§ (3)The question whether a child, who is not attending a school recognised by the Board of Education as efficient, is under efficient instruction within the meaning of the Education Acts, or any by-laws relating to school attendance made there under, shall be determined by the local education authority, or, in the ease of a child attending a school or educational institution which the Board of Education or the local education authority are enabled to inspect, if the parent of the child so desires, by the Board of Education, and any such determination shall be final and conclusive.
(4)A local education authority may with the approval of the Board of Education make a by law 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.
(5) 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.
§ (6)In Section eleven of the Elementary Education Act, 1876 (which relates to school attendance), for the words "there is not within two miles" there shall be substituted the words "there is not within such distance as may be prescribed by the by-laws."
§ (7)Nothing in this Section shall affect the provisions of the Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act, 1893, or the Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Childen) Acts, 1899 to 1914, relating to the attendance at school of the children to whom those Acts apply
§ Amendment moved [29th May], to leave out Sub-section (3).—[Mr. Marriott.']
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
Sir M. BARLOW
At the adjournment last night the question under discussion was the deletion of this Sub-section, the question involved being what the effect would be so far as the freedom of instruction was concerned from the point of view of the parents. Though we are grateful for the concession suggested by the President of the Board of Education, I do not think it goes quite far enough for those who are concerned in this matter. I would like to ask the attention of the Committee to the Sub-section. The Subsection says that the local education authority, generally speaking, is to be the body to decide what is efficient in the way of instruction. It is the local authority under the Sub-section, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, that will have to determine the question. There is an exception in the case of inspected institutions—that is to say, where an institution is inspected the Sub-section 1007 provides that if a parent so desires the Board of Education may come in. The President has suggested to us—and this is the first criticism which I have to make on his speech—that it might be possible to have a council of laymen, or something of that kind, co-operating with the Board of Education. That might be all very well if in every case the parent would appeal to the Board of Education, but under the Sub-section a sit stands it is the local education authority which generally decides the issue, and it is only in the very small percentage of cases that come under the heading of inspected institutions that there would be any seisin in the Board of Education whatever. Therefore I do hope that the President is going to meet us in a conciliatory manner, as I am sure he will if he possibly can. If he is going to make any suggestion of that kind we should have it not only in the cases which I believe would go to the Board of Education under the Sub-section, but in the enormously preponderating number of cases which would be decided by the local education authority.
Suppose you have a strong layman's Committee—for instance, the local County Court judge, or people of that kind accustomed to weighing evidence and taking a broad view, working with the education authority, then a certain amount of our difficulty would disappear. But it is quite clear that no concession which is restricted to the Board of Education itself would meet our difficulty, because the vast majority of cases under the Sub-section would never come to the Board of Education at all. Then the President said, "But if the case came before the magistrate, even if the local authority had decided that the particular kind of instruction given was inefficient, the magistrate need not impose a fine." But a statutory duty is imposed on the magistrate to fine unless he can find an excuse. There are only two forms of excuse which he can find. The first is that the instruction given elsewhere is efficient, and, if he finds that, he is at once in direct conflict with the local authority, because ex hypothesi it is only because the local authority has found the instruction elsewhere inefficient that it brings the case before the magistrate. Therefore you have at once that conflict between the judicial and executive authorities which has been so much deprecated. Just think what would happen. Suppose 1008 the local authority found the education inefficient. They set the Board in motion and get the parent fined because the child is not receiving- efficient instruction in a proper elementary or certified efficient school. Then the magistrate lets the parent off, because, in his view, the instruction is efficient. He must either do that, if the suggestion is made by the President is to amount to anything, or he must let him off on some other ground of reasonable excuse.
If the magistrate is driven to that kind of subterfuge, if he has got to find, for instance, that the child is supporting his parents at home, or something of that kind, and so gets out of the difficulty created by the decision of the local authority on the material point, which is the point of efficient or non-efficient instruction, I think that that is very unsatisfactory, and I feel that now that we have the matter in hand here we ought to deal with it in some more statesmanlike way than this. Therefore I suggest that both those grounds of hope which the President held out to us are really grounds of hope that are going to land us in greater difficulties than ever. All of us who have been interested in education and its administration for a great many years would like to see some power of speeding up the private venture school. I do not think that it is beyond the wit of the Board of Education to devise some Clause which shall give increased powers of inspection of the private venture schools, so that, whether by public reports or pressure of some kind through the local authority, or, if you like, by some carefully guarded scheme of prosecution, scandals of the kind which the President related to us last night could no longer occur. I think that the incident which was given last night was not only very unsatisfactory from the educational point of view, but was something like a grave danger to the public, and therefore should have been suppressed on that ground alone.
Sir M. BARLOW
The President did not give us the name, but no doubt if the hon. Member asks for it he will be told.
Sir M. BARLOW
That there should be inspection followed by reports, and, if that 1009 is not sufficient, I think that some carefully guarded power of prosecution might be given either to the local authority or to the Board of Education. But, having said that much, I think that all who have taken an interest in the Debate would agree that the power of the parent to give home education, or to send the child abroad, or do things of that kind must equally be safeguarded. And our great difficulty with regard to this Clause is that it is much too wholesale and wide sweeping. Some of the most eminent men now living have been educated entirely at home, and it is a quite conceivable use of these powers to hold that that is not efficient instruction and to force the child into the elementary school. I do not think that that would meet with the approval either of this House or of the country generally. I think that the difficulty might be met by giving the board of the local authority increased power of inspection in private venture schools, and also safeguarding the right of the parent and allowing a reasonable latitude in the matter.
§ Sir J. YOXALL
The Debate, as far as it relates to this particular Sub-section, has implied a meaning which was not intended, I think, by the framers of the Bill. My hon. Friend who has just addressed the Committee has spoken as if this Sub-section referred to all kinds of private venture schools. I do not think that it can be shown to do that. Under this Clause as it stands in the Bill Dr. Blimber's Academy for Young Gentlemen would be quite safe, and so would the seminary for young ladies in Chiswick. The hon. Member for Oxford appeared to think that it referred to secondary schools. I do not think that it does.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Sir j. YOXALL
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. The impression which I gathered was that he thought that it was a source of danger to the secondary school. Now the matter is argued on grounds of danger to the private venture schools. It is suggested that in order to bring about the closing of these wretched places which are not really schools, which exist in many cities and towns, and which could be put down very simply and which ought to be put down, there should be introduced a large system of inspection and reports and prosecution for all private venture schools. The remedy 1010 would be worse, I think, from the point of view of the champion of the private schools, than the disease itself. I am told that in the city of Birmingham there are 8,000 children attending schools of the kind described by the President of the Board of Education last night. Why do the parents of these boys and girls send them to that kind of school and pay from 2d. to 6d. a week in school fees rather than send the children to schools of the ordinary public elementary kind where no fees are chargeable at all? Children are sent to those schools because attendance at those schools is a mere sham. There is no register and no records are kept of absences. Mothers keep children at home when they please, they send them as late as they like in the day, they take them away as early as they like in the day, and these schools exist and are now being defended in this Committee as being institutions of freedom and liberty, rights of conscience and individual right. It is a very small and simple problem. Everybody acquainted with the details of education is aware of what this particular kind of school is. It is the old-fashioned day school of another day. It is not now proposed to interfere with parents who send their children to schools with costly fees—-they may be indifferent—but where you compel parents to send children to schools, then those schools should be efficient, should be healthy, should be wholesome, should be provided with proper sanitary accommodation, with proper playgrounds, with light and air. You make these rules in the elementary schools of the country, and in most schools. In Birmingham itself, the city in which the Education Reform League began so many years ago, a body which has done excellent work ever since, up to the present they have been unable to put down these schools containing these 8,000 children, because there is no power given to the education authority or the Board of Education to take action. What is the alternative? The magistrates are asked by the local education authority to fine the parents who send their children to these schools on the ground that they are not suitable; but who is to tell the magistrate whether a child is going to a proper school or not? You now bring an alternative method before the Committee in regard to these schools, a kind of Brewster Sessions. Will you have 1011 licences issued, will you have education committees appointed, members of which will go round and examine whether a school ought to be continued or not? Surely the education authority should decide whether a given school is or is not a fit place for education! Members have expressed fear as to the action of the education authorities driving out private adventure schools, but so far as I have been able myself to see what is the desire of local education authorities, I think that it is not at all to build schools, or to provide extra places, and you may depend upon it that the local education authority is never going to undertake the cost of replacing private schools if they possibly can avoid it. I do not think "there need be any fear of the local education authorities in that respect; still, they cannot go on continuing these unsuitable places. My hon. Friend did not quite express the views of the local education authorities, though he may have expressed powerfully the historic feeling of Englishmen for liberty, and liberty must be guaranteed at all costs. But in what respect is liberty here in danger? A magistrate has a parent before him for not sending his children to a proper school; the local education authority certifies that it is not a proper school; and they can still satisfy themselves, if they choose, when an appeal is given under "the Clause.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
The point, as we understood it, is that under this Clause the local education authority decides whether proper instruction is given, which is quite a distinct issue from the fact of whether or not the school itself is proper and suitable, and it is maintained that this should be decided by the local education authorities.
§ Sir J. YOXALL
Take the case of other schools, of which there are a number in the country, that are not public elementary schools, but in every respect resemble them. For some reason or other the promoters of these schools do not wish to have them under the Board of Education, and therefore they do not rank as public elementary schools. The Board of Education, by their inspectors, have certified them as suitable schools. Take the Jewish schools, the reformatory schools, the industrial schools, they have to be guaranteed or certified as suitable places by the central authority upon the repre- 1012 sentations of the local authorities. Efforts are being made by philanthropic women to establish creches and nursery schools all over the country, and the next thing you will have will be day nursery schools, to which parents will send their children at 2d. and 3d. a week, and these schools will be held to satisfy the authorities as suitable, healthy, and satisfactory in every possible way. I cannot see what objection there can be to this Subsection, and I do not believe that it is objectionable. In my own experience the magistrates have laid great stress upon the representations of the local authorities, and there is, further, the guarantee afforded by the Press and by municipal elections in regard to any action taken. Certainly I shall vote for the Clause as it stands.
