HC Deb 29 March 1894 vol 22 cc958-63
SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston),

who had given notice of the following Motion:— That this House is of opinion that full and reasonable time, without prejudice to the allowance of grants which may have been rained, should be allowed to non Board schools, not supported by the rates, for carrying out such material improvements as the Education Department may, after considering all the circumstances, have ordered, said, he believed be was precluded from moving it, but he wished to make a few remarks on the subject. Just before the Easter Recess the House had had the advantage of a tolerably free discussion on the subject, during the course of which the Minister for Education (Mr. Acland) gave some assurances which, though they were not perfect, were in some degree satisfactory, for all of which mercies he was infinitely obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. The Motion was, however, placed on the Paper before that discussion took place, and, inasmuch as during the Easter Recess further confirmation had been received for the necessity for having something done, he thought it well to revert to the subject. In his native County of Worcestershire there had been abnormal activity in respect of the repairs and sanitation of voluntary schools. This was owing to the exceptional vigour of the Inspector who was appointed in that county. So great was the anxiety with regard to the poorer village schools that the rich landlords— if any landlords could in these days be called rich—and many small country gentlemen like himself had been obliged to raise a fund for the purpose of enabling the managers to meet the requirements of the Education Department. In the same way, in the part of Surrey which he represented, the people had been obliged to make great efforts to raise funds in order to meet the requirements of the Department. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) very well knew that somewhat suddenly within the last year or two demands for material improvements which had never previously been pressed had been made. School committees had been going on for generations without any marked complaint being made to the Education Department, and although some further requirements were anticipated when the Free Education Act was passed, a year or so of gradual progress elapsed after its passage, and it was not until the present Government came into Office that demands were urged with what he regarded as exceptional and abnormal vigour. The schools to which the demands applied were, of course, more or less poor, and those who supported them were suffering from agricultural depression. He was sure that the vivid and graphic description recently given of them by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) would be still fresh in the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman. It was under these circumstances of poverty and depression that the school managers were required to redouble their efforts for improving the buildings. The demands which had been made upon them were of such a character as in their opinion to endanger their position. They were apprehensive that they would not be able to raise the funds needed within the requisite time. No complaints were made respecting the efficiency of their school management. Their management was admitted to be good. They actually were making greater progress relatively than the Board schools, who had all the advantages of the rates to fall back upon. It was considered to be hard that at a time when, despite all the enervating and depressing influences of the day, they had managed to maintain their schools in a state of efficiency which if it was equalled was scarcely surpassed by the Board schools, pressure should be put upon them for what was, after all, a very secondary matter. That was the shell of the grievance, so to speak—the framework of the educational picture painted by skilful artists with the best of colours. It was for the sake of the frame that the picture was being imperilled. It did seem hard that when schools were kept up by voluntary effort they should be placed in a position of pecuniary embarrassment for the sake of such matters as the provision of a cloak-room or a few hat-pegs. Those things as affecting sanitation, he ventured to say, were grossly exaggerated. The idea of the health of the children being endangered by reason of a few wet cloaks being hung up about the place was really absurd. He admitted that cloak-rooms and hat-pegs should be provided, but to say that the health of the children was placed in jeopardy by the absence of these things was ridiculous. Look at the children—at their vigorous gait and rosy cheeks. They were far healthier than the children under the London School Board. Was there any danger to their health? Of course not. The provision of cloak-rooms, and so on, was not urgent. The want of them was not likely to provoke epidemics or juvenile complaints. The children on the whole were healthy, and on the whole were progressive, and on the whole wore doing well. Why, then, should the schools be worried to death for the sake of material improvements of a secondary character? There was this further grievance—that the buildings were erected with the approval of the Education Department of their day, and had existed under similar sanction for more than one generation. There could be no particular reason—in the present year, at any rate—for enforcing these hitherto unprecedented demands. He (Sir R. Temple) and his friends submitted that the schools had claims of the first character on the Estimates. These were the schools that existed before Board schools were known. They were the pioneers of education in the country. They held up the light of knowledge at a time when there was general darkness among the humbler classes; and these were the institutions that had provided a vast amount of educational capital for school buildings— to be counted by many millions sterling— and these were the institutions which now for several generations had saved the pockets of the taxpaying ratepayers. They were saving the ratepayers now, at a time when all other rates was rising. He did not say they saved much to the taxpayer. They received as much as the Board schools, but they saved the ratepayer. And, further, they maintained the good old English idea—differentiating from Scot-hind and Ireland, and every other nationality under the sun in the employment of private enterprise in the sacred cause of education. Elsewhere these things were done by the State, but in this country they were largely done by private enterprise. This gave them a claim upon the nation. They did no! deny that material progress must be made and go on pari passu with moral and intellectual progress. Poor as they were they were willing to make these material I improvements, but they asked to be allowed reasonable time for the purpose. It made all the difference next year or ! the year after—that was to say, compared with the present year—between death or survival. That was the point, It was time they asked for. They even ventured to demand it, and they ventured to conclude their plea with the assertion, "Have patience with us and we will make thee all the improvements that are fairly to be required of us." If was in order to obtain, if possible, some additional assurance from the right hon. Gentleman and also to show their educational friends who were regarding this question with great anxiety in all parts of the country that they in the House who were in favour of the voluntary system were not silent, but were firm in urging their case that he again brought this subject before the right hon. Gentleman—though he was precluded from moving a Resolution.


