentials, the managers have foreseen that these demands would come, and most of them have willingly risen to the occasion. In one of the last Reports received one of our Inspectors nays that he has been invariably received with courtesy and kindness, and that in almost every instance he has found the greatest willingness shown to comply with his requests for the remedying of defects.


said, he could quite understand that in the case of very grave sanitary defects there might be some reason why the Department should withhold the grant until the defect had been made good. When, however, as in the Christchurch case, the grant which had been earned was withheld because a demand was made for the erection of new buildings, he thought the Department were going too far and doing a great injustice to schools. The Department had no right to demand that the plans should be agreed upon before the grant was made. The Department very often made very unreasonable demands, which it was the duty of the managers to resist, and it continually happened that the demands made by the Inspectors were not supported by the head of the Department. He would like to bring another very serious grievance forward, and that was the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman which forbade charges to be made for books. The policy and intention of the Act of 1891 was that the financial resources of the schools as they then existed should not be interfered with. One mode of raising money was by fees; another was by contributions in regard to books used. The probability was that whenever there were contributions in respect of books the fees were lower. The charges were practically the same. Immediately after the passing of the Act the Department under the government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dartford (Sir W. Hart-Dyke) issued a Circular in which they said that if a school accepted the fee grant its liberty to make a reasonable charge for books would not be interfered with. What was meant by "a reasonable charge for books"? It was possible that the right hon. Gentleman would say that what was meant was charges for the use of books only. They could not have meant that. Charges for the use of books, which, no doubt, were one of the forms in which charges were imposed by schools, had been ruled to be fees. If they were fees they were subject to all the restrictions in the Act of 1891—that was to say, they could not be raised beyond the figure of the determining year. The Department in their Circular said that reasonable charges should not be interfered with, and should not be restricted by the acceptance of the fee grant. If those "reasonable charges" were fees for the use of books, they would be fees, and would be rigidly restricted to the sum they stood at in the determining year. The Department asserted that reasonable charges, not to be interfered with by the acceptance of the fee grant, were not fees, and were to be distinguished from fees. The Department must admit that if, as they had often asserted, charges for the use of books were fees, the charges the Circular referred to were charges for the use of books only. Therefore, there must be other charges in respect of books. He maintained that there were general charges in respect of books, the ordinary form of which was the charge under which the child paid instalments, and, in the end, became the owner of the books altogether. He did not think that could be denied. Every one who read the Act of 1891 must see that the charges referred to in Section 3, which were implicitly permitted, could not have been fees The Department must admit that the charges referred to in the Circular must be charges other than those for the use of books. There was no Article in the Code requiring managers to provide the books; and Article 78 of the Code provided that a child should not be refused admission to a school except for a reasonable cause. The Department were not the supreme judges of what was reasonable; and in a case which was brought into Court the Judge held, in regard to a child who had not brought the usual fee, that he had jurisdiction to decide whether this was or was not a reasonable cause for exclusion. The right hon. Gentleman was driving people to take cases before the Courts; and if he persisted in his course, he would find that the Department were not the supreme judges of what was reasonable, and the Department would find that a great deal of the powers they exercised would be taken away. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman not to persist in his course of injustice, and begged him to look carefully into this matter, and to endeavour to be more reasonable in his treatment of voluntary schools.

MR. HANBURY (Preston)

said, he represented a borough which was the largest in the country having no School Board, and desired to make a few remarks respecting voluntary schools. Considerable pressure had been brought to bear on voluntary schools, and certain reforms had been made which it was thought necessary to be carried out. When those reforms had been carried out by the voluntary schools the right hon. Gentleman himself made certain provisions, and the result was that the schools were screwed up to such an extent that their finances could not possibly last much longer. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that he made the same requirements in respect of all the schools.


What I said was that I made no difference between the various schools.


said, he was not drawing any distinction between the different kinds of voluntary schools. He was equally interested in them whether they were Church of England, or Roman Catholic, or Nonconformist schools. From a political point of view, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would persist in the course he was following, because in Lancashire there was no better recruiting officer for the Tory Party than the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Education Department. He admitted that every sanitary requirement of a school should be met; they did not complain of that. What they complained of was that they were not only asked to carry out necessary requirements, but to adopt fads of the right hon. Gentleman.


What fads? Give some instances.


said, there was one case of a Roman Catholic school in Preston where the work was well done and a large grant earned, and through which he was taken by the priest, who told him that even before the requirements of the Department had been carried out the Inspector had spoken in the very highest terms of the school. This was a very poor school, as Roman Catholic schools generally were.


