HC Deb 15 July 1918 vol 108 cc782-91

(2) In Section seventy-four of the Elementary Education Act, 1870, as amended by Section six of the Elementary Education Act, 1900, fifteen years shall be substituted for fourteen years as the maximum age up to which by-laws relating to school attendance may require parents to cause their children to attend school, and any such by-law requiring attendance at school of children between the ages of fourteen and fifteen may apply either generally to all such children, or to children other than those employed in any specified occupations;

Provided that it shall be lawful for a local education authority to grant exemption from the obligation to attend school to individual children between the ages of fourteen and fifteen for such time and upon such conditions as the authority think fit in any case where after due inquiry the circumstances seem to justify such an exemption.

(3) A local education authority may with the approval of the Board of Education make a bylaw under Section seventy-four of the Elementary Education Act, 1870, providing that parents shall not be required to cause their children to attend school or to receive efficient elementary instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic before the age of six years:

Provided that in considering any such by-law the Board shall have regard to the adequacy of the provision of nursery schools for the area to which the by-law relates, and shall, if requested by any ten parents of children attending public elementary schools for that area, hold a public inquiry for the purpose of determining whether the by-law should be approved.

(4) The power of a local education authority under Section Seven of the Education Act, 1902, to give directions as to secular instruction shall include the power to direct that any child in attendance at a public elementary school shall attend during such hours as may be directed by the authority at any class, whether conducted on the school premises or not, for the purpose of practical or special instruction or demonstration, and attendance at such a class shall, where the local education authority so direct, be deemed for the purpose of any enactment or by-law relating to school attendance to be attendance at a public elementary school:

Provided that, if by reason of any such direction a child is prevented on any day from receiving religious instruction in the school at the ordinary time mentioned in the time-table, reasonable facilities shall be afforded for enabling such child to receive religious instruction in the school at some other time.


I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (2), to insert the words, It shall not be a defence to proceedings relating to school attendance under the Education Acts or any by-laws made thereunder that a child is attending a school or institution providing efficient elementary instruction unless the school or institution is open to inspection either by the local education authority or by the Board of Education, and unless satisfactory registers are kept of the attendance of the scholars thereat. 7.0 P.M.

The general sense of the House as expressed in the Committee stage with reference to Sub-section (2) of Clause 8 was that it was undesirable to take away from the magistrates the ultimate power of determining whether an elementary school is efficient. But, on the other hand, there was a very general sense that great scandals existed under the present state of the law, owing to the fact that the magistrates were not sufficiently provided with expert information to enable them to determine the point. As matters stand at present neither the local education authority nor the Board of Education have any right of access to private elementary schools, and they are not in a position to inform magistrates what is the character of the education given therein. This Clause provides that if the private elementary school claims to furnish efficient education it must open its doors to the local education authority or to the Board of Education in order that they may ascertain whether the claim is well founded should any question on the point be raised. Secondly, it is required to be a place of education which keeps satisfactory registers of attendance. That now is a requirement confined to day elementary schools, and one objection to these private elementary schools is that they have been frequently the refuge of children who desire to escape from the enforcement of the obligation of regular attendance at school. Therefore this Amendment proposes to impose on private schools the obligation to keep a satisfactory register.


I am exceedingly obliged to the President of the Board of Education for the action which he has taken in this matter. In the Committee stage I moved the omission of the Clause to which the President has made reference, and I am quite sure that in all parts of the House there was a strong feeling that it was not desirable to proceed with it in its original form. But in the form in which it is now proposed by the President I, for one, can see no possible objection to it, and I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend for thus meeting the wishes of those with whom I was acting in the matter.

