HC Deb 03 July 1918 vol 107 cc1797-9

The provisions of the Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act, 1914, relating to mentally defective children, shall be extended so as to apply to physically defective and epileptic children, and accordingly that Act shall have effect as if references therein to Mentally defective children included references to physically defective and epileptic children.—[Major Hills.]

Brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

7.0 P.M.

There have been two Acts passed making provision for schools for mental defectives, and in the nineteen years which have elapsed since they first came into operation, sixty-seven schools have been started in the country by fifteen education authorities. Forty-one of these schools are in London. Judging from the case of London, there are somewhere about 40,000 mentally defective and epileptic children who are fit subjects for a special school. The definition in the Act of 1899 describes these children as those who "by reason of mental or physical defect are incapable of receiving proper benefit from instruction in ordinary public elementary schools, but are not incapable of receiving benefit from instruction in special schools or classes." Coming under that definition there are to be found throughout the Kingdom about 40,000 or 50,000 of these children, and that it is these to whom my new Clause would apply. The kind of physical defect most common is apparent in the cases of crippled children, children with tuberculosis joints, paralysed children, and epileptics. Inquiry has been made from about ninety-five local education authorities, and the result is that it is found there is a general demand for the passing of this Clause. Mentally deficient children already have special schools which are doing extremely good work, and if it is worth the while of the community to educate mentally deficient children surely it is far more worth its while to educate those who are physically defective! The child itself can benefit far more by the education, and the State benefits because a much larger number of physically defective children are returned to the normal population.

The schools which have been started under the voluntary Act are extremely good schools; they work on the lines of returning the child to the normal population, and the results are quite extraordinary. The Committee will be surprised to learn that in some cases as many as 90 per cent. of the children are turned into normal, self-supporting citizens, and even in those cases where the percentage is not so high the number saved represents from 70 to 80 per cent. I base my Clause on two grounds. First of all, the duty of the State to give these children an education which they cannot get now, because either the school is too rough for the child or it is not possessed of the special appliances required for the child. In many cases the children have to be fetched by ambulances, and in all cases they require the services of a nurse. It is the duty of the State, I submit, to give these children a form of education by which they can benefit, and in addition to it being the duty of the State it is to its profit, because unless the children are thus treated they are bound to be a burden on the community. Somebody has to support them, and they either become a charge on the rates or are supported by charity; therefore, it is a good bargain for the State to make these children self-supporting. May I say one word about the cost? The cost of those schools is not small. I do not disguise that it is high. There is the expenditure in providing the school; then there are the special appliances which are wanted; the special attendants for the children, and the cost of getting them to and from the school. I have figures here from different localities; they show that the cost ranges from £8 per head in Bristol to £25 per head in London, and I must add that in the Metropolis it is estimated that on account of the increased cost of all articles the charge will rise to £36 per head next year. The number of children is not large—40,000 or 50,000 out of a school population of 7,000,000 or 8,000,000. It should not be a question of cost. It is a question of giving these children the only sort of education by which they can benefit, and at the same time doing something to make them self-supporting, and, prevent their being a charge either on the rate or on their relations. I submit this Clause with every confidence that my right hon. Friend will accept it.


I gather from the general tone of approbation which came from every quarter of the Committee that hon. Members approve of the proposal of this Clause—indeed, it is one that commends itself to the sympathy of every humane man. The hon. and gallant Member has told us that 90 per cent. of these unfortunates are saved for the community, and their lives made worth living; they become useful citizens, and the community therefore receives ample repayment for the expenditure upon them. I, therefore, have much pleasure in accepting the Clause.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.