HC Deb 19 March 1903 vol 119 cc1292-304
*DR. MACNAMARA(Camberwell, N),

referring to the Vote for the Board of Education, said that in the course of the discussion on the Education Bill he moved an Amendment providing that school teachers should not be compelled to undertake certain extraneous duties. On the understanding that the Government would deal with the matter in the Code he withdrew the Amendment, and the new Code having now been issued, he wished to acknowledge the manner in which the Government had carried out its undertaking. But there were one or two other matters to which he desired to refer. Hitherto the Code had been based on the exigencies of a system under which half the schools were maintained by voluntary contributions. Under the Act of last year that system had disappeared, and be should have thought that fact would have led the Board materially to revise some portions of the Code. In connection with elementary schools there were some thousands of teachers known as 'Article 68,' whose only necessary qualifications, according to a description which had been given in that House, were that they should be over eighteen years of age, and should have been vaccinated. The late Vice-President of the Council had several times stated that it was his poverty and not his will that consented to allow this state of things to continue. He had hoped that under the new system a start would have been made to improve the qualifications of the teachers, and that it would have been laid down that after a certain date no further appointments should be made under Article 08. He noticed, however, that the Code was described as "provisional," and that early next year, or before, the Board of Education intended to replace it by a document more in keeping with the altered state of affairs. The Board had doubtless been very hard at work in putting into operation schemes under the Act, so that he must not complain if they had not yet revolutionised the Code. He simply expressed his regret that no limitation had been placed on "Article 68," and he hoped that before long the Code would be brought more into keeping with the new condition of things under the recent Act.

He next called attention to the attempt which was being made to introduce a purely military system of drill in all the elementary schools of England and Wales. While in favour of physical training for children, he insisted that it should be carefully graduated and designed so as to be fitted to the physique of juveniles. Last year the Board of Education issued to all the schools in the country an official copy of a "Model Course of Physical Training," which he recognised as an old friend, the Red Book, which contained the instruction for drilling Army recruits. It was, however, very un-intelligently prepared, for the earlier part of the infantry drill book for recruits in the Army had simply been adopted, with a few verbal alterations to suit scholars. This was the instruction in the Infantry Drill Book:— Before the squad is put in motion, the instructor will take care that the men are square individually and in correct line with each other. Each recruit must be taught to take a point straight to his front, by fixing his eyes upon some distant object and then observing some nearer point in the same straight line, such as a stone, tuft of grass, or other object. This was the instruction in regard to "squad-marching" in the "Model course of Physical Training." Before the squad is put in motion, the teacher will take care that the scholars are square individually and in correct line with each other. Each' scholar must be taught to take up a straight line to his front, by fixing his eyes upon some object on the ground straight to his front: and then observing some nearer point in the same straight line, such as a stone or other object. As showing that the work of adapting the instruction in the Red Book to school purposes had been done un-intelligently. he pointed out that in the portion under the heading "Exercises with Staves," the word "staff" had been substituted for "rifle," but the instruction referred to the butt end of the staff. He thought a child might fairly ask what was the butt end of a staff. There was nothing particularly wrong with the Red Book as a course of physical training for soldiers, but his contention was, that it was not suited for school children. The physical training in this book consisted of about 75 per cent, of leg exercises, and 25 per cent, of arm exercises; but there were no exercises for the muscles of the neck, the side, the abdomen, the chest, and above all, there were no breathing exercises. A more nonsensical system could not be devised for scholars, and he maintained that several of the exercises were absolutely harmful. By way of illustration he cited the gymnastic march, which was suited for a recruit with a soleless shoe in a gymnasium, but absolutely unsuited for a child having a heel to his boot on an asphalt floor. There was an instruction which was optional, entitled, "Pressing from the Ground." The child was to lie prone, face downwards, resting on the palms of the hands and the tips of the toes only, the body to be moved up and down by straightening the elbows. For a child with a weak spine that was positively harmful. He asked the Committee to imagine the case of a staid, motherly school-mistress in ordinary walking costume going through the prone exercises and carrying out the following instruction— Keeping the arms perpendicular, shoot the legs to the rear, the head, body and legs assuming a rigid and straight line, and the weight of the body resting on the hands and toes only. He confessed that he did not wish to pursue this matter too closely. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education had been industriously endeavouring to acquaint himself personally with the details of his office, and he would recommend him to go out into the Lobby and show hon. Members how the exercise could be done. Colonel Onslow, the author of this drill book, had stated that it was never intended to be used for the training of young children, nor wag it suitable for that purpose. But this model course of training was being pushed very vigorously in the schools. He thought that he found the true inwardness of this attempt to insist upon military drill in the schools in a series of articles which The Times had published recently on the problem of the Army. Throughout these articles there breathed the spirit that it was necessary to associate the school with the Army. Personally he objected to that idea very strongly. They had no right to compel a working man to send his children to school with the object of recruiting them for the Army in the school playground. In one of those articles the writer said: Some system of elementary military training, including the use of the rifle, should be introduced in all schools in order to lay the foundations of a military spirit in the nation. To that suggestion he objected entirely He was not squeamish in regard to the Army. He was born and brought up in the Army, and was the son of a soldier, and he wanted to get physical training for the young. But what he objected to was that this was an obvious endeavour to make the schools a recruiting ground for the Army. He knew he was on perfectly safe ground when he said that, and he found in the circular about the model course no less than a letter signed "General T. Kelly-Kenny, Adjutant- General." What had General Kelly-Kenny got to do with the Board of Education? The General in that letter, which was addressed to officers commanding districts, said that he had been directed by the Commander-in-Chief to inform the Board of Education that a model form of physical training had after consultation with the War Office been proposed for the use of schools under the jurisdiction of the Board of Education, and that it was highly desirable that the teachers should be instructed in that course. Lord Roberts had approved of facilities being offered to all school managers for the practical training of teachers, and he had been requested to make the necessary arrangements about classes. Managers should, therefore, apply for the services of non-commissioned officers to give instruction to the teachers. The teachers were to go to some drill shed or gymnasium to undergo the exercises. That read to him that the difficulties and the objectionable nature—from a woman's point of view—of this particular form of military drill, had been, when all was said and done, entirely overlooked; although it was being pushed to a large extent in the country. He knew that the Inspectors of schools had been instructed not to push it in regard to women teachers, but that was not enough. He wanted the scheme to be put aside altogether as being thoroughly bad; and he objected to it further, that it was an obvious endeavour to link the schools with the Army. The Royal Commission on physical training in Scotland had reported a few days ago, and one of their recommendations was as follows:— While we are unwilling to confine teachers unduly to a hard and fast system, we think that certain principles should be carefully observed, and fundamental uniformity of method, and convenience of organisation maintained. We have recommended the appointment of a skilled Committee to prepare, under the auspices of the Education Department, a model course for a national system of physical training for Scotland. We hold that a daily amount of school time should, so far as possible, be devoted to physical exercises; short periods of exercise at frequent intervals being preferable to periods of longer duration at greater intervals. He wanted to urge the acceptance of that recommendation by the Board of Education. He agreed that they should get together a Committee consisting of a medical man, a practical School Inspector, an instructor in a gymnasium, and a woman, to frame a first-class model course, which, if sent down to the schools by the Board, would be adopted right and left. If he could get that assurance he would not take any further action.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item, Class 4, Vote I (Board of Education), be reduced by £100."—(Dr. Macnamara.)