§ Mr. WILSON-FOX
I think the hon. Gentleman has absolutely misconceived the intention of the Amendment before the Committee, and I believe that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education will be the first to acknowledge that the remarks made on this subject by Members of the House who are intensely anxious that the educational system of this country should be placed on a satisfactory basis and administered efficiently have been directed to a very important question of principle, and have been made, and are being made, in no factious spirit. There is a very important question of principle involved, and I hope from the concluding portion of the speech made by my right hon. Friend last evening, that we may gather that there is a disposition to review the matter in a conciliatory spirit, and make concessions to those who hold that this principle is exceedingly important. I, therefore, wish to associate myself with the appeal made by my hon. Friend below me (Sir Montague Barlow). The ground of objection to this Clause as it stands does not seem to me to have been met or fully covered. The constitutional view and the educational aspects of it were put to this Committee yesterday by other Members of eminence in connection with education, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow University. But what has not yet been laid before the Committee are certain arguments which might, perhaps, be described as of a somewhat political character. I should like the House to consider whether, in passing a Clause of this kind, it has not wholly misconceived the temper of the people of this 1013 country at this moment. This great War is being fought in defence of liberty, and I feel certain that our thoughts are so centred upon that, for liberty has become to be so deeply desired that all want to resume at the earliest possible moment, and, so far as possible, the liberty which existed in pre-war days.—[Interruption.] I have no doubt that certain Members of this House, especially those who sit on a certain Bench opposite, have different ideas of what liberty is. With the exception of the occupants of that Bench, I think every Member of this House abhors Prussianism in all its forms, and also abhors bureaucratic control; so that it is a bad moment, or not a tactful moment, to endeavour to shackle the inhabitants of this country with further bonds. In popular language, they are fed up with them. This is not the moment, I think, in which parents who are already tied hand and foot in many directions, should have imposed upon them further obligations, and be prevented from moulding the lives of their children according as they desire.
I think most Members of the House would feel safe if they were satisfied that the President of the Board of Education was going to hold his position in that Department permanently, but we cannot be sure on that point. There is, I think, a very natural fear about giving to Departments these increased and wide powers. There is a very general impression, and in some instances I think it is correct, that Government Departments are apt to be the natural lairs of cranks, and that the Board of Education perhaps offers the most promising harbourage to some of the finest specimens of that genus. Of the many specimens of cranks with which we are familiar, perhaps the pedagogic crank is the most unpractical, stubborn, and ferocious. I do not think it can be right to hand over the bodies and minds of the children of this country to the un-supervised prejudices and activities of cranks of this genus. The President of the Board of Education last evening, inadvertently, but perhaps fortunately, let the crank out of the bag. We had a peep at him, and we were not too pleased with him, and when the President had seen him previously, it was evident, from what he told us, that he had himself been surprised and shocked, for he hastened to put the crank back again into the bag as quickly as he could. He told us that he had already had this matter considered by a Departmental 1014 Committee, and he told us what were the recommendations of that Committee which he had been unable himself to support and had swept aside. The general idea of Departmental Committees, which it is true do sometimes very valuable work, is that they are conceived in secret and work in the dark, and their recommendations are only as a rule permitted to come into the light when they are agreeable to the Department through whose instrumentality they have been established. On this occasion the President has had the courage to inform us of opinions expressed by a Departmental Committee with whose recommendation he did not agree. I think the action of that Committee affords the fullest possible justification for the action of those who, like myself, are determined that the liberty of the subject in this matter shall not be interfered with as has been proposed. As I have said, we all agree in desiring the most efficient education, but what we are not agreed upon is the means and machinery by which effect shall be given to that view. I, for one, should certainly regard standardised education as the greatest evil that could fall on this country.
The Englishman is accustomed to regard his home as his castle. It is equally true that he regards the King's Courts as the bulwarks of his liberties, and he is perfectly right. Certainly in this House the onus is on those who seek to deprive him of his natural bulwark. What I have been unable to understand is what the President himself and those who think with him fear, because it is purely a question of submitting evidence in a right and convincing form to a Court of law. It is nothing more than that. If the Board of Education is able to give itself a final opinion on any matter it proceeds with, it must have studied the matter, and have made what in sections and examinations are necessary. Otherwise it is not qualified to form an opinion. If it has qualified itself to form an opinion I cannot see any reason whatever why it should not be able to produce evidence in support of that opinion before a Court of law, and I have sufficient faith in the Courts of law to believe that they will attach due weight to any evidence produced. There was a rather shocking case which the President cited to us last evening, but it does not appear to me to prove very much. It is notorious that hard cases make bad law, and I do not think this House can be 1015 asked to decide in an important matter of this character on a mere tale of this nature of which we do not know the whole facts—we do not know in what way they were brought before the magistrates, and many other circumstances which ought to be before us—if we are to be guided by it in forming an opinion. That case, I think, must be swept aside. It is one of those cases we should all wish to be dealt with as such cases deserve.
In concluding his speech my right hon. Friend offered us a panel. I do not know in what way such a panel would work. I agree with my hon. Friend below me in thinking that if this panel is merely to be an appendage of the Education Department it would be as objectionable as the present proposal. He is clinging again to those hole-and-corner methods of doing justice with which we are not familiar in this country, and which we are determined shall not be imposed upon us. These panels and secret inquiries are dear to the official mind, but that is no reason why the House of Commons should accept them. This proposal will not do, but it should be possible for the President to make to us a proposal with which we should all agree. It should be based, in my judgment, on increasing his powers of examination and inspection and, if necessary, of giving to a Court of magistrates, or any other body that may be concerned with the exercise of judicial powers, such assistance in the way of advisers, assessors, and otherwise as may be advisable to give the confidence to the Board of Education which it seeks to possess. But I do beg of him not to attempt to substitute this bureaucratic method of doing justice for the proper recourse to Courts of law which it is the privilege of every inhabitant in this country to possess.
§ Mr. CHARLES ROBERTS
I cannot but think that the last speaker has put the case somewhat high. I doubt if the liberty of the subject or even those liberties for which we are fighting in the War are really in sight in a practical problem of this kind, but I do wish my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education would give us a little clearer view of the alternative suggestion he was outlining last night, for it seemed to me it offered a rather promising way of getting out of the difficulty in which the Committee finds itself. For my part I cannot feel that the Law Courts are ideal 1016 bodies for deciding what is an efficient school or what is an efficient instruction to be given to a child. It does not appear to me really to be a judicial question at all. It is an administrative question to be decided doubtless in a judicial spirit, and I am quite willing to admit that in making that administrative decision private rights may be affected, but it is not surely a case between parties such as those cases which come into the Law Courts, and I should have thought the problem which it has to decide—whether a school is efficient or whether efficient instruction, is being given —could best be decided in the first place by the local education authority and then by the Board of Education. I think the Committee does feel that there is a real educational case which was made very convincingly by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education, but what I imagine is in the mind of the Committee is that you might get an autocratic Education Minister or an Education Minister with a bias, that he might exercise his powers in a very ruthless, unfair way, and, perhaps do some harm and some economic damage to a private individual. That really is the point. Well, I think such an Education Minister would find it very difficult, for, after all, the first persons to decide on this matter are the local education authorities, and they would be a great obstacle to his carrying throughout England a policy which could not be commended by common sense or which perhaps laid too great a stress on some idea he had in his own mind. The President seemed to me to make a suggestion which met that danger. If he could establish a panel of independent men, who would not work, I imagine, in a hole-and-corner way, that does seem to me to meet the case. I do not know what practical arrangements the President of the Board of Education has in mind, but I think it would help us to come to a decision if he could give us words which would carry out his idea. I hope in that way it may be possible for us to arrive at a solution which would, on the one hand, protect all individual rights that really require safeguarding, and, on the other hand, enable us to get a common-sense decision on what is efficiency from the body most qualified to pronounce a decision.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD Of EDUCATION (Mr. Herbert Fisher)
I am anxious to carry the general sanction of the Committee with me on this matter, and 1017 I realise that this very interesting and instructive discussion on this Sub-section has brought out into prominence two general propositions. First of all, we have got a great educational evil to combat in some way or other. In the second place, it has brought out the proposition that there are a large number of members of this Committee who have very genuine apprehensions that the machinery of this particular Sub-section will be inimical to liberty. I am quite conscious that that is a very genuine feeling, and a feeling which I think deserves to be treated with great respect. I did at the end of the last sitting throw out a suggestion that possibly the views of my right hon. Friend might be met by the establishment of a panel, and the suggestion which I had in view was something of this kind, that we should leave out the words "Board of Education" and insert "a person chosen by the chairman or vice-chairman of the consultative committee constituted under the Board of Education Act, 1899, from a panel of referees nominated by that committee." Such a committee established under the Board of Education Act, 1899, is very representative. It is a committee representing gentlemen in various walks of life interested in education. It is not an official committee such as would incur the censure of my hon. Friend behind, and I think it could, be trusted to do even justice in any case that might be referred to it. If the suggestion finds favour with the Committee, I should be very glad to bring forward the words on the Report stage.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
May I, while thanking my right hon. Friend for the pains he has taken, point out, with great respect, that the Board of Education on the Clause before the Committee only comes in the second part, and only with reference to children attending schools which the Board can inspect? For one such case there would probably be many which come within the first part of the Clause, which deals with the local education authority—an interested party—deciding its own case as judge. Therefore my right hon. Friend's suggestion, though of great value from other points of view, does not meet the particular point, which has had a good deal of support in this Committee from Members of many different types. Might I, therefore, make this suggestion? As it stands it is for the magistrate—Court of law is rather a lofty description for a humble justice—to decide whether a child who is 1018 not attending an elementary school is properly excused from doing so. Could he not strengthen the magistrate's decision by giving power to the local education authority to inspect any place where the child was being educated against whom the charge is brought that it is not being efficiently instructed? The report of the inspection would be before the magistrate, who would decide the issue, but decide it partly on such valuable evidence given after inspection by an education officer. That is going a very long way, but it does preserve the special point, namely, that the decision is to be taken by the magistrate who is furnished with special information, and just as in the case of any house suspected of being in sanitary the sanitary inspector can visit it and make his report and the magistrate decides whether the house shall be closed, so, if it is suspected that any child is not being properly educated, the inspector can go and make a report, and it would be simply for the lay magistrate to decide the issue.
§ Mr. FISHER
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his suggestion, and I should like to have a little time to think it over. If the Committee will allow me, I will withdraw the Sub-section and consider an Amendment on the lines suggested. [Hon. Members: "No!" and "Hear, hear ! "] I will consider the possibility of framing an Amendment on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend, having regard always to the great importance of securing that, in the case of a defence being offered on the ground that a child is receiving efficient instruction, the magistrate shall have before him a report submitted by the local education authority as to that instruction, and a report furnished after inspection.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
We have now reached a very unfortunate position with regard to the Debate on this Amendment. A great number of us believe that the Amendment, and the reasons urged for it, are, from an education standpoint, wholly reactionary in spirit. We have remained silent because the President of the Board of Education last evening resisted this Amendment, and resisted it, we venture to think, on sound educational grounds. Unfortunately yesterday on an early Amendment I came into some collision—merely rhetorical collision—with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, but I was attacking him wholly on certain arguments he addressed 1019 to meet a specific Amendment. But I desire to say I recognise quite fully the high educational ideals which inspire him and inspire the President of the Board of Education, and that was why we were quite content to allow this attack against an important Section of the Bill to be developed, because it was resisted and, I thought, met with quite unanswerable force by the President of the Board of Education. But the situation suddenly changes. Notwithstanding that this Debate occupied an important hour of the sitting yesterday, and has occupied the whole of the sitting so far to-day, at the very last moment, when the case for this Amendment—which I believe to be a very reactionary Amendment indeed—has been put again and again, the President gives way, and I think he has hardly gathered the real sense of the Committee in desiring to do so. I am going to support the attitude which he took up yesterday, and the attitude which I know is felt so sincerely by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education on this point.
