HC Deb 22 April 1909 vol 3 cc1761-4

I wish to call attention to the subject of Continuation Schools, and I will not occupy the attention of the House for more than a very few minutes. It is a question that will eventually lead to many debates in this House. We have got in this country an exceedingly good system of education dealing with elementary schools, secondary education, and also higher education. But this system leaves a most important gap, and the gap is between children of 13 and 14 years of age and those between 17 and 18 years. Those are periods the most critical in the child-life of the country. In the course of every year more than half a million of children leave the public elementary schools at 13 and 14 years of age, and no more than one out of three receives further systematic care in the matter of elementary or technical education or any education at all. These are the most critical years of a child's life. These are the years when the child should get the fullest educational care that could possibly be given it. At those ages there is neglect on the part of parents, the education authorities, and employers of labour. That applies both to girls and boys. Something is done, I admit, voluntarily. It is not so in other countries. Take, for instance, Germany. Germany has learnt most successfully to grapple with the system, not merely by getting employers of labour, both men and women, to deal with boys and girls who are going into domestic service or industrial pursuits, but by legislation. There are 21 States in Germany which have a compulsory system of dealing with secondary schools, and they have roped in employers and the parents of children. Switzerland comes next, and after Switzerland comes Denmark, which is making such great advances in agriculture and the co-operative movement. Farming pays in Denmark. Nearly 40 per cent. of those engaged in farming go through the schools up to the age of 15 to 20 years. It is important to get boys and girls to follow some regular course of training immediately after they leave school. In France, and again in the United States, great advance has been made, mainly on free lines.

These countries are making the problem of continuation schools one of the most important in the history of their school life. Something has already been done in this country by Government Departments, or at least by subordinate branches of the service. I know of several postmasters in large towns like Brighton and Portsmouth who, in regard to the messenger boys, come to some arrangement with the boys and their parents and the education authorities of these towns whereby these boys can be let out, without shortening the hours of labour, to get a better training. We want to increase the effort by the State to encourage these authorities and associations, according to their different callings, to give courses of instruction which will be practically useful to these young people. If hon. Members will only read the Report, particularly the minority Report, dealing with the Poor Law they will find some most alarming facts with regard to the unemployed and the unemployable drawn from the class to which I referred. The reports of distress committees of towns like Birkenhead refer to the misuse of boy labour and how these boys without training graduate into the unemployable. From Glasgow comes the report that nearly 20 per cent. of the unemployed were labourers under 25 years of age, and half were under 35. I was glad to see that Scotland got a Bill last year to deal with these continuation schools, so that children in Scotland as they grow up are likely to be better provided for. The registers of the distress committees all over the country show the startling fact that something like 15 per cent. of the men in distress are under 21 years of age, and nearly one-third of the whole are under 30. The report from Birkenhead shows that hundreds and thousands of boys on leaving school become messengers and clerks in merchants' offices. They go on without having learnt any craft or skilled work. Such places are filled up again by recruits from the elementary schools, and they reach manhood without acquiring a trade, and they go to swell the ranks of the unskilled labourers. In periods of depression, when thrown out of employment, such lads quickly become numbered among the unemployable. These are facts that ought to be considered. I do not want to deal with the whole question. I am not now urging legislation; but I want the House to look at this question from every point of view. We want to do something to keep our boys and girls from becoming corner boys and fast girls in the streets. I ask the right hon. Gentleman representing the Board of Education to recommend the education authorities to bring employers of labour and parents and boys together. Some employers of labour are taking commendable steps now. Take, for instance, my right hon. Friend the Member for the Northwich Division of Cheshire. He long ago refused to employ a single apprentice in his chemical works without first of all coming to an agreement with the parents that at different periods of the week the apprentice should attend a technical school. Evening schools are all very well. They do a great deal of good in their way, but we cannot expect boys to go to school in the evening after they have done a day's work. They should attend school in a mental state fit to receive mental pabulum. What you have to do is to get the educational authorities to agree with the employers of labour, and with parents just in the same way as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northwich is proceeding, and as is being done in regard to some post offices in the country, and in scores of places in Germany and America, where I have seen employers and parents coming to agreements, and being encouraged so to do. I just want my right hon. Friend who represents the Board of Education to be alive to this question, because it is one of the most burning questions of the age.