Amendment agreed to


I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (3), to insert the words. Notwithstanding anything in the Education Acts the Board of Education may, on the application of the local education authority, authorise the instruction of children in public elementary schools till the end of the school term in which they reach the age of sixteen or (in special circumstances) such later age as appears to the Board desirable. Provided that, in considering such application, the Board shall have regard to the adequacy and suitability of the arrangements made by the authority under Section two of this Act and to the effective development and organisation of all forms of education in the area. This Amendment is framed to meet the criticisms which, I think, were initiated by the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King), who pointed out that some special provision should be inserted in the Bill to make it clear that children in certain circumstances should be enabled to continue their education in elementary schools up to the age of sixteen. The London County Council have always boon anxious it should be made clear that children attending the central elementary school should have a free run up to sixteen, and they pressed us to amend Section 22 of the Act of 1902 in that sense. I believe that this Amendment, as it is framed, will not only permit that object to be attained, but, with the safeguards which accompany it, will prevent any undue competition between elementary schools, on the one hand, and the secondary schools and other schools of higher education on the other.


This is really a very great enlargement of the powers of the Board and scope of the Act, and I do not know if the House has realised it—indeed, I do not quite understand the meaning of the proposed Amendment. What it says is that the Board of Education may, on the application of the local authority, authorise the instruction of children in public elementary schools till the end of the school term in which they reach the age of sixteen or (in special circumstances) such later age as appears to the Board desirable. Does that mean that they can be compelled to attend the elementary school till that later age?




That is so fax satisfactory. But still I think it is very doubtful, in the form in which the Amendment appears on the Paper, whether the authorising of the instruction does not also mean compulsion as well. Assuming that such children are being instructed in a public elementary school, will such attendance be taken as an excuse for non-attendance at continuation schools?


If a child has been educated and put in full-time attendance at an elementary school up to the age of sixteen, he will be exempt from further obligation to attend a continuation school from sixteen to eighteen.


Then it is not to be compulsory attendance during those two years?




And it will be a question as to whether he has attended properly up to those years? May I ask a further question? Will an extra Grant be made to non-provided elementary schools as well as to provided elementary schools in order to meet the extra cost?


They will be on the same footing.


I understand there is no limit as to the age to which the Board may authorise public elementary school education to be carried. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the explanation he has given me as to the effects of the Amendment.


I am a little surprised to see such an additional proviso brought up on the Report stage. It is one which alters considerably the meaning we all attach to elementary schools. Under this Clause it would appear the local authority may be empowered to provide instruction in elementary schools for children right up to the age of sixteen, or in special circumstances such later age as may appear desirable. There must be some unnecessary confusion as a result of that in the minds of the ratepayers with regard to what is understood to be an elementary school, if children are to have the opportunity of attending a public elementary school up to the ages of seventeen or eighteen. I see nothing in this Clause to suggest any higher limit to the age at which children may be required to attend, but I would point out that the whole scheme of instruction in the elementary school would have to be arranged in accordance with the age of the children, and it might really convert the public elementary school into a secondary school, making any distinction between the two kinds of school difficult for any ordinary person to understand. I do not know whether the President can tell us why it was that some such arrangement was not inserted in the Bill, so that it might have been discussed on the Committee stage more fully than is now possible. I cannot help thinking it will create a considerable amount of confusion in the minds of the local authorities and render it very difficult for them to determine the kind of education which should be given to children, not only up to the age of fourteen, but possibly up to the ages of sixteen or seventeen in elementary schools.


