HC Deb 23 July 1912 vol 41 cc1130-40

I beg to move "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Rules and Programmes of the Intermediate Education Board (Ireland) for the year 1912–13 be not sanctioned until they are amended in the following particulars:—

  1. (1) Page 1, Section I. (4), for the word 'three,' substitute 'four,' and after 'viz., 'insert' Preparatory';
  2. (2) Page 5, Section IV. (c), instead of '14,' insert '13';
  3. (3) Page 9, Section VIII. (b), after 'Greek, Latin, or,' insert 'one,' instead of 'two.'"

This Motion is a very important one. I listened earlier to-day to the discussion on Scottish Education, and I heard hon. Members grumble at and criticise the system that prevails in Scotland. But I should like some of these hon. Members to cross over to Ireland and see the system of primary and secondary education that obtains there. When I know the system that prevails in Scotland and compare it with that which prevails in Ireland it makes me hunger that the opportunity should be given to Ireland to do for her children what the Scottish people have done for their children. My Motion deals with the new programme which has been issued by the Intermediate Board of Education for Ireland. In that programme changes have been made. In previous years there were four grades, and the pupils have presented themselves according to their respective ages in these four grades. This year three grades are substituted for four, and the age begins at fourteen instead of thirteen. I would like to draw the attention of the Chief Secretary and the Committee to this very important matter. Everyone interested in Education must agree that if secondary education is to be of any use at all it must be begun at a reasonable time. If you delay the entrance of the pupils to the secondary school you waste some of the best years of their life. That is not what the Scottish people do. They begin there at eleven years of age and finish their higher grade education at the age of fifteen. No restrictions are placed in their way. No public examinations are necessary except at the end of the period. The teacher is first of all required to be a competent man. That being allowed he is trusted to do his work in the proper way.

It is not so with us. We have no knowledge of the capacity of the teacher. He may have no degree. He has no fixed salary; no security of tenure. There is no such thing as an established teacher in the secondary schools of Ireland. That is one of the fatal blots on any system of secondary education. There may be some excuse for the Board to have these wretched and useless examinations at the end of every year of secondary school life. They do not do that in Scotland. They have a keener sense of what true education is, and I certainly should agree with a speaker earlier that the result of Scottish education for years past has been that splendid men have come forth from the primary and secondary schools of Scotland to take an honourable part in every walk in life in every country of the world. The contrast between our system and that of Scotland is great. We have no public system of secondary education in Ireland at all. No public school is owned by any public authority either by the State, the County Council, the District Council, or by any public authority whatever. That is not so in Scotland. All over that country secondary schools are provided for the poorest child in the land, and every man's son, from the highlands or from the city, can go into these schools, on one condition only, that he is fit to take advantage of the facilities provided. That is not the only obstacle in his way. Take the case of boys who are some distance from secondary schools. The Education (Scotland) Act, 1908, established county committees, which last year spent £152,000 in providing bursaries for the children of poor people in remote districts who could not otherwise get secondary education. £152,000 for bursaries in Scotland, while the total grant for secondary education in Ireland last year was £42,000!

I wish more directly to call the attention of the Chief Secretary to the two matters mentioned in my Motion. The first is the abolition, without notice, when the school year is ended, when the teachers have gone on their holidays and the children have left school, of one of the grades which has been in existence for twenty years, a grade which draws the young children from the primary into the secondary; and the second is raising the age of commencing secondary school life from thirteen to fourteen. That of itself will create a bad impression in Ireland. It will make many people in Ireland think that the Intermediate Board believe that the proper time to begin secondary education is fourteen, and not thirteen or twelve. It will further have a most injurious effect upon many schools in Ireland. The Chief Secretary must have seen some of the splendid work which has been done for the education of the poor by the Christian Brothers in Ireland. These schools in our towns have catered largely, if not mainly, for secondary education for the poor. Will it be believed that these men have devoted their lives to the education of the poor, giving secondary education, with practically no assistance from the State, for sixpence per week. The grants which they have got from the State have fallen off. Last year 4,000 children were presented in the preparatory grade. These schools cater for poor children who stay, not for five years, but for two or three years, and who afterwards go into the world and become artisans, mechanics, and shop assistants. They are not children of rich men. Such schools will suffer severely, and it will give them all they can do to live through next year if this change is persisted in. The one thing in Ireland which is starved is education. Everything else has money plentifully poured upon it. The one thing which makes a nation prosperous, peaceful, and happy is starved. I hope the Chief Secretary will be able to give us some assurance that something will be done to get over the present impossible condition of things. I would congratulate the Intermediate Board on having done what they have done because it has brought the attention of the whole country to the scandalous condition of intermediate education as a whole, and it has centred the attention of public men, educationists and others, on the question.