But can you refer to one of the fads?


said, one fad was that in a sort of large hail a large number of hat pegs had to be put up for each child's hat and cloak.


You call that a fad?


thought so. Looking at it he thought it was unnecessary. In any case, that was the complaint made. When the right hon. Gentleman said that he dealt fairly between the Board schools and the voluntary schools he must be aware that it was a question of finance that was at issue. The Board schools ought not to be used for the purpose of squeezing the voluntary schools out of existence. The pressure which was put upon the latter schools necessitated a large amount of extra expenditure which was not felt by the Board schools, because they could draw upon the rates. If the right hon. Gentleman continued the course he had adopted he would find out what would be the result in Lancashire.


said, that hon. Members might rely upon it that so long as he occupied his present position he would do his best to see that schoolrooms were kept in a reasonably healthy condition. Nothing could be more unhealthy or more likely to conduce to infection than piling children's clothes together in heaps; and it was only reasonable, therefore, to require that each child should have its own hat peg. The voluntary schools received among them some £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 from the State, while the private subscriptions towards their maintenance only amounted to some £750,000. In these circumstances, he did not think that the pressure placed upon the managers to keep the schools in a healthy condition was unreasonable. Most of the complaints of the noble Lord opposite were based upon occurrences that had taken place before his accession to Office, hut he could assure him that he did his best to prevent injustice being done.


said, he thought he saw an opportunity of settling this matter. If the right hon. Gentleman would consent to use the powers of the Department to declare what charges were reasonable, it would amount to a settlement, because the charges would only be allowed where reasonable.


said, these charges were included in the fees. The payment by parents for the use of books that finally became their own property was not in the nature of the payment of fees, but was made in virtue of an arrangement that was entered into between the parents and the managers of the schools. Was it possible to contend that any payment of that sort could be considered a fee? The Auditors and the Public Accounts Committee had very carefully considered the matter, and had come to the conclusion that the contribution of parents could not come under the designation of a fee.

* SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

said, he wished to refer to the grant for Training Colleges. It so happened that he had that day attended meetings of the Councils of two of the most important—namely, St. John's, Battersea, and the Girls' Training College at Tottenham. He believed it was the general opinion that while, in consequence of changes in the Code, the period of two years was now for a short time to be limited to 18 months, the curriculum should remain the same, hut the examinations should be made somewhat less severe. That was the wish of the Councils of these Institutions, and he hoped his right hon Friend would give it some con- sideration. The next point he wished to refer to was the statements made by the hon. Member for Preston. They who were the friends of voluntary schools agreed that they ought to be reasonably healthy, and they wanted to do all they could to meet these provisions of the Department. But there was such a thing as over-doing sanitary regulations. The requirements of the Department ought not to be vexatious or pedantic. There must be some discretion exercised by the Inspectors, and the right hon. Gentleman ought not to rely entirely upon their ipse dixit. He saw a case reported in The Guardian newspaper the other day in which the Inspector had directed that the doors of a school should all be made to open outwards. It might be desirable that the doors of all public buildings in this country should be made to open outwards, but to arbitrarily make a regulation of that kind in respect to schools amounted almost to tyranny. The Police and Sanitary Committee had made a provision that in some towns all future buildings should be provided with doors opening outwards, but they had not gone so far as to say that the alteration must be made in the case of existing buildings. When experience showed that a school was, on the whole, in a good sanitary condition, pedantic insistence should not be laid upon slight technical defects. Infinite distress was caused by such demands.

MR. H. S. FOSTER (Suffolk, Lowestoft)

said, he only rose for the purpose of emphasizing the statements which had been made by his hon. Friend the Member for Preston, the more so because he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President had hardly appreciated the ground of their complaint. He would not go into the question as to whether the requirements made were reasonable or were only fads, but he did say that it was a hard thing in the case of a school which had started the year well, and earned its grant, that an Inspector should go down and say that unless further requirements were fulfilled the grant would be withheld. He did not hesitate to say that some restriction ought to be placed upon a proceeding of that kind. If the Department were to say, "We give notice that unless these requirements are fulfilled next year we shall not give the grant," then there would be no complaint. [Mr. ACLAND: That is precisely what we do.] But he could give cases where the grant already earned had been withheld until the managers had promised to fulfil certain new requirements. The right hon. Gentleman might have made no distinction between the voluntary and the Board schools in this matter; but if, as he said, he did not wish to crush out voluntary schools, he could not appreciate the difference between the two cases. The managers of voluntary schools had no rates to go upon, and the School Boards had unlimited powers of borrowing and rating. He knew a case where, the grant having been withheld, the managers had to give their personal guarantee to the bank for an advance to pay the teacher's salary. These managers were doing excellent service to education; but if such responsibility were thrown upon them, many would withdraw their support from the voluntary schools altogether. He trusted that in future the right hon. Gentleman would see that new demands were not made upon managers without timely notice being given and full opportunity for obtaining reasonable modifications of those demands.