I fully share the views expressed by the last two speakers with regard to the vital importance of this Amendment. I do not think the significance of the Clause has yet been realised even by the Board of Education itself. Certainly it has not been realised by Members of this House, and I want, if I may, very respectfully to point out what may be the possible consequences of this Amendment. It authorises the local authorities to keep children at the school if they wish to remain there until the age of sixteen, or even later. This will tend still further to intensify the difference between elementary education and secondary education by giving two distinctive systems of education not concerned with the ages of the children but rather with their social class. I am very glad indeed that the Member for London University endorses that view. The temptation to the local educational authority will be, in order to avoid the expense of providing secondary school education, to avail itself of this Clause, and not provide a secondary school for the children in its area, but keep those children at the public elementary school until they attain the age of sixteen. When a similar proposal was under discussion at an earlier stage of the Bill the President will remember there was strong opposition expressed to the proposal, and he will remember, too, that he assented to a statement which was made that these children ought not to be encouraged to remain at elementary schools until they reach the age of sixteen, if by so doing they are going to receive a less appropriate and less efficient amount of education than they could obtain in a secondary school. But the President by this Amendment is going to make it easy for the local education authority to get out of providing secondary education at all, as, in order to avoid that expense, they will keep these boys and girls up to the age of sixteen, or even later, under elementary school teaching. This is one of the most important Amendments in the Bill we can possibly discuss, and I think a much fuller reply should be given by the representative of the Board, especially in view of the feeling expressed by Members who hold widely different views on this aspect of the Bill. Let me put this further point: Elementary education is a phrase the meaning of which is determined by Act of Parliament. That meaning is denned in the Act of 1870, subject to certain Regulations made by the Board of Education. I want to know whether these children from the ages of fourteen onward are going to have simple elementary education, or is the President going to arrange that these classes in the elementary schools for children between fourteen and fifteen shall be secondary classes? Is there going to be a distinction in the kind of instruction which will be given to these elder children up to sixteen and eighteen? Is it going to be secondary instruction, or is it simply going to be elementary instruction, with all the restrictions which Acts of Parliament and the regulations of the Board have introduced into the term, "elementary education"? If we adopt this Amendment we are going to set up, in a very intensified form, two methods of education. For the children of the well-to-do there will be the secondary schools. They will either be there for their whole school life or will go about the age of twelve. But the poorer children who cannot afford to go to secondary schools or elementary school children for whom the local education authority refuses to provide a secondary school, are going to be kept at the elementary school until sixteen or later, and are going to be given an elementary school education. If they are going to be given a secondary education, let it be in a secondary school. Let the term "secondary school" stand not for a class system of education, but for the education appropriate to a certain age, and not to a social class. The right hon. Gentleman, by asking us to accept the Amendment, is making a vital mistake, and is introducing something wholly reactionary.


The object and the scope of this Amendment have been entirely misconceived by some speakers. It is necessary because, under the existing law a child must leave the elementary school before the age of sixteen unless the age limits have been extended by the Board. The result of that is that full time education in an elementary school up to nearly the age of sixteen would not count for exemption from attendance at compulsory continuation classes, whereas children who stay in the secondary schools up to the age of sixteen will be excused. Protests have been made in the course of the Debates on this Bill against the social injustice which would arise from the fact that, while children of sixteen years of age who have been in the secondary schools will be released from attendance at compulsory continuation classes, those who have had their education in elementary schools up to nearly the same age would not be so released. The object of this Amendment is to enable a child to attend up to the age of sixteen in an elementary school, and, in exceptional cases, a longer period than that if necessary. May I draw special attention to the proviso, which enacts that the Board is to have regard to the adequacy and suitability of the arrangements made by the authority under Clause 2, and to the effective development and organisation of all forms of education in the area? That indicates quite clearly that the procedure provided for in the earlier part of the Amendment is to apply only in exceptional cases, and for the specific purpose which I have named. We look forward to a considerable development of elementary education in the higher classes. We believe that a number of children will elect to go on, where such development has taken place, to the age of sixteen, and we see no reason why they should not enjoy the same privileges of exemption from attendance at compulsory continuation classes between the ages of sixteen and eighteen as are accorded to those who have attended secondary schools.