I do not want to say anything discourteous to the hon. Baronet and his friends, but to raise the question for the third time within the seventh Parliamentary day is really a little hard the Minister in charge of the subject. On both previous occasions I have done my best not merely to receive the statements made with sympathy, but to show, by the announcement I made as to the Returns I proposed to obtain and the Circulars I was going to publish, that I honestly mean to try and meet in some reasonable degree hon. Members themselves. I hope the hon. Baronet opposite will pardon me for saying that I am not prepared to go again into the general question. I know that my statements have been considered satisfactory by those interested in voluntary schools from the many letters I have received from clergymen and others. If the hon. Member had been able to move the Motion I should not have been able to accept it, as it would draw a distinction between Board and voluntary schools as to the way in which they are to be treated in this matter. What the Education Department has to do is to adapt its demands to the circumstances of the case, and that is what it is prepared to try and do; but a Motion which would give a special position to the voluntary schools is one that could not, and would not, be accepted by the House. It is the duty of every Minister of Education to see that in return for the enormous grants that are made to these schools by the country the schools shall be healthy and in a good condition. And if hon. Members desire information as to the condition of some of the voluntary schools I should advise them to read the addresses of the President and members of the National Union of Teachers. The hon. Baronet and his friends accepted in the most friendly spirit what I formerly promised, and I am not prepared to say anything more on the subject.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had referred to the remarks which had been made on this subject on previous occasions. Well, many of them entertained strong feelings on the subject of the voluntary schools. Many people did not care about children being educated at all if they were not educated in voluntary schools. Even when Board schools were close to them they sent their children long distances to voluntary schools. They paid rates to maintain the Board schools, but derived no advantage from them. He had himself contributed largely to Board schools, but he also contributed to voluntary schools, in which he was more immediately interested. While no objection was raised to pay for Board schools, those persons who supported voluntary schools felt that they had not the same advantages as compared with the Board schools, of dipping into the ratepayers' pockets. In the past they knew that an endeavour had been made to rundown the voluntary schools by means of the Board schools, in which low fees were charged. This was done in his district, but it was felt that religious education was necessary for the children. Whilst accepting the statement of the Vice President of the Council, that he was anxious to be fair to all classes of schools, they could not refrain from pointing out that in such serious times of agricultural depression as the present some consideration should be paid to the voluntary schools if only for the sake of saving the pockets of the ratepayers. He did not say any more than the right hon. Gentleman, that they should have the voluntary schools in an insanitary condition or with worse internal arrangements than the Board schools, but he held that alterations which were not absolutely necessary should be postponed or spread over a number of years. The supporters of the voluntary schools did not wish to see such schools crushed by unnecessary demands being made upon them.

Main Question, "That Mr. Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.