It becomes necessary to state the case once more, and I shall do so, but I shall not imitate the hon. Member who treated us to that very interesting essay on liberty. I was very glad the hon. Member had brought these lessons on liberty back with him, with his unique experience in that connection, but I thought the occasion was hardly relevant for that lecture on liberty, nor do I associate myself with the very extraordinary attack he made upon the advisers of the President of the Board of Education. Under this Sub-section which it is proposed to omit, this will be the procedure: If a child is attending an inefficient school, or a school that is believed by the authorities to be a wholly improper school, there are two safeguards for the school under the President's proposal. First of all, there is the local education authority, and then there is a Court of Appeal in the Board of Education itself, so that there are two eminently satisfactory and responsible safeguards for the proprietors of these private schools, and, for my own part, I cannot understand the great affection which is so suddenly developed in this Debate for magistrates and magistrates' decisions. I should have thought that when considering such a very complicated subject as what is educational efficiency, 1020 that whatever authority was a good authority the magistrate and the magistrate's Court were not the suitable authority for this, and I should have thought, too, that even the schools affected would have preferred not to have been dragged into the Courts, which are such an inadequate tribunal.
The hon. and learned Member for Middleton suggested that the very considerable compromise that was offered by the President of the Board of Education did not meet the case. I think, perhaps, the President hardly appreciated that it was really not a sound point that was being made. The President's compromise was objected to on the ground that it would not meet the case of schools that were not inspected, but the answer to that is that any school that is not open to inspection can be open to inspection by its own action. Any private school that has not been inspected, but which is pronounced by the local education authority, or by the Board of Education, not to be a proper school within the meaning of the Act, can at once open its door to inspection and invite the Board of Education to inspect it, and I am bound to say that the system of public education we have set up depends for its efficiency upon the fact that it shall be controlled ultimately through Parliament working through the Board of Education. Therefore I think to set up side by side with Parliament the magistrate's Court, or, indeed, any competing-authority, is taking a backward step on educational grounds. I can only speak for myself and for those with whom I have the privilege of acting, that we support the position taken by the President at an earlier stage of this Debate, and we shall oppose the deletion of this Sub-section. If the President, in view of the discussion, wishes to make some alteration in it, we feel that the compromise he offered was a very fair compromise indeed, and I venture to suggest, with great respect to the Committee, that it would be a perfectly fair and proper course for the Amendment to be with-drawn, and for the President's amending" words to be submitted for insertion in the Bill upon the Report stage.
Colonel Sir MARK SYKES
I should like to repel the charge which the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. White-house) has made, which is practically 1021 that those who support this Amendment are reactionary and against education. I really think he ought not to make that charge.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
Will the hon. and gallant Member allow me to say at once that I did not intend to make any such charge'? I was speaking wholly of the educational influence of this Amendment.
Sir M. SYKES
I have some notes of what the hon. Member said, but, fortunately for the hon. Member, they are practically illegible. I can assure him that there are no people who are keener, and no people who could be keener, on education than those who are associated on this particular matter. The hon. Member ought to recognise that it is not only officials and education authorities who ought to have a say in education, but that the parents are people whose views are of very great value and should certainly be taken into consideration. I submit that the opposition of the hon. Member is based upon this, that he makes many mistakes. He imagines, for instance, that uniformity is equality, that rigidity is justice, and that routine is progress. I think he does not realise that it is quite possible for people who have nothing to do with the technical part of education, or even the administrative part of education, to have quite useful views upon educational matters. Our object is not to produce sealed pattern citizens. The view here is that the questions that will arise will really be questions between the parent—that is the man-in-the-street—and the Department and a State organisation. If we are to have any decision on that matter—I do not think that magistrates are infallible —certainly not—but I think if we are to have a decision in the matter the magistrate is the sort of person who is more likely to give a right decision than any of the interested parties. One may give this example, and I am sure my case is not an uncommon one in this Committee: Many of us have had in our lives the double function of being magistrates in one walk of life and officials in another. We know that when we are officials we are hard and unyielding, and we try to enforce the official view, whereas, once on the bench, we are judicial. That being so, I submit it is not going too far to ask that the magistrate should be called upon to decide in these cases.
The position reached on this Amendment is somewhat unfortunate. We are not discussing a matter of primary educational value, and it is a great pity we should have had to spend so much time on a topic which is very largely one of administrative machinery. I cannot believe that anybody, in the course of this Debate, has deliberately used this Amendment for obstructive purposes, and I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Whitehouse) did not intend to convey that when he let slip certain words. But the fact remains that we have lost a great deal of time. If I thought it possible to come to a general agreement to support the Bill exactly as it stands, I would urge on the President to press it exactly as it is. But it is apparent from the discussion we have had here, and from views which have been expressed outside, that if this part of the Bill is to go through with any general assent it must be amended. I hope that nothing will be done that will be in the nature of reaction. I hold strongly that the magistrates have, in very many cases, neglected the educational interests of children, and the instances quoted by the hon. Member last night is a type of case which really outrages one's sense of justice. But the only safeguard we have against that is the safeguard given by the President. I think the right hon. Gentleman will realise, after the discussion we have had to-day, that it will not do to adhere to that safeguard without some form of Amendment. It is a purely businesslike proposal that he should have a chance of reconsidering the position, and I hope that those of us who hold progressive views about education, and would like to see the powers of the Board of Education pressed to their limit, will agree that it would be much better to start dealing with Sub-section (3) of this Clause denovo rather than to attempt to patch it up by certain words here and there.
§ Mr. D. MASON
I think the hon. Member opposite rather misunderstood the position taken up by the President of the Board of Education in regard to this Amendment. He does not, as I take it, intend to delete it entirely and to completely alter its sense, but he merely intends to recast it by adding certain words. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say if that is so?
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Sir ALBERT SPICER
I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (4).
I understand, in connection with this matter yesterday, in Sub-section (1) of Clause 8, we passed a provision to the effect that no exemption to attendance at school shall be granted to any child between the ages of five and fourteen years. To-day, in this Sub-section, we are asked to say that the local education authority may, with the approval of the Board of Education, make by-laws, under Section 74 of the Elementary Education Act of 1970 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. What is the state of the law to-day? In Section 74 of the Act of 1870, as amended by later Act's, power is given to the local education authority to make by-laws requiring parents of children of an age which is not less than five years or more than fourteen years, as. may be fixed by the by-laws, to cause such children to attend school, and Section 4 of the Education Act of 1876 lays it down that it shall be the duty of the parents of every child to cause such child to receive efficient elementary instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic. But, according to Section 48 of the Act of 1876, a child under this Act means a child between the ages of five and fourteen. I am informed that no later Acts have changed that definition, yet now, in 1918, we are asked to make a change in that direction by raising that age, which has been the actual right of the child from the year 1876 onwards— and it was. also employed and carried out in many cases from the time the Act of 1870 was passed. Why has this been done? It has been done entirely because it was more economical to erect buildings for children with an age limit of six years than to erect them for children with a limit of five years. We cannot forget that though the law lays down five as the age, successive Education Departments have allowed these changes to be made, and although I cannot believe that the distinguished educationist now at the 1024 head of the Board of Education will sympathise with this change, he may not always hold his present position.
It cannot be said there is any justification for differentiation as between children in different districts. Children of five or six are not wanted in the cotton industry or in other employments, and therefore the right of the child in one district ought to be the right of a child in another. I take great interest in this matter because in the early stages of the Act of 1870 I served on a good many education committees, and those of us who look back to that period will agree that we had to give a large portion of our time to persuading parents to send their children to school in order to avoid the unpleasantness of summoning them. But I never recollect any difficulty with regard to the children of five years of age. I have had a large family of my own and we have always sent our children to school at the age of five. I believe that is good for all—good for the children, good for the home, and good for the parents. But I base my case on this, that to go to school at five has long been the right of the child; it is to-day the right of the child by the law of the land, and I therefore hope that not only the President but the Committee will accept my Amendment.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I think I ought to take the first opportunity of saying that I hold exactly the opposite view to that stated by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. This Clause is far from perfect, and I have Amendments on the Paper which will make it easier for parents of children under six years of age to get them excused from school. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of schooling from five to six years of age as the right of the child By all means let it remain the right of the child, but do not compel parents to send the child of that age to school. There is something to be said for compulsory education when a child might be earning money; it is compulsory to send the child to school up to the age of fourteen, because it is a well-known fact that economic pressure on the parents may tend to make them send their children into the factory rather than to the school. It is for that reason that we bring to bear the pressure of the policeman in order to prevent parents exploiting the labour of their children. But at the age of five or six that question does not arise. 1025 There is no question of the child of that age working, and therefore the parent has to consider solely the interests of the child in deciding whether or not it shall go to school. The right hon. Gentleman told us he sent his children at five years of age. I think very few Members of this House send their children to school at that age. Generally speaking, the child is of the age of ten years before they send it. Then why turn on the working classes and make them send their children to school at so absurdly early an age? I am not saying, of course, that you should not provide nursery schools—indeed, there is some such provision in subsequent Clauses—but why should we send them into the board schools when we know perfectly well what a mixture of children there is, and the difficulty experienced in keeping their hair clean and their clothes tidy. We know, too, the influence of bad language on children at an early age, and, therefore, I say it is most unfair you should compel parents of the working and middle classes to send their children to school at the age of five. I think the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman is illiberal, his Amendment is in the direction of bureaucratic, straight - laced uniformity; it seeks to treat children and parents not as individuals, but simply as machines. It is for these reasons that I am against the Amendment, and I hope that the President of the Board, even if he cannot accept my Amendments lower down, will at least resist this bureaucratic attempt to dominate the children of other people.