SIR JOHN GORST (Cambridge University)

said he should like to associate himself with the observations which the hon. Member for Camberwell had made on this question, because he regarded the issue of this new programme as to drill in the schools, as a distinctly retrograde step in the matter of physical education. He did not at all blame his hon. friend the Secretary to the Board of Education; he thought the scheme bad been issued without his knowledge or approbation, and he had no doubt that now the right hon. Gentleman's attention had been drawn to it by the discussion in the House the matter would be examined, and he felt confident that an Amendment, such as had been indicated by the hon. Member for Camberwell, would be made. Whoever issued this programme forgot a great many things that ought to have been remembered. They forgot that a great many of the children in the schools were of very tender age with very weak bones, and muscles not developed, and that the sort of drill which was very suitable to a strong plough-boy fresh from the plough was utterly unsuitable to these little children with their weak frames. They also forgot that more than half the children in the schools were girls. He did not know whether the drill sergeants were aware that girls were not anatomically constructed in the same ways as boys, or that girls wore very different clothes from boys. All kinds of bodily motions were affected by the dress the children wore, and the illustration given by the hon. Member for Camberwell as to what women were expected to go through, obviously showed that what might very well be suited to a man was utterly unsuited to a woman because of the clothes she wore. He thought it was a great backward step in physical education to attempt to treat little girls in the same way as boys.