I must say a word in support of the President of the Board of Education. I do not know whether he values or needs my assistance, but he has it most wholeheartedly. I should like on this occasion, for the first time in connection with the Bill, to dissociate myself entirely from my hon. Friend (Mr. Whitehouse). He is a great educationalist, and he has done a great deal of service in connection with the Bill. He knows the educational system of Scotland and of the United States well, but not so well, in fact, not at all, the educational system of England. He does not realise, for instance, the position which the central school is playing in London and in other districts, and which it will play, and ought to be made to play, in our educational system. If central elementary schools of the higher elementary type are developed they will become a perfectly whole time up to the age of sixteen, and admirable means of free education for will be quite as good as many secondary schools in different parts of the country. And though Scotland has got very fine secondary schools, yet we shall have in our central higher elementary schools just as good schools for the purpose up to sixteen as the Scotchman has in the secondary schools. There are other points in connection with this, as, for instance, the peculiar applicability of higher classes in elementary schools to certain areas, like the shipbuilding areas, which want strong, intelligent young men at sixteen, and not before. Put them into higher elementary schools with higher classes, superior to those you have now, and send them out strong, independent young lads of sixteen. They will have to give their whole time. It is part of the essential organisation of that trade. In an industry like that and in others on the same sort of lines you have the justification and the necessity for this proposal, which I heartily welcome, and I am sure it makes the Bill a great deal better than it was before.


I do not think my hon. Friend (Mr. Whitehouse) was altogether on a false point. I think what obviously was in his mind was what has been apparent to many people in the past, and that is that some local authorities are not sufficiently enthusiastic about the provision of secondary education, and the fear that he expressed that there might be a tendency for local authorities rather to make use of the extension of these elementary schools with the object of avoiding the provision of secondary schools is a danger that should be provided against. I do not think it can be done in this Bill, but I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might keep in mind the possibility of its being misused, and if it were misused it would be misused to the detriment of the children of the area. We are all aware of the excellent work which has been done by higher elementary schools, but I am sure the Board would not contemplate the higher elementary schools acting as a permanent barrier to the provision of secondary schools. I hope the Board will take a strong line in the provision of secondary schools.


I do not want there to be any misconceptions about this. I am not quite sure that a good many Members are aware that Section 22 of the Act of 1902 fixed the age limit for elementary education at sixteen. I cannot conceive that they were really under a misconception but they have been talking as though the age limit was still fourteen. The Cockerton judgment had to deal with that very point. Under that judgment education could not be carried beyond fourteen. The result of the decision was that the Act of 1902 expressly made provision that elementary education might be given up to sixteen. That was the intention of the legislature, but owing to the way the Clause was drafted it was not carried out, and the limit varied with different children. There was also a proviso that the age might go beyond even sixteen, but that proviso is very limited in character. I take it this Amendment really means to carry out the intention which the legislature expressed in the 1902 Act. I think really we are rather making a mountain out of a molehill of the whole matter.

Mr. A. K. LOYD

May I ask the hon. Gentleman who has an intimate knowledge of the history of the matter, what is the bearing of paragraph (a) of Clause 2 of the Bill? The effect seems to be that it shall be the duty of the local education authority, for the purpose of Part III. of the Education Act, to make adequate and suitable provision in order that full benefit may be derived from the system of public elementary schools and for that purpose amongst other matters, to make provision for organising in public elementary schools courses of advanced instruction for the older or more intelligent children, including those who stay at such schools beyond the age of fourteen. Does not that contemplate precisely the state of things with which we are now dealing, and is it not too late, with that paragraph in the Bill, to object to an Amendment for carrying it in its effect as if it were importing a startling innovation?


Of course, the powers as expressed in Clause 2 go a great deal further. It is a co-ordinated general scheme. What was suggested in the Act of 1902 was merely an occasional exercise of power. It was to prevent surcharges on the rates, such as happened in the Cockerton case. That was an exceptional thing. What is suggested in Clause 2 is a much wider, a generalised, better organised whole, but the power existed before.


Is not the present Amendment supplemental to a part of the Bill which we have already passed?

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In Subsection (4), after the word "afforded" ["reasonable facilities shall be afforded"], insert the words "subject to the provisions of Section seven of the Elementary Education Act, 1870."—[Mr. Fisher.]