§ Sir WATSON CHEYNE
I thoroughly approve of this proposal in the Bill. I do not think it can be said to be good for the health of the child—indeed, there could be nothing worse than this application of education in the form of learning reading, writing, and arithmetic to the child at this early age. During the early period of a child's life its education is carried on by its senses. Its brain is growing, and it is being educated by what it sees, hears, and feels. The brain is not developed at five years of age to a sufficient extent to be struck with intellectual things, and it is doing harm to the child to try and give it such information. It is far better at that early age merely to educate its senses—indeed, it is quite a question whether six is not rather too early to educate a child in the rule of 1026 three and in mechanical writing and other things. At any rate, I suggest it is not good for the child.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I want to reinforce what has been said by the last two speakers. I feel it is most desirable and most essential that these miserable mites should not be stuffed like Strasburg geese at this immature age. Surely the children of this age should be the joy of their parents rather than the victims of the State! I wish it were six instead of five in the first Subsection of Clause 8, but at least let us have this pointer in the right direction in Sub-section (4). I beg the right hon. Gentleman rather than to give way about it to give way in the other direction, if he can, and remember that these children really do belong to their parents, who are supposed to support them. I understand there is a strong feeling that they ought not to do so, and that the State—that is, somebody else's parents—should. They are the children of their parents, who should at least be allowed control at their tenderest age. It is supposed to be very well that they should be foisted on some kindergarten at an early age at the public expense, the public being those who include the parents. Everyone is speaking as though there were a kind of gold mine in the possession of the State where you could cut and come again, instead of the State being poorer than any Member of this House, and only owning what it can get out of Members of this House and out of the pockets of others. There can be no object in eliminating this Sub-section, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman to keep it.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
When I hear my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Wedgwood) and the hon. Gentleman below me (Sir J. D. Rees) arguing both of them from an ingrained distaste of national education, I begin to wonder
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I am very glad to find that each has severally taken the first step towards grace in repudiating the charge, and we can only accept the disclaimers and hope that their consciences are pricking them at last. Those of us who still believe in national education may perhaps be allowed to support my right hon. Friend (Sir A. Spicer). Not a word of explanation has been given, so 1027 far as I am aware, on any previous stage of the Bill as to why this Sub-section is needed at all. The country has had many years' experience!of right of parents to send their children to school at as early an age as five, and my hon. Friend and his advisers know quite well that that right has been taken advantage of in very many cases, and that in not a few of our large cities particularly the alternative has not been between the child going to school and receiving from its leisured parents such hints in the arts of life as the hon. Gentleman (Sir J. D. Rees) would give, but between the child going to school and running wild in the streets, learning many things it had better not have learned, and losing an opportunity of learning things which, even at that tender age, could be tactfully, taught. Therefore the whole burden of proof is on the Government for this alteration of the law. Everybody knows that the child between five and six may be injudiciously taught. No one is arguing in' favour of a child being injudiciously taught, but anyone with any familiarity with elementary education in large cities knows that in thousands of cases education between five and six has been wise and valuable, and has helped further education. I therefore hope very much that the Sub-section will be deleted from the Bill. I agree with the Amendment, and look forward with interest to what arguments the right hon. Gentleman can adduce for this ill-starred alteration. I know that the local education authorities have to fight against a great dead-weight of inertia and the instincts of the ratepayers, perfectly proper in the right place, and I am confident that if this alteration is made it will have the effect of discouraging local education authorities from doing the full work which they are qualified to do. The suggestion that this should be left to nursery schools is one which, I think, is not really helpful. I support the Amendment, and hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not alter the law in this respect. There has been ample opportunity for a full exercise of discretion in particular cases by the policy of the Board. Many of us think the policy of the Board since 1902 has not been quite so educationally zealous as it was before on this particular point; but in any case at present no case has been made out, in Parliament or out of it, for this change.
§ Mr. KING
I should like to call the attention of the President of the Board of Education to the nature of the support he has had this afternoon for his proposal. He has had support from my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Wedgwood), who moved" the rejection of the Bill; he has had support on his side from the hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees), who is against all education if he can possibly avoid it.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It really does not add to an argument on merits if hon. Members charge one another with motives.
§ Mr. KING
I feel very strongly about this, because it is a matter of vital importance, in my opinion, but if I have said anything unduly strong, I apologise. At the same time, allow me to point out that the hon. Gentleman who sits for a Scottish University (Sir W. Cheyne), who also supports the President, shows his absolute ignorance of educational law to such an extent that he talks about board schools. We have not had any board schools in this country for sixteen years.
§ Mr. KING
In Scotland they have; this Bill does not apply to Scotland. Probably the hon. Gentleman thinks it applies to Scotland. This, surely, is worth pointing out, that the educationists are not with the President of the Board of Education on this matter! It is those who are fighting education; and lot me also call the attention of the President to the fact that this is, of course, not a new movement he is introducing here. It is the last move in a long game, a game directed against the infant departments of our public elementary schools. I have made many speeches on this subject in the course of my life in Parliament, and I ventured to look up one to-day that I made on the 16th April, 1916. I am quite surprised, in reading my own speeches, how good they were and how utterly incapable the Board of Education were to answer them on that occasion. The Parliamentary Secretary attempted to answer me, but as I 1029 read, after two years' lapse, I see that even now I was quite unanswerable in my contention that the whole policy of the Board of Education is to do away with all these classes in elementary schools, and this is part of that policy. Of course they must put something in their place, and what do they do? They go to people who are not educationists, but are sanitarians, medical specialists, and specialists in infant welfare, and, under the leadership of people who have done great service, like Sir George Newman and Miss Macmillan, they suggest nursery schools. There is. a Clause in this Bill which would introduce nursery schools, and would very likely give them a chance of supplying a much-felt want; but let us look at that Clause 19, which is to supply eventually, if this policy is carried out, the whole of education for children up to the age of six. These -nursery schools are schools which are to supply the needs of children over two and under five. As the nursery schools are to be established, they are not to be for children between five and six at all. The time of life when reading and the elements of arithmetic are generally acquired in our best elementary schools is between the years of five and six. They are to be palmed off on to schools which are for children of two, and are to be continued in a sort of way, with equipment provided, for babies, up to six. That is going to take the place of the very best infant departments of schools, infant teaching with specialised teachers, which you can now see at work under the best councils of our country.
I venture to say that no better educational work is done in any department than in the upper classes of infant schools, and I believe the President of the Board of Education himself will not be able to get up here in answering—if he attempts to answer this discussion, as I have no doubt he will—and say that the elementary infant schools in the upper classes, say, from four to six, are not doing now splendid work where they are appointed and equipped, and have special teachers qualified for their class of work, as in the best infant schools under the London County Council. They are doing splendid work, and that is the standard that I want to see established. According to this Bill, however, and the social and medical authorities and infantile specialists, who want to see no education before the. age of six, we have a total ideal. We' 1030 have the ideal of no elementary education at all until six years, and up to that time not education as of right, but only education in a nursery school, where, as this Act says, attendance at such a school is necessary or desirable for the healthy development of the child. You are setting up instead of the old standard of a place for every child and every child in its place, which has been the policy of this country since 1870, a totally different ideal, founded on the idea of Eton, and of superior classes and rich persons who can have well-equipped nursery schools, but an ideal which is absolutely impossible of realisation in a large industrial community. I have no doubt whatever that it is in the interests of our industrial classes, and the whole industrial community, to retain the upper classes of infant schools. You cannot afford, either in the interests of the children, their parents, or their family life, to dispense with them. I look upon this Clause, instead of being progressive, to be retrograde in the very worst respect. Why, even Mr. Sidney Webb—and we all know what great ideals and great influence he has, and what a great educational enthusiast he is—speaking two years ago about the policy of the London County Council, which at that time was reducing the infant classes and was doing everything it could to turn children under four out of the infant departments and out of school—said:You are turning 50,000 children out of the schools into the gutters."That was how one of the leaders of the County Council spoke of the policy of that body, a policy which had been urged upon them and persisted in by the Board of Education. You cannot have an industrial population in close quarters, where there are women as well as men going to work and where the housing conditions mean many hundreds of persons to the acre; you cannot, I say, have a population under conditions like that without, in the interests of the health of the children, having more infant schools, without having a place for every child, with every child in its place—this to apply at least to those up to five years of age, and I should say even earlier. We are not here legislating for the people who can afford to talk about sending their children to school at ten years of age. With due respect to my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, he knows very well that that is not a real nor a practical 1031 ideal for the moment. It may come when we have the single tax. It may come when we have Socialism. But the idea of keeping from school the children until six or even a higher age is not possible under existing conditions. I do plead, in the cause of the children, for the continued existence of our infant schools. I do plead most earnestly for very serious consideration of this question. I welcome very much the support of an educationist with whom I am not always in agreement, and who yesterday I was in discord with. His very strong support of this Amendment cannot be brushed aside. Representing, as he does, the best educational judgment of the County Councils' Association, he is in favour of the Amendment moved to delete this Sub-section. I am, therefore, sure that the President must give him some response, though I hope he will consent to drop this Sub-section as he dropped the last one. Because he has one or two hon. Members behind him who are not really in favour of this Bill, supporting him for the moment it must not be thought that he is going to carry the Bill in this respect and with these restrictions upon infant schools and infant classes without very considerable protest.
§ Captain Sir C. BATHURST
I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education will not accept this Amendment. So far from admitting, as the hon. Member has just submitted, that it is in the interests of educational proficiency that this Clause should be deleted, I am quite sure that the tendency of all those who study education other than from the mere point of view of filling the child's brain with matter which very often it does not absorb, from the point of view of physical fitness, and to ensure future mental receptivity; I am sure all those who may be described as true educationalists, and of far longer vision in matters affecting educational progress, will agree that this Clause promotes educational efficiency. So far from being reactionary it is in every way progressive. I am rather surprised at the hon. and learned Gentleman for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins) supporting this Amendment, because the Clause, as it stands, gives full discretion to the local education authorities, and I have always regarded him as one always prepared to safeguard the authority and discretion of 1032 the local authority. If there are cases— and I admit there are—where in crowded industrial centres the women go to work—and this applies particularly to Lancashire and adjoining counties—and where the children have no alternative but to spend their time, to their physical and mental detriment, in the streets, an option is provided in the Bill. You can meet that case by the due exercise of the discretion of the local education authorities. But action does-not even rest there, because by the subsequent Sub-section it is within the option of ten parents to put in motion a public inquiry as to the result of which it can be ascertained whether it is or whether it is not in the best interests of the children to be educated in reading, writing, and arithmetic under the age of six years.
For many years I have been the Chairman of a council elementary school in. Gloucestershire, in a semi-industrial district. I am bound to say that my experience goes to show that there is not one child in a hundred between the ages of five and six who really gets any definite educational advantage in learning either reading, writing, or arithmetic. Furthermore, I submit that the existence of these under six children in the infant departments is a source of unrest and is calculated to interfere with the educational progress of some of the older children. These-younger children require plenty of muscular movement in order to ensure their normal physical and mental development, and the most you can do with them in my experience is intelligently to amuse them. The whole tendency, so far as I can judge, or know, on the part of those who really study these matters, not merely from the high and dry educational standpoint, but also from the physical health of the children point of view, is to promote this idea that you require intelligently to amuse these poor brats and not to-attempt to thrust so-called education into their poor little minds. There is nothing more painful than to pass a school-building in a crowded town and to hear these little children droning out in unison some rhyme or grammatical statement which they do not in the least understand. I cannot believe that such a process is in the true intellectual or industrial interests of any civilised country. I am quite sure, though I know it is dangerous to mention Germany at the present time as a pattern in anything, that in this one respect Germany has shown some idea of 1033 educational progress which we might usefully copy. She has not attempted to drive into her youngest children what we are pleased to call educational instruction. She has developed the kindergarten system to the very great advantage of her population. I am sure we ought to develop that system, for we are learning from year to year the enormous advantages which can be derived from it. I hope that this Amendment will not be accepted because I do not believe from a purely educational standpoint it is moving in the direction of progress.
