HC Deb 18 March 1897 vol 47 cc951-7

After the last day of March one thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven, the following words in section nineteen of the Elementary Education Act, 1876, namely, "such grant shall not in any year be reduced by reason of its excess above the income of the school if the grant do not exceed the amount of seventeen shillings and sixpence per child in average attendance at the school during that year, but shall not exceed that amount per child, except by the same sum by which the income of the school derived from voluntary contributions, rates, school fees, endowments, or any source whatever other than the Parliamentary grant, exceeds the said amount per child, and" shall be repealed so far as they apply to day schools in England and Wales.

MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)

moved as an Amendment to substitute the words "nine hundred" for the words "eight hundred and ninety-seven." The hon. Member explained that his object was to defer the operation of this clause for three years, in order that they might ascertain how the first clause worked with regard to subscriptions.


said he trusted the effect of the clause would not be to diminish the voluntary subscriptions; but whatever its effect might be, no case could be made out for any further retention of the 17s. 6d. limit. ["Hear, hear!"] The 17s. 6d. limit was open to a great many objections; it certainly was a great temptation to the manipulation of accounts; and it fined poor but efficient schools in a manner highly detrimental to the interests of education. ["Hear, hear!"] Therefore, so far as he was concerned, he would not defer even for a month, the operation of this clause. ["Hear, hear!"]

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill,"

MR. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)

agreed with the First Lord of the Treasury that there was not much to be gained by the retention of the 17s. 6d. limit. It had already been abolished in the case of necessitous schools in the Highlands of Scotland; and now it was proposed to abolish it in regard to all schools, Voluntary and Board, in England and Wales. Therefore, when the Bill was passed the only part of Great Britain in which the 17s. 6d. limit would exist would be the non-Highland portions of Scotland. There could be no case for retaining it in that limited area, when it was done away with in every other part of Great Britain; and he trusted some assurance would be given by the Government that it would be abolished also in the case of the non-Highland portions of Scotland.

CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)

said that, while the consensus of public opinion was in favour of the abolition of the 17s. 6d. limit, it was undoubtedly the fact that the teachers considered it ought to be retained. A deputation of the teachers of Yorkshire which had waited on him had said they anticipated that if the limit was done away with the managers of the schools would put pressure on the teachers to induce them by additional work, and even by additional cramming, to earn more money in fees for the schools. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. T. R. LEUTY (Leeds, E.)

agreed with the First Lord that the 17s. 6d. limit was a fine on poverty, and if there was a division he should certainly vote for its abolition. But after that abolition the children of Nonconformist parents should no longer be driven into schools over which the Church of England retained control, though it paid no part of the cost of maintaining them.

MR. ERNEST GRAY (West Ham, N.)

said he would not discuss whether or not it was wise to abolish the 17s. 6d. limit. But he desired to emphasise the fact that, unless it was followed up by making the grant to all schools a fixed capitation grant, and not a grant dependent on the number of subjects taught, education would be sacrificed to the earning of Government grants. ["Hear, hear!"] He had always felt that the educational training of a child did not depend on the number of subjects in which instruction was given, but on the adequate teaching of a limited number of subjects. ["Hear, hear!"] The operation of the 17s. 6d. limit had been to reduce the number of subjects, and he trusted its abolition would not act as an inducement to managers to take up the maximum number of subjects and to think more of turning the children into grant-earning machines than of properly training their moral and mental faculties. ["Hear, hear!"] There was too much grant-grabbing already in the schools; but he trusted that in future the efficiency of education and not the earning of grants would be the aim of managers. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. A. H. DYKE ACLAND (York, W.R., Rotherham)

said that if, as the First Lord of the Treasury had said, no case could be made out for the retention of the 17s. 6d. limit, it ought to be abolished for evening schools as well as for day schools. Again, when this limit was instituted by the Act of 1876, it was applied to England, Wales and Scotland at the same time, and therefore, in order to be perfectly logical they ought to repeal it in this Bill for Scotland as well as for England and Wales. ["Hear, hear!"] The 17s. 6d. limit was introduced by a Conservative Government in 1876 in order to secure the principle of local contributions. If general expenditure on education and the demands of the Department had increased since 1876, those difficulties could have been met by raising the 17s. 6d. limit; but the Government were now abolishing all limits; and the result would be largely to lessen the efforts which produced voluntary contributions; and those contributions many of the best supporters of Voluntary Schools believed to be almost vital to the schools' existence. There was also this consideration—what would be the effect of the removal of the limit on the teachers? There were many poor schools—both Board and Voluntary—where the managers would put great pressure on the teachers to teach more subjects in order to earn a larger grant. The 17s. 6d. limit had hitherto prevented this undue pressure; but what was to prevent it now in schools where the managers were only bent on getting money?


