HC Deb 02 August 1916 vol 85 cc451-3

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]


I beg to move, "That it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys to be provided by Parliament in respect of children of the age of fifteen years and upwards of the Fee Grant payable under the Elementary Education Act, 1891."

The object of the Bill to which this Resolution is a necessary preliminary, is to simplify the arrangements for paying the grant to public elementary schools in England and Wales. Many complaints have been made from time to time that the Returns required by the Board of Education are far too numerous and complicated. I do not know whether the Committee realises the extent to which that complication is caused by the provisions of Acts of Parliament that have to be complied with. The object of the Bill which I shall shortly ask leave to introduce is to abolish one of those requirements. Under the Elementary Education Act, 1891, the Fee Grant is paid at the rate of 10s. a year for every child over the age of three and under fifteen years of age in average attendance at public elementary schools which comply with the conditions of the; Fee Grant, either by charging no fees at all or by charging fees within the limits laid down by the Act. At the time the Act was passed there were practically no children over fifteen years of age in public elementary schools, but in the Education Act, 1902, provision was made for the education in public elementary schools of scholars who at the close of the school year would not be more than sixteen years of age. That provision was slightly altered by a subsequent Act, and there are at present about 2,630 children over fifteen years of age in public elementary schools and the annual charge involved in paying the Fee Grant for those children will be about £1,300. It is not necessary for the Board of Education in making any other grant to make any distinction between children under the age of fifteen and over the age of fifteen, and the effect of the age limit in the Elementary Education Act. 1891, is that every school claiming a Fee Grant has to provide a separate register and make a separate return showing what attendances have been made by children over fifteen years of age. That involves a great amount of clerical labour both at the Board of Education and in the offices of the various local education authorities throughout the country, and it seriously complicates the returns sent to the Board of Education by the local education authorities.


I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his return to the House. We realise that he has suffered from the strain and stress of the hard work in war-time and has had to be temporarily laid aside. I also congratulate him on the occasion that brings him again before us. When the fees of elementary school children were abolised twenty-five years ago there was an extremely stupid arrangement made by which fees were still to be payable over fifteen years of age. I do not quite agree with the fact, as stated by my right hon. Friend, that there were practically no children over fifteen years of age. I believe there was quite a large number. During the passage of the Bill—it was not in the original proposal—it was decided to limit the school fees up to fifteen, and I believe it was due to the educational reactionaries of the time, who were jealous of the competition of the better equipped board schools with their own, which they specially favoured. The result was that we had free education up to fifteen years of age and if the child stayed on an additional year fees could be charged. But of course the real effect was that it came as a burden upon the rates and the ratepayers had to pay the fees for children where there was no corresponding fee charged in the voluntary schools because there were no schools which attracted children of a higher standard and of higher ago The result of that extremely mean provision means that for twenty-five years there have been yards and yards of red tape, miles and miles of figures, and columns and columns of statistics which have been added to the burdens of the school teachers, the education authorities and the Board of Education, and to the pettiness of the miserable amount of vested interests which have so warped, marred and blighted the progress of our education system. War-time has found out one of these. It has discovered that there is an intolerable amount of statistics and red tape, and now in wartime we are abolishing statistics, which mean a saving of £70,000 a year, and a good deal more than that is involved. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this reform, and I think we may congratulate one another that this stigma upon the free elementary schools of the kingdom is to be taken away. I am very glad that this Bill has been promised and will shortly be introduced.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.