§ Sir J. YOXALL
I have listened with some astonishment to the suggestion made by hon. Members opposite that in the infant schools the kind of education they have described is carried on. It is not. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wilton I know is interested in education, and I recognise the great services he has rendered to it. I cannot, however, but think he is not conversant at present with the work done in the infant schools. He may have had some unfortunate experience in the infant classes in a mixed school, but that would not be a fair application of the existing educational system. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Wedgwood) knows nothing whatever of what goes on in these schools. The Debate has proceeded on the assumption that the children go to these schools up to the age of five. They do not. The age is three, but there are many hundreds of thousands of children between the ages of three and five who are in infant schools and classes and they are taught upon kindergarten principles, and no one wants anything better than that. Trevelyan principles have long ago been left behind. An English modification of them obtains throughout this country, and some Swedish modifications of them in regard to drill and occupation. What, however, goes on in these schools for children between three and five is not reading, writing, and arithmetic; it is, so far as the buildings permit and the staff allows, distinctly amusing and educative, not neglecting a large amount of physical exercise.
§ Sir J. YOXALL
What you propose to do now is to improve upon the system of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic for the children under five. However, the proposal—and this is what I desire to call 1034 attention to—is to make it possible that a child up to the age of six shall not attend school at all. You are going to make it possible for the local education authority to close all the infant departments until six is reached. All you suggest in place of that is nursery schools—that is, for children between three and five, but between five and six there may be no school at all. This latter year is a gap in the Bill. I propose later to move an Amendment to cover it. What I desire to suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary is that in dealing with this particular Amendment he should deal with the whole Sub-section, and state what is the intention of the Board of Education in regard to that gap of a year. However, what I really rose to do was to say that in my experience and knowledge the strictures of the hon. Members are not well founded.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I understand the right hon. Gentleman will presently give the views of the Department, and I wish to say that I attach myself largely to the views of the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. There was a time when there was a strong Radical sentiment in this country in favour of retrenchment and liberty and against State compulsion, and if there is any kinship at all to these old Radical doctrines we should not leave it to the Unionist Members to voice it. Can it be defended that the State machine should put its paw upon children before they reach the age of six 1 It does commend itself to me that in those early days, when health is being considered and when the first budding of individual character is taking place, these children might be at home where the parents so wish it, and they would do much better under a kindergarten system. Why should the State machine not be satisfied with putting its paw upon boys and girls of the ages already provided for? I do not think we should hurry up with this abominable State intervention, which, I am afraid, may destroy the individual character of the children.
§ Mr. FISHER
I propose to ask the Committee to consider the terms of the Sub-section, which I regard as constituting a very important educational reform. It is a reform which has been advocated in very influential quarters for a long time past. We had a Committee appointed by the Board of Education sitting upon this question of the school attendance of children below the age of five, and their 1035 Report was submitted in 1908. The consultative committee rejected a proposal to raise the minimum age of school attendance to six solely upon the ground of the average shortness of the school career, but where the age was raised by one year the Committee agreed not that the age should be six instead of five, but that the local authorities should have power to make by-laws exempting children between five and six from school attendance under stated conditions. This Sub-section in the Bill gives effect to that recommendation. The conditions upon which that recommendation has been based have been been realised by the acceptance by the Committee of Sub-section (1) of Clause 8.
The hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. King) said that we were setting up by this Sub-section an ideal which was absolutely unrealisable in a great industrial community. In any great European country, so far as I am aware, and certainly in the United States, school attendance does not begin until six years of age. I am afraid that it is very rare for children to attend elementary schools before they reach the age of six years Therefore, the general educational practice of the world is in favour of formal instruction beginning at the age of six, and not five. Whatever may be the argument for or against that particular course, it is quite clear that the alternative we offer is not that which lies between a well-ordered home and school, but between school and playing in the streets. It is quite clear that any general raising of the age to six would be accompanied by great inconvenience unless there was some provision made for the care of the younger children who otherwise might be thrown upon the streets. I submit that the ideal age to which we ought to work up by slow degrees is a school age beginning at six with ample provision for the care and attendance of children below that age. In making this proposal and advocating this Sub-section, I hope I shall not be accused of wishing to stay the admirable work which is being done in infant departments by elementary schools. There is no intention of interfering with infant departments so organised. I think the Committee will realise that there are already sufficient precautions provided against facilitating the raising of the age contrary to the wishes of the parents in any particular area, and I think those safeguards 1036 are very efficient and ample. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will accept this Sub-section as it stands.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I beg to move, in Sub-section (4), to leave out the word "may" ["may with the approval of the Board of Education"], and to insert instead thereof the words "shall on the request in writing of not less than ten parents of children attending public elementary schools in the area."I wish to make it easier for parents to secure the realisation of the five-year rule, and to enable them to bring pressure directly to bear upon the local authorities with a view to getting this by-law passed and compulsory education realised up to six years. I think the hon. Member for Nottingham should remember that although we may be educational experts,, or think we are, we were not educated at board schools, and we are not in the same position as regards our practical knowledge as far as board-school education is concerned. I have had the privilege of going over many such schools in England, France, and Germany, and wherever I spoke to the people in charge of those schools they all bewailed the fact that the younger children kept back the older children, and consequently the education of the older children was being retarded. Of course, that is the opinion of education experts, but we ought to see when we are passing a Bill inflicting greater additional burdens upon the working classes and the lower classes that we give-them all the safeguards we can, and all the minor advantages we can where the real interests of education will not be injured.
If we have voluntary nursery schools up-to the age of six, and then compulsion up to fourteen, I think you have got the most you can expect to get out of the parents. Where the mothers have to go out to work. they have to send their children to the nursery schools, but the better-class people can keep their children at home instead of having inspectors coming round badgering their lives out of them. Under my Amendment, where ten parents choose to petition the local authority they can force that authority to consider the passing of a by-law. In this matter I want to give the initiative to the parents 1037 of the children concerned instead of leaving it solely to the local education authority. I do not see any harm in that, because the parents of the children are the people primarily concerned with the education of their children. The means they have now of bringing pressure (upon the local education authorities are very small, but by this Amendment you give them an opportunity of bringing direct pressure to bear, and then you will get the true wishes of the parents translated into by-laws, and this will be better than if you simply left it to the education authority alone.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I should like to indicate my approval of this Amendment. I am afraid the President of the Board of Education is not going to accept it. Nevertheless it really is very much in keeping with the opinions he has already expressed upon the last Amendment, which I am glad to think he did not accept. Why should not the education authority be influenced by the parents? Who could be so fit as the parents to urge what they should do in regard to their children? I sympathise with my hon. and gallant Friend's attitude in regard to the parent. On every occasion I will speak up for the dignity of parenthood and for parents exercising that influence which I believe they should exercise on behalf of their children, an influence with which no other body elected by the ratepayers or the State can compare. The parents ought to be allowed to exercise influence in regard to the fate of their children, and it is cruelty to force education upon them. I do not believe hon. Members in their hearts think that children can be educated at five. What is at the bottom to their minds is that this proposal will provide the children with a better home than their own homes.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I apologise, and I quite agree that what I said was subject to that criticism, but as I was attacked by the hon. Member for Somerset I was tempted to reply. I am sure that there is a strong body of opinion behind an Amendment like this, and I ask the right hon. Gentlemen to give it careful consideration.
§ Mr. FISHER
I am afraid I am unable to accept this Amendment, because it involves a very serious interference with the rights of the parents. According to this 1038 Amendment if ten parents desire a certain change they will be enabled to get their way.
§ Mr. FISHER
Yes; I know it is with the approval of the Board. They can institute proceedings, and they have to make a case for the approval of the Board of Education. Under the ordinary operation of the Sub - section the local education authority, of course, will be influenced by the parents, and if they feel that there is a general view that the age should he raised they will doubtless raise it. It is much better to leave it to the local education authority. After all, they are ordinary citizens and representative ratepayers, and it is much better to leave it to them to take action than to give ten persons the statutory right of going to the Board of Education in this matter.
§ Mr. PETO
I should have some difficulty in supporting the Amendment, because the number of parents named, ten, perhaps in a district including 10,000 parents, is too small to indicate any general view on the part of the parents that they desire to have a little latitude as to keeping these small children under the age of six at home and under their own care, instead of sending them to school. Subject to that criticism, I am entirely in agreement with the Amendment, and I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will divide. The only answer we have had is that the number ten is too small. Probably it is, and I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will agree to substitute 100 parents.
§ Mr. PETO
Ten per cent. would be a still higher number. I do not mind what the number is so long as it is sufficient to indicate a substantial body of opinion in favour of a little freedom in the matter of the educational care of small children of nursery age. I do not say that all poor children have the advantage of a nursery —of course they have not—but there is a vast number of poor people where the alternative to compulsory attendance at school is not playing in the gutter, but being looked after by their own mothers in the way that our forefathers were looked after, being taught homely duties, and, above all, obedience to their parents, which they must entirely lose if they are taken away from their parents as soon as they can speak and are subjected to 1039 the control of certain officials provided by the local education authority. I am certain that is no substitute for the home life of these small children. I therefore maintain, if a hundred or ten per cent. of the parents in a district say that they wish an Order made making attendance below the age of six voluntary instead of compulsory, that their wishes ought to be attended to, and that the Order ought to be made. I hope the hon. and gallant Member will substitute some larger number than ten, and that he will then divide upon the Amendment.
Sir F. BAN BURY
I agree with my hon. Friend, who has just sat down, and may I condole with him on his unfortunate accident? Ten parents are really too few in a large area, and they could not be held to represent anything like a sufficient volume of opinion, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would alter the number say, to 10 per cent., or something of that sort, I fail to see why the right hon. Gentleman should not accept the Amendment, because it in no way compels the Board of Education to increase the limit of age. All it does is to say that if there is a sufficient number of parents in a given district, they may represent to the local education authority their views with regard to the education of their children. Then the local education authority can go to the Board of Education and say, "Such and such a view has been expressed to us, do you approve of it being carried out?" What is the harm of that? It was stated yesterday that people who were better off than the ordinary person who sends his child to a board school would not do certain things with their own children, and that therefore those who send their children to board schools ought to be put into the same position. Is it not the privilege of parents who send their children to Winchester to see the headmaster occasionally and to represent their views to him? I do not say that he is bound to accept them, or that he would do so, but at any rate they can see the tutor of their children, or even the headmaster, and discuss matters with him. If a sufficiently large body of parents desire to have even an interview with the right hon. Gentleman himself—I am sure that they would profit by it—why should not they have it? I think it would tend to make education popular in the country. 1040 Therefore, as this Amendment seems to be a reasonable one, provided that the number is made larger, I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept it.