Another thing which seemed to have been forgotten was that physical exercises were almost universal, at any rate in I the town schools: while in country schools to which the children had often to walk considerable distances, it was cruel to make the little ones go through a number of physical exercises which they were unable to bear up under. Another thing that had been forgotten was that in the elementary schools there were a number of teachers, both men and women, who were highly qualified to give physical exercises to children. This subject was much cultivated in foreign countries, especially in Switzerland and Sweden. In Sweden there was a system known as Swedish Drill, founded on scientific principles, by which the muscles which ought to be developed were exercised—for instance, the muscles of the lungs, which were exercised while breathing. Many of the teachers in English elementary schools had spent a very considerable time in learning that method, and were really much more fit to teach the military authorities than the military authorities were to teach them. There was a strong objection to apply the new programme even to the bigger boys of over twelve years of age. He was anxious that every boy in the schools should become a Volunteer, but this programme did not assist that object. There was an extraordinary charm to some boys about the idea of military drill, but to undergo it was somewhat disenchanting, and if military drill was given to boys of fourteen or fifteen it would disgust them with military exercises, and before they reached the age of seventeen or eighteen they would find that they had had enough of them, and in all likelihood would refuse to join the Volunteers. He approved of the military spirit being cultivated to the extent that our young men should aspire to defend our own shores, and for that reason he did not agree with the argument of the hon. Member for Camberwell. He hoped the Secretary to the Board of Education would seriously consider this matter and see the pro- priety of appointing a Committee to frame a model course as suggested by the Scottish Royal Commission. He thought it was an extreme draw back that that Commission had not a woman on it as a member.

He wanted to ask the Secretary to the Board of Education what steps were being taken to organise and co-ordinate the Inspectors' staff. In his official days he had told the House of Commons, and he repeated now, that the whole effect of the Board of Education on the schools of the country depended on the excellence of the inspection, and that was more than ever necessary now that the schools had been handed over to the local authorities. He was glad to see that the Government had appointed Mr. Jackson as the head of the Inspectorate at Whitehall. Mr. Jackson had been for a very long time a member of the London School Board, and engaged in a great number of organisations connected with the schools, such as the Children's Holiday Fund. For the last few years he had been organising the whole of education in West Australia, and so satisfied were the Governments of the other Australian I Colonies with the system he had introduced that they bad sent their own education officials to inspect it. He was glad that that gentleman had been appointed but he was sorry that he bad only been appointed head of the Inspectorate of the elementary branch. He wished to know whether any progress was being made towards reorganising the whole of the Inspectorate of the Department, so that it might be under one head.

In the Board of Education a very great variety of inspectors was necessary, because there was a great variety of schools and teaching. There was the so-called infants' school, which, in his opinion, was a nurse school. Such schools ought to have women inspectors, because no man really knew how babies should be treated, or could find out how they were getting on. There ought, undoubtedly, to be women inspectors for that purpose. Then there were the elementary schools, secondary schools, and higher-grade schools, all of which required different attainments on the part of the inspectors. They could not divide the schools to be inspected into elementary and secondary schools; because there was some secondary education going on in all the large elementary schools, and some technical work also. In former days, the elementary education in such schools was inspected by an inspector who shut his eyes to the secondary and technical education, whereas the secondary and technical education was inspected by an inspector who shut his eyes to the elementary work. To have the schools thoroughly inspected it was necessary to have inspectors of attainment and responsibility under one superior officer. They should also remember that now that the local authority was the education authority, they would undoubtedly have more schools in the future in which technical, secondary, and elementary education were mixed, than they had at the present time; and it was most important, therefore, that the local authorities should have one official with whom they could communicate, and not have to communicate with two or three branches in order that a school might be inspected as a whole. He should feel obliged if his hon. friend would inform the House what progress was being made in that matter; and how far the services of Mr. Jackson were available for inspection in directions other than elementary.