said, he desired to add his voice to those of his hon. Friends in urging upon the Vice President the desirability of showing a little more latitude in dealing with the requirements of voluntary schools, because there was no doubt that the feeling throughout the country was that he was dealing with voluntary schools in an exceptionally hard way. If in the way he had acted he had only been following the course of his predecessor he did not see how this impression could have got abroad. It was very hard for the managers of a school, which perhaps had been built but a few years since in accordance with the then requirements of the Department, to be suddenly confronted with further demands upon their resources. He knew of demands of that kind being suddenly made, such as for cloak- rooms, without allowing any adequate time to raise the necessary funds. The threat of withholding the grant made it all the more difficult to carry out the alterations which were demanded, and it must be borne in mind that the demand made might be one which the right hon. Gentleman himself would not consider requisite. A demand was made, in the first instance, simply on the ipse dixit of the School Inspector, and it was frequently found that all that was required might be done at much less cost and in a much simpler way than was suggested by the Inspector. He (Mr. Tomlinson) contended that no grant ought to be withheld until the ease had been brought before the Vice President himself. He did not desire to affirm that the right hon. Gentleman acted with the intention of exceptionally harassing the voluntary schools, and he trusted it would be found, after the discussion that had now taken place, that the work of the Department would be carried out with greater care and less harshness.

MR. W. SIDEBOTTOM (Derbyshire, High Peak)

said, he did not rise to prolong the Debate, but merely to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to some of the fads he challenged the hon. Member for Preston to name. He did not mean the fads of the right hon. Gentleman, but those of some of his subordinates. One of the fads alluded to was the cloak-rooms. In many cases they were not useful places, being three outside walls without any sufficient heating apparatus, so that when the children's clothes were hung up—if a wet day they were put on again after school in a more wet condition than when they were first taken off. Such places were certainly not proper places in which to place the clothing of children while the children were at work. Then it appeared to him to be a great fad to insist in a mixed school that there should be separate cloak-rooms for the boys and girls. To him this appeared to be wholly unnecessary in a mixed school. Then with regard to the lavatories in connection with the schools, as a rule they should be placed at a certain distance from the main building, which could be easily accomplished in country districts, though it would, he admitted, be more difficult in large towns and populous places. Another fad was that with regard to ventilation. He had been in many of the schools as a manager, and had found a fearful draught which, instead of being beneficial, had, in many cases, given the children severe colds. To the masters and mistresses it might not be an inconvenience; but to the children, many of whom had to work in hot factories, it was very detrimental, and he thought that these were all fads that might well receive the attention of the Department, but he should not have mentioned them if it had not been for the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman to name the fads.


said, he had first to allude to the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan (Sir F. S. Powell), who referred to the Training Colleges. He might say that he had had a letter from the head of the admirable College at Aberystwith asking him to arrange to meet a small body of principals and others interested in education to talk over some of the points alluded to. He could assure the hon. Member he took the greatest possible interest in all their Training Colleges, and would do his best to meet the views of those directly interested in these Institutions. The hon. Member added some words that had been re-echoed by the Member for Suffolk, by one of the Members for Preston, and the Member for Derbyshire who had just spoken, warning him against what was called the "fad" methods of trying to deal with the healthy condition of the schools. He might say that the ipse dixit of the Inspector alone was not the only thing that guided them in their action. He quite admitted that occasionally there were demands made which might not always be adapted to the particular case in view, particularly in connection with country schools, but the hon. Member for Derbyshire (Mr. W. Sidebottom) would agree with him that in many of the towns they could hardly be too careful in many of these matters. With reference to what the Member for Suffolk said, he agreed with him that in the main what they wanted was to give fair warning of these demands; but he might say that where they acted most stringently was, as a rule, where their warnings had been neglected. There were many schools where the 12 months' warning produced no effect whatever. When nothing was done the hon. Member would agree with him that they must use the only power they had—that of postponing the grant. But he assured the hon. Member he would have this particular question of postponing the grant carefully looked into. He was also glad to say that he agreed with the noble Lord the Member for Rochester (Lord Cranborne), and these cases would now be in the quarterly list. He had now dealt in the main with all the questions put to him.

Vote agreed to.

9. £16,000, Supplementary, Science and Art Department, agreed to.

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