§ Mr. BOOTH
The "ten parents" selected are taken from the next Section. The Board themselves say that they will hold a public inquiry at the request of ten parents about this very by-law, so that the argument which the right hon. Gentleman has used does not go very far. He said that he did not want to be approached by ten people, and that there ought to be more before he was obliged to review the matter; but ten people can interfere at a later point, and they can compel, not merely attention, but a public inquiry, with all the expense attending it. Ten parents, therefore, are to get a very much better thing than merely initiating proceedings. I take it the real objection is that in this cast the ten people would effect a very great change. That, however, would only be provided that the Board of Education agreed. If the ten parents came from a small school where there were only forty or fifty children, I have no doubt that the Board of Education would think the number sufficient for them to look into the matter, but if they came from a huge city the Board would probably say that it was only a little clique, and just acknowledge their communication. All these people would be able to do would be to communicate with the Board of Education, and I cannot see that the right hon. Gentleman would be sacrificing very much by allowing the initiative to be given to the parents. His answer that the local education authority is popularly elected is not correct, because there are co-opted people and teachers sitting upon it, and there are generally a few old maids, not that they are not competent in education. It does not at all follow that the local education authority is sympathetic to the general population. After they have been meeting a number of times on these committees people get specialists and want to run the Department. They think that the more children they get and the bigger the machinery becomes, the more important they are. It is so in every walk of life, and it would be a difficult thing to get any proposal through the local education authority in face of the opposition of the teachers and the authorities of the school if it were thought that the proposal would lessen the attendance and lead to a lowering of salaries or a loss of prestige. 1041 When it is conceded, as it is, that children do not get any advantage between five and six and may suffer great disadvantage, there ought to be some optional place, and instead of saying it is a choice between the school and the gutter, why not choose another phrase and say it is a choice between the school and the parks or the fields, as it would be in the majority of cases. At any rate, I hope the municipalities will keep the gutters and streets clean. In the great bulk of cases the children will either be at home, or, if it is fine, on the doorsteps, or on their parents' allotments or something of that kind. Very often in industrial centres the father is only at home in the day time. What could be better than that he should look after these children between five and six and even younger, and take them with him to his allotment and associate with them. All that we plead for is that where a case
§ can be made out the parents should have the very small privilege of communicating with the Department and asking them to look into the circumstances.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I think it would facilitate the operations of the Committee if I were to move to amend my Amendment by inserting after the word "ten" the words "per cent. of the," so that it would read "not less than 10 per cent. of the parents of the children."
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The Committee will recollect that the Question I put was, that the word "may" should stand part of the Clause. We must therefore dispose of that first.
§ Question put, "That the word ' may' stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 188; Noes, 3.1043
§ 6.0 P.M
§ Sir J. YOXALL
I beg to move, in Subsection (4), to leave out the words "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," and to insert instead thereof the words "if such children regularly attend at a nursery school provided and maintained by the local education authority and recognised by the Board of Education" I move this Amendment in order to draw the attention of the President to what appears to be a hiatus in the provisions of the Bill. The Bill proposes to set up nursery schools for children over two and under five years of age. The Sub-section before us empowers the local education authority not to compel attendance at school before the age of six, so that the child must leave the nursery school at the age of five. It is assumed that in the case of an infant school a nursery school is provided. I am not in favour of compelling children under five or six years of age to go to school. If I had my way, I would have no child commence systematic teaching until seven years of age. Any earlier instruction is educationally wrong. But what is the situation? You have all over the country parents who are very anxious that their children should go to school quite early, many of them, I am glad to think, because they now recognise the benefits of the presence of their children at school, but more, and perhaps most of them, because they want their children out of the way. You can sympathise with them. The house is small, and washing, cooking, and baby-minding have to go on 1044 under the charge of the good woman. She is glad to get three or four children of four, five, and six years of age away from her while school is open. The parents, therefore, want this education for children of two years of age and upwards. The President tells us, and I think he is right, that education such as this is merely an attempt to supply a kind of substitute for the infant school in the way of the nursery school for children of over two and under five.
§ Mr. FISHER
May I point out that Clause 19, Sub-section (1), says:Under five years of age (or such later age-as may be approved by the Board of Education)
§ Sir J. YOXALL
Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to make the age six. in connection with this particular Subsection? I do not oppose this Sub-section, if I can be assured that there will be a place in lieu of the infant school now provided, or some institution equally good from the point of view of the parent. I can understand that the local education authority might, in order to economise and to prevent the building of new school departments, adopt this by-law. I therefore put down my Amendment to secure that in cases where the by-law is put into operation and the infant school is not available for these parents, there shall be a nursery school available in its stead. I do not press the Amendment or bring it forward in any strong fashion, but simply to draw attention to what will arise under the Sub-section.
§ Mr. FISHER
I was a little doubtful as to the exact meaning of the Amendment until I heard the hon. Member's observations. I see now that he wants to secure that in cases where a local education authority under this Sub-section makes a-by-law raising the age from five to six, 1045 there should be a provision of nursery schools covering that age, between five and six, so that children should have an opportunity, if necessary, of going to school between those ages. That, I think, is a matter which will certainly be present to the Board of Education when the question of sanctioning by-laws comes up before them. I think really there is no necessity for the hon. Member to press the Amendment.
§ Mr. KING
This is the sort of Amendment that is really rather trying to those who are wanting to help the President to make this a better Bill. He says he is at one with the object of it, but "we will not put it into the Act of Parliament. Trust me. Trust the Board of Education" The Board of Education varies and even the best Presidents do not last very long, and the Board of Education would only be strengthened by having such a provision as this in the Bill. We ought to have some better excuse for not inserting it. The principle is admitted and no one says a word against it. Why not put it in the Bill?
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (5). After the last Division I have not much hope of getting any satisfaction here. The educational experts are all in favour of these new powers, but still it is right that someone should voice some sort of protest against this development. This power given to all the local educational authorities of the country enables them to give vocational education to children under fourteen, and to start the works school. On the Second Reading this idea of vocational training has been confined to the ages above fourteen. In this Subsection power is given to start vocational schools under fourteen, and even at five years of age there may be specialist training for particular muscles of the hand and eye, and the industrial machine can be started on its career of technical development. I protest against turning children into machines at the age of fourteen, and still more below that age, and combining factory and school, stopping education and starting technical training at an earlier age than has been considered possible hitherto. There is nothing much more 10 be said on the question. It has been debated over and over again. The Labour party apparently accepts the idea that the children of the working classes are to be 1046 turned into material for the manufacturers. Some of us will still protest against this, even though we are voted down in the Lobby.
§ Mr. FISHER
The object of this Clause is not to introduce vocational education into elementary schools, but to increase the efficiency of the practical training of a general kind already given in those schools—to increase the efficiency, for instance, of the handicraft classes and the physical training given in those schools. As education develops we are developing also a class of specialist teachers, and it is economical, and also a condition of efficiency and progress, that the influence of those specialist teachers should be felt. When I say specialist teachers, I am not advocating any undesirable form of specialisation. I am merely advocating efficient education, and it is a recognised maxim of the Board of Education that a general education can be given to children not only through books, but also through the senses, and it is in order to improve that type of education that this Clause is introduced.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I think that requires some further remarks. The point about this is the words "whether conducted on the premises or not" Hitherto the instruction has been given in the school by the teachers who are accustomed to teach the children Now you are handing them out and putting them into-the factories or into the fields. There is nothing to prevent local education authorities, under this new scheme, having the children trained to milk cows or toll edge and ditch. There is nothing to prevent them being turned into cotton factories or engineering factories. Any scheme outside the school premises is, to my mind, particularly dangerous, and that is why I protest against this Clause.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I beg to move, in Sub-section (5) after the word "child" ["power to direct that any child"], to insert the words "over the age of "thirteen" My object is to confine this power of the local authorities to children over thirteen, so that under thirteen they will not begin to specialise in trades.
§ Mr. KING
My hon. and gallant Friend must not have works schools on the brain. There are other kinds of schools, like cookery centres and drawing classes, and 1047 under the highly organised educational system of some of the large towns and county boroughs you get these highly equipped schools, especially for the upper standards, and the children are sent from the schools to the centres; and this Clause is not, I hope, to be used at all works schools, but for these centralised schools, where the highest and best education goes on and attendance at which is regarded as a privilege and a prize and with the greatest enthusiasm by the scholars. Therefore I think this series of Amendments, no doubt well-intentioned, is really rather due to misconception and misunderstanding.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
There is no safe-guard as to how they are going to be used in the future. That is the real difficulty.
§ Amendment negatived.
Colonel Sir M. SYKES
I beg to move to leave out the word "special" ["for the purpose of practical or special instruction"]. I do not wish to press this if the right hon. Gentleman can do anything to meet the views of those who fear that the word "special" might be used to cover certain forms of instruction on biology and biological facts which many people feel ought not to come into ordinary education, but ought to be imparted by others, if the parents wish that information to be imparted to their children.
§ Sir P. MAGNUS
I do not see that there is any valid reason for putting in the word "special" The word "practical" really covers everything which the President of the Board of Education has in view and which is thought desirable by those who are strongly in favour of different kinds of practical instruction, whether manual or scientific. The fear was suggested by the Mover of the Amendment that the words might in some way or other be made to include a certain sort of religious instruction. I am quite certain that was not in the mind of the President of the Board of Education or of any of those who framed these Clauses. But if the President would consent to omit the word "special" —looking at it from the educational point of view I really do not see that there is any advantage in the retention of the word —I believe it would satisfy the desires and wishes of a very large number of people in this country.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I regard the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir M. Sykes) as one of the most advanced Members of this House, and I want to remove an unfortunate impression that I succeeded in conveying to him at an early stage of the proceedings. But whilst I desire with great sincerity to pay him that tribute, I think the Amendment is really a reactionary one. If you take out the word "special" you limit the character of the instruction which you may give to children in special cases, other than in the elementary schools, to practical instruction. The word "practical" in the educational world has a very special and limited meaning. Roughly speaking, it is the practice of some handicraft as opposed to the theory. The word "special" is necessary, because without it you would exclude all kinds of educational training and lectures which could not be held to come under the term "practical" For instance, a lecture on art in an art gallery would be special instruction, but it would not be practical instruction. Again, an intellectual course at a free library would be special instruction and not practical instruction. It is no good the hon. Member shaking his head. I am sure the President of the Board of Education or the Parliamentary Secretary will not dispute anything I am saying. The Amendment, which was moved with great moderation, cannot be accepted from the educational standpoint, because it raises educational issues of very great importance. There is a progressive movement—the hon. Member for London University will be well aware of it—that seeks to unite to the elementary and other schools the work of the free libraries, the local museums, the school journey, nature study, and so on, and it is necessary to bring these agencies within the ambit of this Clause. Therefore, I am sure, while the right hon. Gentleman protects, and very properly protects, himself from the Amendment, he is not going to deprive the schools of these new spiritual opportunities for education, using the word in its widest sense.