MR. BRYCE said he wished to refer to the action which the Board of Education had taken with reference to the Act of last session. The Committee would remember that under that Act a number of schemes were to be framed by the local authorities, and were to be submitted to the Board of Education. Ho had heard from a considerable number of local bodies that the Board of Education was endeavouring to hurry them, indeed to hustle them, to accept schemes somewhat hastily, and were undoubtedly putting pressure upon them. The local authorities believed that the Board of Education was anxious they should pass the schemes at once, and further that the Board was endeavouring to induce them to adopt its own views as to what the schemes should be. The reports which had reached him received some confirmation from the circulars which had been issued by the Board. The Board had shown a spasmodic and feverish activity in issuing a number of circulars to the local author- ities. It was quite right that the Board should convey information to the local authorities with regard to the provisions of the Act, and its legal interpretation. No one would complain of that; and they would all be glad that the local authorities should have the benefit of the legal knowledge which the Board had at its command. But those circulars went somewhat further. They were not confined to clearing up difficulties in the interpretation of the Act, and with giving information; they went on to advise, and to suggest what were the wishes of the Board; and they rather indicated that it would be the duty of the local authorities to fall in with the views the Board might be pleased to express. The Committee would feel that it was the duty of a Government Department to sail on an absolutely even keel in matters which were controversial, and regarding which great differences of opinion were known to exist. It ought to be absolutely dispassionate and impartial as between the different parties, sects, views and tendencies in this country. When a Government Department left this impartial attitude, and began to indicate views which were well known to be the views of a particular section, or a particular party, it destroyed some of that confidence which it ought to obtain from the whole community. He did not say that the Board had done anything more than indicate a tendency to partiality. He did not impeach the Board; and he was sure that his hon. friend the Secretary to the Board had every desire to be impartial; but he thought that if the Committee were to read several of the circulars which had been issued, they would see that, both by suggestion and omission, the Board at any rate appeared to depart from that impartial attitude which it ought to have adopted. That applied to Circular number 470a sent out to County Councils, and to Circular 470b sent out to Borough Councils. Section 5 of that Circular was taken by some of the local authorities as endeavouring to convey the view of the Board of Education that representatives of associations of denominational schools ought to form part of the Committees. That was not stated in so many words, but the Circular implied that that was the wish and desire of the Board. That was a suggestion which he thought would have been better omitted. Then Circular 472 suggested that the local managers and trustees ought to endeavour to form a common fund out of the Aid Grant, and reference was made to Schedule 2 of the Act, which, by the way, they were not permitted to discuss. The Circular went on to say that the governing body of an association of voluntary schools was an organisation which was well adapted for the administration of a common fund. That seemed to him to be going beyond what the Act authorised The natural interpretation to be put on the Act was that these associations of voluntary schools would come to an end under it; but the Circular suggested that they should be kept up, and be appointed managers of a common fund. That really went beyond anything which the Act authorised. The object of the Board should be to carry out the Act fairly, and not to keep up sectarian organisations. He thought it would be a great misfortune if the local authorities were to be prevented from doing their work in the best way; and it would be regrettable if the idea got abroad that the object of the Board was to endeavour to keep up sectarian organisations.

There were also points which the Board of Education had omitted to which they might have called attention. A circular had been issued to the private owners of schools in which a number of alternatives had been suggested as to the way in which they might deal with the schools which were now in their hands. Those schools were 10 per cent, of the voluntary schools, and were therefore an important element of the voluntary schools of the country. This circular suggested various plans by which the school owners could hand over these schools to the managers, so that their denominational character could be imparted to them, but the reference to handing the schools over to the local authority under Section 17 of the Act of 1870 was made in such a way as to imply that that was the last thing the owner should think of. If the Board of Education had wished to give full information, the proper course would have been to have copied out the section of the Act of 1870, and have shown how elastic it was, and what opportunities it afforded to private owners to hand over their schools, for some purposes, to the local authority, and still retain their private rights. He regretted the Board of Education had not made that more precise, and also suggested to the private owner that there was a way in which he might hand over his school to the local authority, to the great advantage of the general system of education in this country, and still retain a limited control over the school. And he could not help wishing that the local authority also had received some guidance from the Board of Education with regard to secondary education.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said he rose to support the lion. Member for North Camberwell in the speech he had made in regard to physical training. The reason he did so was that he had had the pleasure, in March 1901, in company with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University, to I take up a similar line with regard to the; attempt to impose military drill in all elementary schools. It counted for righteousness that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University was in office he took the same view as he now took when sitting below the gangway. That was a fact sufficiently important to be mentioned, and sufficiently exceptional to become historic. On that occasion, it was as well for the Committee to know, the right hon. Gentleman was supported by the common-sense of the House of Commons. To-night there had been a tacit agreement among all Members, including even the military Members, that the suggestions of the hon. Member for Camberwell ought to be remitted to a Committee, on the lines of the Scotch Committee on physical education. If that were, done, many defects would be removed, and they would have a code of drill properly fitted to the children's physique rather than the soldier's order book. He believed, in its proper sphere, Colonel Fox's method was one of the best pieces of work ever done for the physical improvement of the soldier and the recruit. He had had an opportunity of seeing its working frequently at Aldlershot, and the splendid result of it. Colonel Fox had done great things to improve the physique of the soldier, but some of those who had been under him expressed the opinion that he had overdone it. But good as that code might be for young, strong, active men, it was incompatible with infant training, and he trusted that the hon. Member for North Camberwell would get what he demanded. In many cases children who attended the Board Schools were not well formed and, unfortunately, in many cases were insufficiently fed and physically incapable of performing two military drills in the school in addition to their play. He spoke with a practical knowledge on this subject, as a governor of a polytechnic which had 4,000 students. There he found that in proportion as they did away with the military drill, and adopted the Swiss and Swedish drills, so the children improved. He deprecated this attempt on the part of military men to make our elementary schools a recruiting ground for the Army that it did not pay was shown by the Army and Navy Gazette, which discouraged these attempts on the ground that instead of making the Army attractive and making children fond of the Army, it had entirely the opposite effect. What it did, in fact, was to repel the children from the Army and, generally speaking, to defeat the very object they had in view.

The hon. Member was still speaking when the House adjourned.

It being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.