said that he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Committee of Council were quite alive to the possibility of over-pressure being put on teachers in order to earn larger grants. The abolition of the limit created that danger; but it would be very carefully watched by the Department, and, if necessary, alterations would be made in the Code to prevent any such abuse. There were several ways in which that could be done. One was to make the grant a capitation grant, and not a grant for the teaching of special subjects; and another was to put restrictions on the teaching of special subjects, by requiring that there should be an adequate staff of teachers. The vigilance of the Department would be quite enough to prevent abuse of the abolition of the limit.


said that, whatever might be the case in respect of day schools, there was a general consensus in favour of the abolition of the 17s. 6d. limit for evening schools. He urged the Vice President to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consent to this extension of the proposal of the Bill.

MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)

said that the Government was now doing away with the last shred of guarantee for any local contributions at all. It was very hard that children should be taught a large number of subjects, not in order to improve their chance in the world, but merely to earn a larger grant for the school. The only ground for maintaining the Voluntary Schools was that they were voluntary; but there would in future be no guarantee that the amount of local contributions now secured would be maintained. No sooner was the grant raised to 17s. 6d. in 1876 than the voluntary subscriptions began to diminish. They were 8s. 8d. per head in 1876; in 1894 they were only 6s. 6d. He believed that the repeal of the limit was proposed with the sole object of still further relieving voluntary subscriptions. He should certainly vote for the omission of the clause.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

thought that the answer of the Vice President was satisfactory as to the prevention of over-pressure on the teachers, but he should like to know what was going to be done to secure the maintenance of local contributions. He was enamoured of the 17s. 7d. limit as it stood, but it was the sole remaining safeguard for the maintenance of subscriptions. Why was the 17s. 6d. limit to be abolished in England and Wales, where it affected the Voluntary Schools, and not in Scotland, where it affected the Board Schools?


replied that it would be out of place to deal with Scotland in a Bill which applied only to England and Wales.


expressed the hope that the Government, having regard to the peculiar position in which Scotland would be placed by the passage of this Bill as it stool, would during the present Session bring forward legislation to deal with the case of Scotland.


did not think it would be quite regular to discuss the case of Scotland on the present clause. Scotch Members had always been jealous, and rightly jealous, of mixing up English and Scotch questions of education, the two systems being so diverse. He agreed, however, that the position of the Lowland counties of Scotland after the passage of this Bill would be more or less anomalous, and the matter would be carefully considered.

MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)

said he felt great objection on principle to the abolition of the 17s. 6d. limit. The last shred of guarantee was taken away of securing a certain amount of voluntary subscriptions every year. If his hon. Friend went to a division he would certainly follow him into the Lobby.

MR. C. P. SCOTT (Lancashire, Leigh)

was in favour of the abolition of the 17s. 6d. limit, because the provision applied equally to both Board and Voluntary Schools. If a few other of the provisions of this Bill had applied in the same way to the whole of the schools in the country they should not be discussing the Bill now; they would have got through it a week or ten days ago. At the same time, the abolition of the limit was not an unmixed blessing, and he warned hon. Gentlemen opposite that if they wished to maintain the existing system they would have to make extraordinary efforts, which they might find it difficult to sustain, in order to keep contributions up to the present level; otherwise the existing system was doomed.

MR. A. J. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

said he had never been a strong supporter of the 17s. 6d. limit, but, on the other hand, undoubtedly it was a most effective weapon in keeping up voluntary subscriptions. The danger of the loss of voluntary subscriptions was a more serious one than hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to realise. If the subscriptions really became merely nominal, the whole raison d'être of the Voluntary Schools would disappear, and the end would be that they would be swept away. The danger of over-pressure on the teacher was one which the Vice President held too lightly. He believed that, when they had swept away the limit, the managers who cared more about grants than education would put great pressure on the teachers to enlarge the curriculum and to make the children mere grant-earners, so as to contribute more largely to the income of the schools. He did not see how the Vice President could prevent the pressure being put on the teachers. If the managers demanded that an increased number of subjects should be taught, how was he going to prevent it? It would be impossible to limit the subjects to the three R's. In his opinion, it was far better that these schools should teach the barest elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic than squander the teaching over a considerable number of subjects. This was a thorny question which would require a great deal of attention from the Department and a great deal of watching front the House. With respect to the Scotch question, it would present itself for practical treatment very soon, because, having abolished the limit in England and Wales, they could not possibly maintain it in Scotland.


asked the Vice President or the Leader of the House to give a reply to the very pertinent question of the hon. Member for Poplar—namely, what steps were the Department going to take in order to insure the keeping up of subscriptions?

Question put, "That the clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 267; Noes, 62.—(Division List, No. 129.)

Clause 3,—