§ Sir C. BATHURST
I do not often find myself in accord with the views of the hon. Member (Mr. Whitehouse), but on this occasion I am entirely in accord with the views he has expressed. I hope the President of the Board of Education will give some assurance that the provision is not likely to be interpreted in the direction which my hon. and gallant Friend fears, and that we may retain that 1049 which is valuable, so that we may coordinate the practical work with what is sometimes called the literary work of the schools. I have been connected with a movement, both in Wiltshire and Dorsetshire, for many years for promoting school gardens, and rendering those school gardens a real engine of education through those counties. It is not possible always to find garden ground on the premises of the school, and it is sometimes necessary to allot plots of land in connection with local allotments where the children can do the practical work of the garden. It is found necessary and desirable where you have separate premises, or, indeed, where you do not have separate premises, to carry on some work which shows in theory the underlying science of that which is actually being carried on in a manual way. In connection with the school gardens, there ought to be something in the nature of instruction in botanical science, mensuration, which is a most important form of instruction, and the actual mathematics of mensuration, practical and applied mathematics, and also elementary physics. That sort of education is not going to be complete, and is not going to be really valuable as an educational force unless you have what I may call the literary side of it carried on in co-ordination with the practical work.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I should like the President of the Board of Education to inform the Committee what is meant by "special" In dealing with the Amendment he only used the word "practical" He made no reference to the words "or special" We have had two explanations. I should like to have one from the President of the Board of Education, and I should like to know what is the cost of these schemes. The hon. Member for Lanark conceived them in his usual grandiose and expensive style. Does my right hon. Friend accept it? Is that what the Committee have to accept as being comprised within the words "or special"?
§ Mr. FISHER
We want the word "special" in this Clause for reasons which have been stated by the hon. Member for Lanark and the hon. and gallant Member for Wiltshire. A considerable amount of instruction is already given in elementary schools which can hardly be described as practical instruction, and yet I think it can properly be described as general instruction. It is desirable that this instruction should be given by a specialist in 1050 some centre at which the children can be conveniently gathered. While I think we ought to have the word "special" in the Clause, I can give my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir Mark Sykes) the assurance he desires, that the type of instruction to which he objects is not the type of instruction which has been, or will be encouraged by the Board of Education, as they consider it is entirely unsuitable for class-instruction.
Sir M. SYKES
After the explanation given, I think that the objections which. prompted this Amendment have been met. I do not desire in any way to prevent such plans as have been adumbrated by the hon. Member for Lanark, or the hon. and gallant Member for Wiltshire. That which. I objected to is of a different character, and I suppose we may take it that it will be a fixed policy of the Board of Education that there will be no question of that kind of instruction being introduced. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. KING
I beg to move, in Subsection (5), to leave out the words: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.This is a very unfortunate passage which has crept into the Bill. It is not creditable to its author, and it will not be creditable to this Committee if it passes it. It deals with a new phase of the religious question, and brings in against the professions of the Board of Education and the President of the Board the religious question. We have just passed the first part of this Sub-section, which allows children to be taken away from the schools to a museum, an art gallery, a cookery centre, an art centre, or a science laboratory or workshop, and the class can be taught there. Now we are proposing that if the children go to one of these centres at nine o'clock, and so miss religious instruction in the school for the first half-hour, facilities must be given afterwards for making up the religious instruction which they have missed. I do not want to raise this religious question. I am quite willing for it to be ruled out of the Bill, so that we may get on with the education question, 1051 but I do object to its being regarded as something so necessary on every mortal day that if you do not say your prayers in school one day you must say them double time another day, or if you go to a class before the prayers are over you must take up your time afterwards and say your prayers. It is a ridiculous proposal. I have no doubt it is a proposal made with due regard to those people who place importance upon daily religious observance for the children, but to pursue that idea to such an extent that if you take the children away from the schools and they miss prayers they must make up the time, is certainly ridiculous. You are not only by this proposal making a ridiculous suggestion, but you are also imposing an extra duty upon the children, disorganising the schools, and taking up-more time in fitting in this religious exercse. If it is desired by the parents, let it be done, but let it be done apart from the obligatory nature of this Clause. I hope the Committee will be sensible enough to see that, though this proposal may have been introduced quite properly and with good intention, it is rather absurd. It will be very difficult to carry out, and is quite unnecessary.
§ Sir E. PARROTT
I think the hon. Member must know little about the inside of a school and the working of a school, or he would not have presented such a view. This proposal is merely for the purpose of rearrangement of the time-table. Supposing children are taken to a picture gallery or a museum, and they miss the Scripture lesson, and they are not to make up the Scripture lesson at a later period, what will it mean in schools where they attach great value to religious instruction? It will mean that the children will not be able to go to the art gallery or the museum, or to other places for outdoor lessons. The proposal is to enable the child to take the Scripture lesson at some later period. There is no difficulty or trouble about it. It merely makes it easier for the time-table to be rearranged.
§ Mr. FISHER
The hon. Member (Sir E. Parrott) has put very succinctly the object we have in view, and I have nothing to add to what he said, except that the Sub-section as it stands does, to some extent, interfere with the arrangement sanctioned in 1902. We do not want to raise a religious controversy, and we 1052 feel that if some special Clause were not inserted the managers of voluntary schools might have a legitimate grievance, and might say that there was a departure from the settlement of 1902, which we are pledged to maintain.
§ Mr. KING
The hon. Member (Sir E. Parrott) says I know nothing of the inside of a school. I do not want to boast, but I do know what I am talking about. I had a distinct case in my mind, which had come under my own experience recently as a manager. You have girls taken away from an elementary school to a cookery centre. They go from nine o'clock in the morning for the whole attendance of the school until twelve at the cookery centre. If there happens to be on that day some religious instruction, such as catechism, and it is considered important that they should have the catechism instruction, the alternative there is not bringing the class, because one or two of a certain class or standard go away and you break up the class. Of course, if you were taking the whole class for a certain time you could easily make up the time, but in the case of these schools of practical or special value you are constantly taking numbers of children from different classes to a certain centre and you are therefore breaking the harmony and routine of that place, and cannot give any facility for religious instruction unless you give it specially or give it on the double to the other children from whom they have been separated. My objection is largely based on the question of practical working. This will not work in practice. It will cause friction and annoyance, and many teachers in voluntary schools who may be even devoted and enthusiastic about religious instruction will not bless the President for imposing this difficulty upon them. I know what I am talking about, and I shall certainly vote against this proposal.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I desire to support the Amendment. Unless it is accepted real difficulty will arise. This Bill, as drafted, makes it mandatory upon schools which avail themselves of the privilege of taking children to enjoy new spiritual influences elsewhere, if they do so during the hour of religious instruction, to reorganise their time-table and give that instruction at another time of the day. By making it mandatory you discourage schools from availing themselves of these new experiments in education. If managers of schools 1053 know that they will have to reorganise their time-table it is a distinct discouragement to them to proceed upon the path of advancement. I really do not think that catechism or any other form of religious instruction would be in any danger owing to this Amendment and the taking away of these children to these new influences would in itself be a great spiritual education.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I do hope that those who are very keenly in favour of religious education will consider what they are doing if they pass this Subsection as it stands. I wish to reinforce what has been said by my hon. Friend as to the practical difficulty that will present itself to the teacher. Those who have been teachers will know the constant difficulty that presents itself when the regular routine of class work is broken, no matter in what class. That is bad enough, but when you have got to consider in an afternoon whether child A or child B is going to be taken out of the class next morning and sent to some special class outside the school during the time for religious instruction, you will have it very clearly in your mind that if you do that you must take those two children and give them special religious instruction separately at a time when you are supposed to be teaching other things, such as geography and mathematics, which are also in the time-table. It cannot be done and it will not be done, and in a great many cases, especially in the smaller schools, where the staff is limited and the work is very worrying and very crowded, the teacher will decide that the children will not be taken for that special religious instruction, and they will be left to the ordinary religious instruction and deprived of the other liberalising influences that this Sub-section provides. Many managers want this special instruction, and I know that they want it very keenly in a great many schools where managers can quite easily make their arrangements, and "may" would be a sufficient direction to the authorities to make this provision. It is the intention of the Committee in passing this Clause that the children should have full facilities for those lectures, and so on, and also that the managers of the school should see that this instruction did not entrench on the time for religious instruction. But it is not the intention of this Committee to put one against the other and to compel teachers to say, "If. I send the child to what I consider a 1054 necessary and liberalising course of instruction, is it going to upset the whole of my work and compel me to have a class in geography, reading, and writing, and at the same time take three or four children for special religious instruction?" That is a very bad provision. I hope that the Committee will seriously consider what should be done from the point of view of the teacher and the time-table arrangement.
§ Mr. ALDEN
There is no doubt that if you take children away and give them some special instruction, either in the school or elsewhere, and then ask the teacher to find some other time of the day in which to give special religious instruction it will seriously interfere with the routine of the school, and, whether you believe it or not, the teacher dislikes very much to have the routine interfered with. He knows perfectly well that what will happen is this, the religious teaching that is then given is perfunctory and superficial. In fact, I should not be at all surprised if what happens is that this religious teaching is given at the same time as other lessons, and that the teacher will say to the scholars who are gathered together, "Take your Bible and read a passage of scripture, "or," Take your catechism and read a certain portion," while at the same time other things are being taught. I do not think that that is paying due respect to religious instruction, but that is what will happen. What the President has inserted is surely rather stronger than what is required in the circumstances, because, wherever managers insist on religious instruction, religious instruction will be given and they will find the time for it, whatever inconvenience the teacher may be put to. It seems to me that "may" would be quite enough, and I would recommend my hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment if only the President will accept "may" instead of "shall"
§ Colonel Sir R. WILLIAMS
In considering this matter let us remember what will happen. The time-table is fixed for the school and no teacher can alter it. It provides that the first half-hour of the day shall be given to religious instruction, and if my hon. Friends below the Gangway do not think that this is of importance I can tell them that religious instruction is beginning to be regarded more and more as a very vital part of education, and many teachers to-day are 1055 making more and more out of it, and say that to give up religious instruction altogether would be a most fatal thing not only for the children, but for the nation. Now when it is said that you are to allow these special visits, to cookery classes, and so on, to be made during the time allotted to religious instruction, the answer to the hon. Member is that cookery classes cannot be given until the register is marked, which cannot be before a quarter to ten o'clock. The corollary is this, that cookery lessons cannot begin until after religious instruction is over, and all the rest is mere camouflage and wasting time. The hon. Member for Edinburgh stated the position exactly, and the arguments that have been advanced since have very little reference to the facts. While teachers do not want their time-table broken through they do not want cookery classes given at nine or a quarter past nine, and by taking care that religious instruction is given at the proper time, the teacher might have the whole of the rest of the day perfectly free, and no difficulty would arise
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I think that it would be very unsatisfactory to have a Division taken on this Amendment, because I believe that this Bill, which we all equally desire to become law, might be imperilled if the religious controversy were raised on it. I hope that it is not for that reason that my hon. Friend moved to omit this Sub-section, nor do I suggest that it is. But what I am afraid of is that if there is a Division on this point it would, both in this House and out of it, sow the seeds of religious discord. We have all agreed that this Bill ought to leave the religious compromise exactly where it was before. I am not satisfied that the Clause as drafted is really the last word that can be said on this case, and a point on which I would like to ask my right hon. Friend is—if this Sub-section is now retained in the Bill—of course it will be, Division or no Division—would he consider between now and the Report stage whether there is any other way of putting what we all want, so as not to give any excuse to any teacher for depriving the children of the special instruction because of embarrassment in the arrangement of time for religious instruction? While I am quite sure that it is unreasonable to ask my right hon. Friend to strike out the Sub-section, which is of great importance as showing the 1056 bona fides of the Committee with regard to the compromise, I do ask him to consider whether the practical difficulties could not be readjusted by a rather better form of words.