There is another question to which I wish to draw attention. In this programme a boy who starts secondary education has to take three languages if he does not go in for the classical course; English is compulsory. Then come the modern languages. He has to take two modern languages. I ask anyone who has studied educational questions as they effect poor people, men who will devote their lives to the shop, to the farm, or to the desk, is it reasonable, is it educational, is it proper development for these boys who spend only two or three years in a secondary school to compel them at the beginning and throughout their career to take up three languages. Does anyone believe they can learn them properly or usefully in three years? The time spent in these extra languages is waste. It is most absurd that it should be compulsory. It is only recently that that change was made. We tried some years ago to get Irish put on a par with other languages and after some difficulty we succeeded. Before that time only two languages were required, but immediately we got these concessions for our own language, which is now practically taught in every one of the secondary schools, the Board comes down and insists that if a boy takes English and Irish he must take either French or German as well. That is most absurd, and it seems to us, looking at it from the outside, that the Board is not considering educational standards, but has done it merely because it wants to cast a slur on the language of our country and theirs. I do not mean in the slightest degree to insinuate that the Head of the Board, whose devotion to and splendid work for education, both primary and secondary, and whose courage and sympathy we all appreciate, was any party to any such thing, but I am afraid I cannot exonerate the Board from the charge I have made against them.

There is another question I should like to call attention to. Education cannot be carried on without money. The Chief Secretary is the man to whom we have to appeal to open the door of the Treasury. The Treasury gives us not one penny for secondary education. It gives it to England and to Scotland and to Wales— £1,000,000 to England, £250,000 to Scotland and £100,000 to Wales. Why is Ireland not entitled? I trust that the Chief Secretary when he comes to consider the matter will see that we have a claim, and that he will do his best to have that claim pressed.


I beg to second the Motion.


I am not at all surprised that the hon. Gentleman should have availed himself of this the only opportunity he has to call attention to this question. I am sure the House will excuse me if at this hour I do not avail myself of the opportunity of entering into any comparison between the money supplied to Scotland and that given to Ireland. There is only one question before the House, namely, the rules referred to in the Motion. The Intermediate Board in Ireland occupies a very peculiar position, for it lives as an independent body upon its own income and does not come to Parliament year by year to obtain any amount whatsoever for the purpose of carrying on intermediate education in Ireland. I agree that the funds at its disposal are very insufficient for its purpose. Nevertheless, the Board has certain funds arising from the interest on a million of money of the old Church funds, and also what is known as the "whisky money." Having these two sources of income, it distributes the money amongst various schools in Ireland where this intermediate education is given, as best it can, in accordance with the provisions of the Statute. As matters stand at present, and until the new rules are sanctioned, there is a certain public examination which the Board is bound to carry on and at a great cost to maintain. It gives to the children who pass the examination and to the schools to which the children belong certain grants of money.

There are four grades—the preparatory, junior, middle, and senior. The pre-preparatory is the one the Intermediate Board proposes to abolish. It is a pretty stiff examination that awaits the unfortunate children who at the age of thirteen enter these schools. It is a searching examination, and it is a practically useless examination having regard to the tender years of the children. Everyone who has ever had a school education, or who has passed an examination, knows that it is one that lends itself peculiarly to cram. I am not expressing any whimsical opinion of my own, because I know that it receives the support of educationalists in Ireland. There are great educationalists in Ireland of considerable enlightenment and progressive ideas in these matters. The Christian Brothers carry on admirable work, and devote themselves to education after a fashion which fairly entitles them to be considered educationalists of no mean authority. They are of opinion that it is a most desirable thing to abolish this preparatory grade; but we cannot overlook the fact that there are in Ireland, particularly among the schools maintained by the Christian Brothers, classes consisting of children of tender years—children of thirteen years of age— and as the schools receive the sum of, I think £3 1s. 4d. for every child who passes this examination, and as they live upon the funds so derived, it is not surprising that there should be a considerable degree of dismay at this new rule which by destroying this preparatory examination cuts off from a material source of income those schools where the young children attend in large numbers. They have had conferences with the Intermediate Education Board. Being enlightened educationalists they agreed that this pre- paratory grade should in the interests of the children and of education be abolished.

But when they came to the agreement they were under the impression and the Intermediate Education Board themselves also thought that they could apply the money saved by getting rid of the examinations in the preparatory grade to these schools as a bonus grant on inspection. That is to say, if schools were inspected and satisfied the inspector that the teachers were competent proper persons, and the classes well administered the money could then have been paid to these schools. In the new rules which on May 28th the Intermediate Education Board submitted for approval to the Lord Lieutenant there was a rule which would have enabled them to distribute as a bonus grant among the schools a very considerable sum of money. But the Intermediate Education Board has the advantage or disadvantage of having as one of its members the greatest lawyer in Ireland, Chief Baron Palles, who now I am proud to say has been summoned over to England to sit on the Privy Council to hear a case of great importance, and he felt it his duty as a member of the Board to address a letter to the Under-Secretary in Dublin stating that this rule in his opinion was ultra vires and illegal: in other words, that the Intermediate Education Board having regard to the statute creating them, although they could abolish the examination, could not apply their money except on the results of examinations. The Lord Lieutenant took the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown on the subject and they found the Lord Chief Baron correct in his view of the law. Therefore the Intermediate Education Board were not in a position to carry out the understanding already come to with the educationalists in Ireland that this money saved by the abolition of the unnecessary and uneducational examination should be paid to the schools on the results of inspection.

