HC Deb 16 April 1913 vol 51 cc1967-70

I beg to Move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to provide for the establishment of compulsory continuation schools in England and Wales, and to amend the Education Acts, 1870 to 1902, in respect of the age of compulsory school attendance."

The provisions contained in the Bill are, I believe, fraught with very great importance indeed to the welfare of this country. A Departmental Committee which was appointed six years ago elicited important information with regard to attendance at school of boys and girls in England and Wales after the age of thirteen years. The result of these figures is of a startling character. These figures, it should be remembered, refer not to one class of children but to all children in the country of all classes. Over thirteen years of age there were 22 per cent. of the children of the country not at school. Over fourteen years of age the percentage rose to 64 per cent.; but if we could analyse these figures and give those relating to the children of the working classes, we should certainly find that nearly all the children leave school before they are fourteen years of age. Any hon. Member can test the fact for himself by going, as I have often done in various parts of the country, into a school, going into the top form, and asking leave to request those children over fourteen years of age to rise to their feet. I invariably find the same thing. Scarcely any children aged fourteen are to be found in our elementary schools. The Bill which I ask leave to introduce abolishes half time, and children over fourteen and not exceeding eighteen years of age are termed by the Bill continuation scholars, and to these children the principle of compulsion is to be applied to compel them to attend continuation schools in the day-time. I direct particular attention to that. This is not a proposal to establish evening continuation schools, but day-time continuation schools. An endeavour is made to obtain the assistance and co-operation of employers by allowing the local authorities to co-opt employers in order that suitable times may be arranged, so that children may be released from their work to come to the continuation schools, and at the continuation schools the children are not only to continue their general education but they are to receive expert training in their particular callings. Further, the charges are made national charges; they are not thrown upon the local authorities.

These proposals may seem very drastic. To those who may think that they are too drastic I venture earnestly to commend the fact that they are merely a copy, with variations in some details, of what is being done in many parts of Germany at the present time. We have had some very eloquent speeches lately from Lord Haldane and from my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education with regard to the intentions of the Government relating to education. Lord Haldane the other night raised very great hopes at least in me by referring to the Munich continuation schools and to the extraordinarily able and valuable work which has been done by George Kirschenstein, whose acquaintance I have had the pleasure of making. It is owing to the fact that I have seen these schools at work that I introduced this Bill into the House of Commons some four or five years ago, and that I have done so every year since. If this measure is deemed too drastic for adoption in this country, then I believe that it will go hard with the people of this country in competition with Germany in twenty years time. I think that it may be said that in the great manufacturing town of Munich they can this year account for all but a few hundreds of the boys and girls there. The children come to these schools willingly, and parents are willing that they should come, and, what is very important, the employers are willing that they should come. If you contrast Munich with Manchester there is an extraordinary contrast between the one town which is training all its youths and the other town of almost the same size which is leaving nearly all its youths untrained. We often hear of Germany from the lips of men in these days. We hear them speak of it in relation to the Navy, the Army, and aerial navigation. I am not pleading in this Bill for two schools to one; I am not pleading even for a 60 per cent. superiority; I am only pleading for school for school, and I do earnestly beg of the Government, in any proposals which they are now considering, to have regard to this very important part of any scheme which they may be formulating. In conclusion, I may contrast the education which is being given to the youth of Germany with the way in which we are turning out many youths in this country. I have a report of the Canadian Commissioner of Emigration. He went to a town in this country and interviewed the boys who were thinking of leaving this country and going to Canada. Here is an extract from a Canadian Blue Book; he said to a boy: Have you ever heard of the Saskatchewan?—Very little, Sir. Where is it?—In India, Sir. Do you know the difference between British Columbia and New Brunswick?—Yes. Where is New Brunswick?—Near London. Here we have an extraordinary illumination of the character of the training which we are giving to the youths, whom we are sending out to earn their living.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Chiozza Money, Mr. Alden, Mr. Ellis Davies, Mr. Robert Harcourt, Mr. Arthur Henderson, and Mr. Whitehouse. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 108.]