HC Deb 26 March 1908 vol 186 cc1597-602

in asking leave to introduce a Bill to amend the laws relating to education in Scotland, said: The existing system of education in Scotland has been regarded with general satisfaction, but even the most perfect system must require, as time goes on, adjustment to new needs and new conditions, in this case the necessity for these adaptations is somewhat urgent. During the last eight years, five Bills have been introduced by successive Governments to meet the requirements of Scottish education—four Bills in the Commons and one in the Lords. Every one of these Bills has failed to become law, the last of them being the Bill of last year, of which the present Bill is a development. It may be said therefore that the object of the Bill as a whole, is not to recast the system of education but to supplement it. In the first place, it will not disturb the existing areas. We leave the parish school boards with their present powers, and we leave the existing secondary education committees, which are to be found in every county and in some large boroughs, with their powers as at present. The Act of 1872 and subsequent legislation placed no limit on the powers of school boards in Scotland in regard to the provision of education, and when I say education that includes secondary education as well as what is known in England as elementary education. This Bill in no sense curtails or abridges the full powers in this respect which the school boards in Scotland possess at present. Nothing is taken away from them, and in the fututre, as in the past, the system will rest upon what has been proved to be a secure foundation. Time, however, has shown the necessity for organising and strengthening the present provision for secondary education, and for this we now provide. As the House is aware, money is actually voted every year for the purpose of Scottish education under the Code. These grants are paid direct to the school boards, and they will continue to be so paid and they are not touched by the proposals in this Bid. The first step which this Bill takes towards more adequate provision for secondary education is to establish an Education (Scotland) Fund, into which in future will be paid ail local taxation monies now intercepted and applied for the purposes of education in Scotland. This fund will therefore contain £60,000 available for secondary education under the Act of 1892, the residue grant of 1890, the agricultural rating relief grant of 1897, two sums set aside under the Act of 1892, and lastly the general aid grant, which was given to Scotland as an equivalent in respect of the English Education Act of 1902. These monies will in future be pooled together in the Education (Scotland) Fund, which, though varying slightly from time to time, will amount to something like £350,000 per annum. As to the application of this fund, in the first place it will meet certain general charges—certain prior charges—of a national character, which cannot properly be made in any locality, viz., claims from universities and central institutions such as technical colleges, agricultural colleges, and the like. These prior claims having been discharged the remaining sum will be distributed, according to their share, to the secondary education authorities. In this distribution a new principle will be applied. The existing principle of distribution, which is simply on the basis of population, obviously docs not do justice to the poorer localities. A new principle of distribution is therefore proposed—population qualified by two other considerations, viz., by the cost of education in each district and by the assessable revenue in each district calculated per head of the population. The secondary education committees, being thus placed in possession of their resources, have in their turn to meet certain general charges of a local character, charges which are general to their district—the provision of other kinds of education—which cannot properly be within the compass of the secondary school boards. Again, these prior charges having been met, the balance remaining will be distributed to school boards and to managers of voluntary schools on the same principle which I have described, which will in this case be applied to the parishes. By the establishment of the application of this new principle the House will see that this scheme regards the system as a whole. The ratepayers and the parish school boards will continue to be as they have been the foundation of the system, and they will be, as they have been, the custodians of education within their district, but in future, to a greater degree than in the past, what is spent on secondary education and what is spent on higher education will be a matter of direct concern, or at any rate of real concern, to every ratepayer in every school board district. There have been criticisms from two different sources on the existing areas, and they have contributed to the opinion which was held by some in favour of an alteration of the areas. This Bill endeavours to meet those criticisms. In the first place it is said that school boards which maintain secondary schools of which advantage is taken by people residing in neighbouring districts are unfairly treated by the present system. School board centers like Perth, or Galashiels, or Montrose, for instance, have gone in at great expense for the establishment of secondary schools. Other districts send pupils to such schools, and it is urged that it would be only fair that these districts should contribute in a larger share than they can at present to the expense of establishing or of maintaining such institutions. The grievance lies in the fact that towards the expenditure of such a school board in this respect, no adequate provision is made by the neighbouring districts. This Bill provides that such contribution shall be made, and any school board which provides secondary education will receive from the Secondary Education Committee payment charged upon the rates in respect of children coming from the districts of other school boards who receive education at this center. There is one further provision on this point—that a school board providing secondary education for children other than its own shall receive half of the excess of the cost to the rates of such provision over a certain fixed rate. These provisions, it is hoped, will act as additional make-weights in the in terests of justice in this matter, and so far as the school authorities are concerned, I believe the difficulty is met. Another source of criticism of existing areas lies in the position of the teachers. For the reason I mentioned last year provisions similar to those in the Bill of last year, in regard to teachers, are to be found in this Bill—provisions namely, restoring the school boards' discretion in giving allowances to teachers in cases of disablement and of retirement. Further, let me mention that the practice has grown up in localities in Scotland in cases of a threatened dismissal of teachers of invoking the intervention of the Scottish Education Department. Persons on their own initiative through a Member of Parliament have by petition approached the Department. The Department in such cases has repeatedly refused to intervene. On the other hand, it has in some cases intervened, and by persuasion and correspondence, and sometimes by the employment of one of its own officers as a mediator in the matter, has succeeded in adjusting such disputes. A provision is contained in this Bill regularising this procedure, and in the event of a petition being presented to the Department by not less than thirty parents or guardians of children in attendance at the school, or by one-half of the parents or guardians, whichever number is the smaller, praying for an inquiry into the reasons for the proposed dismissal of the teacher, the Department may make such inquiry. Pending such inquiry, the dismissal of the teacher is not to take effect, nor is it to take effect without the consent of the Department. This provision, of course, in no way affects the power of the school board summarily to suspend any teacher in its employment from the the execution of his duties. The Bill also contains additional provision for the continuation of education beyond the school age of fourteen. It lays apon the school boards the duty of making provision for continuation classes, and gives them power to make bye-laws requiring the attendance of young persons under the age of seventeen at these classes. In other directions it gives increased powers to school boards, powers in regard to medical inspection, which the House will recollect were given to English school authorities by legislation last year. Neglect to feed or clothe or keep clean a child is made an offence by the Bill under the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, and with regard to the feeding of school children the Bill puts the responsibility in the first place upon the parent. If the parent or guardian is found to be at fault, he is liable to punishment. If not at fault the duty of making provision for the child is laid, not upon the parish council as in last year's Bill, but upon the school board, and upon the school board is laid the responsibility of making-such temporary provision as is necessary during the inquiry. The cumulative vote is abolished, and the school board franchise is assimilated to the Parliamentary franchise. These are the main

provisions of the Bill, which I may observe, is essentially a Committee Bill. It disturbs nothing, it destroys nothing, but it builds round the existing system in Scotland, which it aims at strengthening, and I trust it will be so regarded in all quarters of the House.

Motion made, and Question, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Laws relating to Education in Scotland; and for other purposes connected therewith," put, and agreed to. Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Sinclair, the Lord Advocate and Mr. Solicitor-General for Scotland.

Education (Scotland) Bill, "To amend the Laws relating to Education in Scotland; and for other purposes connected therewith," presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 181.]