That is the situation, that the rule which the Intermediate Education Board had inserted had to be struck out as ultra vires, and therefore it does not now appear among the rules which lie on the Table of this House for confirmation. I confess I am rather glad to avail myself of an opportunity that I think now presents itself. For some years past during my tenure of office I have been pressed by educationalists on the Intermediate Education Board, and also by other educationalists in Ireland, to introduce a short statutory measure which would enable the Board to apply its own money—this does not involve any demand on the Treasury—from its own resources in the way best calculated to promote the real interests of intermediate education in Ireland. What I propose to do if I receive, as I trust I shall after we meet in October, the general support of those interested quite irrespective of party in Ireland, as this is not a party question, is to introduce a short Bill of, I think, only one Clause, enabling the Intermediate Education Board to do the thing which they thought they could do but now find they cannot do, and not only to get rid of the examination which all agree should be done, but to apply its money by way of a bonus grant among the schools and independently of the results of examinations, in such a way as will not inflict injury upon the schools which are largely attended by children of the age for entering for this preparatory examination. That they cannot do at present because of the existing statute binding the Board down simply and solely to public examinations and their results.

I therefore say to my hon. Friend who has introduced this question, I think quite rightly, having regard to the very considerable pecuniary loss under this rule, that I hope he will rest content with the assurance I give that I will introduce a Bill as soon as an opportunity offers, and I have every confidence, because I know I shall have the support of the Intermediate Board of Education itself, that it will pass through this House and the other House before Christmas. I certainly give that undertaking. I am very glad to give it, because it is a thing I have had in my mind for a very considerable time. I give that undertaking most emphatically to the hon. Member, and I think it really gets rid of the reason for seeking to stop these rules from receiving the sanction of the House. With regard to the language question the hon. Member will excuse me from going into it. Educationally I certainly differ from him. The languages prescribed are Latin or Greek, or two modern languages, of which Irish may be one. If you want to abandon the advantages of the classical languages which I am old fashioned enough to believe are very great, then you may take two modern languages, for example French and Spanish. I need not expatiate on the merits of those languages, but a person, unless he can read French, is in a very limited state: and the Spanish language in the commercial world occupies a position of extraordinary utility. Irish is an admirable language,— I wish it were better known in Ireland than it is. Irish may be one of the two languages; but to say that you would be content with Irish alone I think would be very unfair to those children who have the advantage of being Irish-speaking from the beginning. It is their mother tongue, and not a language which by itself could be called a substitute for the classical languages, which are not only dear to the teachers but are recognised by all those who are concerned in education. Although there may be substitutes for them, I do not think the substitution should be cut down to one language. The real point which the hon. Member makes is the pecuniary damage which is very likely to be done to a large number of schools in Ireland if the rule were passed in its present form, and I hope he will accept the undertaking which I have given. Of course, it depends upon what this House may do, but I cannot doubt myself that I shall be successful in carrying the Bill into law. It is entirely in accordance with my own view, it has not been forced upon me in any way; in fact it is what I have desired, and I hope it will be carried.


I congratulate my hon. Friend on the result of his Motion. I think the promise which the Chief Secretary has given entirely meets what has been a very great grievance in Ireland, and has caused great alarm. What we understand from the Chief Secretary's speech is that a Bill will be passed before Christmas under which it will be possible for the Intermediate Board to carry out the understanding on which, this alteration was made and which, under the circumstances mentioned by the Chief Secretary, was not carried into effect, namely, that they would by a system of inspection, bonus following on inspection, make up to the schools what they would lose by the abolition of the Preparatory Grade. I will only make this suggestion to the Chief Secretary if he should find, and I do not say he will find, that it was a contentious or opposed Bill by doing away with necessity for examination in all grades, he would be quite certain to make his Bill non-contentious by confining it with the Preparatory Grade. If that were found necessary this grievance could be removed by a Bill which would do away with the necessity of examination in the Preparatory Grade. Under these circumstances and by the passing of this Bill before Christmas the grievance of those schools, even for the present year, will be prevented, and on the understanding that the undertaking given to the Christian Brothers Schools and other schools will be carried into effect, I would suggest to my hon. Friend not to persevere with his Motion. I think the undertaking given by the Chief Secretary has really achieved his purpose.


In view of what the Chief Secretary has said, and in the hope that he will be able to carry out his promise, I certainly most cheerfully withdraw; I will say this, however, that should anything occur to prevent this Bill being passed I will reserve the right, which will be given next year, to raise the same point when these rules are presented again.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

And, it being after Half-past Eleven of the clock, on Tuesday, 23rd July, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twelve minutes before Twelve o'clock.