§ Mr. FISHER
Of course it is very difficult for me to refuse an invitation to consider whether a difficulty cannot be got over, but I have explored very carefully the difficulties connected with this Clause, and I find that as a matter of practice it is very difficult to provide these new types of instruction without not infrequently impinging upon the hour generally allotted to religious instruction. That being so, it is, I think, necessary, if we are to preserve the spirit of compromise of 1902, to have a provision of this kind.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. KING
I am very much obliged to the President of the Board of Education for stating what I only tried to state, as a practical point of view, that there were difficulties created in connection with this question. The hon. Member for West Dorset and the hon. Member for Edinburgh declared that there were no difficulties at all, and that it was only my profound ignorance that caused me to imagine them. But now we actually find the President of the Board of Education saying that there are difficulties, and to him my gratitude, therefore, is immense. I should be prepared to withdraw my Amendment if the right hon. Gentleman would accept the word "may" instead of "shall" I think that would meet with the acceptance of all of us, and would remove my objection that this. Clause would act adversely to those who are not in favour of universal religious education. I believe that there are special cases where the parents or others feel that certain religious instruction for their children should be given, and I think in in those cases the use of the word "may" instead of "shall" would get over any difficulty.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. KING
I beg to move, in Sub-section (5), after the word "afforded" ["be afforded for enabling such child"], to insert the words "in such cases and in such manner as the Board of Education may approve" I think this Amendment, if accepted, would modify the actual difficulty and possible injustice which might occur in the working of this Clause. I do not want to put the obligation in such a way as would 1057 be severe, onerous, or impracticable. If we adopted such means as I suggest, we should get over nearly every practical difficulty the existence of which the President of the Board of Education himself quite admits. The effect of the Amendment would be that special facilities could be arranged, as, for instance, in a large urban district where the children are taken away from different classes and different schools to attend centres where they are carrying on cooking, or drawing, or some other special instruction, and this proposal would authorise the making of special arrangements in respect of the religious difficulty arising in various cases.
§ Mr. FISHER
I think the objection to the Amendment is that it treats the matter as being of more importance than it really is. We consider that the local authorities will be quite capable of arranging matters in connection with these classes, and it would be very cumbrous if the Board of Education were brought in on every occasion to pronounce on mere questions of detail.
Sir M. BARLOW
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (5), to add the words,Provided also that nothing in this Section shall prevent a parent from choosing a school or class which his child shall attend where there is more than one school or class availableI move this Amendment with a view to elicit information from the President of the Board of Education. The Clause as it stands, by Sub-section (5), provides a new power in elementary education. It gives the local education authorities the right to compel the attendance of a child at a school which had not been selected by the parent. It may be that it is a salutary power, but at any rate it is a new power, and I want the Committee to realise what exactly is the issue. The provision of these classes for practical instruction are a development of recent times, and they are very desirable and useful for the development of special instruction, and so on. It is not possible to conduct them at a very large number of centres, but if you are going to compel the parents to allow the transfer of their children during a certain number of hours from one school to another, then I think you ought to give the parents at any rate as much liberty as you can, so 1058 that if there is practical work being conducted in the area in more than one school the parents shall at any rate be allowed to choose which of two schools they prefer. But in addition to that, there is a further point: I cannot quite make out what is the object of this Subsection. The Committee will remember that when we dealt with Clause 2, providing for the setting up of central schools, which were to be whole-time schools, and attendance at which was for a month, or six months, or a year, or whatever the time may be, the point was raised that once the child was transferred to the central school from a public elementary school the child ceased to be a member of the old school and became a member of the new school.
The central school apparently is allowed power to take the child away from its school area to be sent to the central school for the rest of its school existence. If that be so, it is a great innovation of the powers given to local education authorities by the Education Act, and it does interfere with the right of selection by the parent of the school to which he shall send his child. I suspect I shall be told that is not the meaning of the Sub-section, and that its object is to provide for taking the child away from the regular school, chosen by the parent, and sent for a short time to classes—an hour, or two, or three hours a day, for a certain period of time, and then it returns to its own school for the rest of the time that remains. If that is so, there is less objection on the ground of the curtailment of the parent right to select his child's school. I do think, however, that the Clause ought to be a little clearer than it is. The key word of this Sub-section is "practical," and in Clause 2, which provides the central school, the key word is "practical," and anyone called upon to consider the two provisions would be in a difficulty, because one deals with children taken from one school to another for practical instruction as the be-all and end-all. Under Clause 2, therefore, if there is any question as to the exact scope and meaning of this Sub-section, it might very well be that it was the intention of the law to deal with the school to which the child is transferred as a central school. If that is so, we are at once brought up against the difficulty that you force upon the parent an entirely new system of education, and force him to 1059 keep his child at a particular school for the rest of his school-life—whether he likes it or not. The President of the Board of Education might make this Sub-section a little clearer, showing that it is only the intention to force the parents to send their children to the central school in cases of limited scope.
§ Mr. FISHER
I have no difficulty in giving my hon. Friend the assurance he desires. The key note of this Sub-section, if I may say so, is the word "class" in Sub-section (5)—shall attend during such hours as may be directed by the authority any class, whether conducted on the school premises or not"This Sub-section does not- deal with central schools. There is no desire under this Sub-section to transfer a child permanently from one school to another without the consent of its parents. That, of course, would be a very objectionable procedure and it is not contemplated under this Sub-section.
§ Mr. FISHER
The objection to the words going in is that I think the arrangement would be impracticable. It would be very difficult to work. You would, for instance, have a cookery centre, and the normal operation would be that children of a certain age should go to a cooking class at a certain hour. Are you to allow every parent to object and to say, "We would rather send our child to another school" I think it will be very difficult to work it out.
Sir M. BARLOW
I will only say in reply to that that the word "available" in my Amendment would deal with it. It says "shall attend where there is more than one school or class available," that is to say, available as giving this particular kind of instruction. However, with the assurance that has been given to me by the right hon. Gentleman, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The next Amendment stood in the name of Mr. PETO.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am sure the Committee will be pleased to allow the hon. Member (who was lame) to remain seated while speaking.
§ Mr. PETO (seated)
I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (6). 1060 I cannot help being surprised somewhat that the right hon. Gentleman should have thought it necessary to put this Subsection into the Bill. It is open to very great objections. I would like the Committee first to consider what is provided under Section 11 of the Elementary Education Act of 1876, which is referred to in this Sub-section. That Section commences as follows:If either—(1 The parent of any child above the age of five years who is under this Act prohibited from being taken into full time employment, habitually and without reasonable excuse neglects to provide efficient elementary instruction for his child; orI call the Committee's attention to the effect of this on parents of any child above the age of five years. Five years, as the President of the Board of Education has pointed out, is the school-commencing age in this country. At the end of the Clause it says:Any of the following reasons shall be a reasonable excuse:(1) That there is not within two miles, measured according to the nearest road, from the residence of such child any public elementary school open which the child can attendI ask the Committee, considering a child of five years old and no school within two miles of that child's home, whether that should not be held, and has always been held since the Elementary Education Act of 1876 was passed, to be a reasonable excuse for the child's non-attendance at school. What does this Sub-section propose to substitute for it? One would have thought that if it was necessary to abolish this protection of parents, that they should not have to send a child of five to walk more than two miles each way to and from school—one would have thought that something definite would have been put in its place. We should have been told it is quite a reasonable thing for a child of 5½ years of age to be required to walk more than four miles a day. But not at all. This Sub-section says "there is not within such distance as may be prescribed by the bylaws" This is one of my principal complaints against the Bill as now framed. Constantly, in almost every Clause, you come up against the same thing. We have not anything definite, but we are told this or that is subject to something the education authorities may approve, subject to by-laws on this, that, or the other; and I defy any parent to say what will be the state of the law when this Bill actually becomes an Act of Parliament. In this 1061 case we have a very sensible rule for small children that it was a good excuse for non-attendance if there was not a school within two miles. I expect the President of the Board to give some good reason for departing from that rule. Unless we get some reason to convince me, I certainly j propose to press this Amendment to leave out Sub-section (6), which will leave the whole matter absolutely vague and undetermined.
§ Mr. FISHER
This Sub-section was devised with the object of remedying a very small anomaly in the law. It does not make any substantial alteration. The enforcement of attendance at school is secured partly by by-laws, made under Section 74 of the Elementary Education Act of 1897, and partly under Section II of the Act of 1876. A local authority which proposes to prosecute a parent for not causing his child to attend school has to decide under what section it will proceed. In the great majority of cases the local authority proceeds under the by-laws, and under those by-laws it is a reasonable excuse for not attending school—and consequently a ground of acquittal in case of prosecution—if there is no public elementary school which the child can attend within such distance, not exceeding three miles, as the by-laws may prescribe. The by-laws may prescribe three miles, or two miles, or one mile; they may prescribe three miles, say, for older children and two miles for younger children. Allowance is made for local variation. It may be reasonable to require a child to walk three miles to school in a flat country and very unreasonable if the child lived on a mountain; it may be reasonable for a child of a certain age and unreasonable for a child of another age. The general object of this Bill is to secure this power of variation, which is desirable. If, on the other hand, the local authority proceeds under Section 11 of the Elementary Education Act of 1876, instead of varying according to the age of the child or the locality in which he lives, there is a hard and fast limit of two miles. The distinction between a prosecution under the bye-laws and a prosecution under Section 11 of the Act of 1876 is that under Section II there must be evidence that the non-attendance at school is habitual, and we get the absurd result that if a by-law mentions a limit, say, of 1½ miles, the parent who lives two miles from the school could not be 1062 prosecuted under the by-law, but could be prosecuted under Section II for habitual neglect to provide for the education of a child. If the hon. Member argues that children should not be required to go three miles to school, and that the universal maximum should be two miles, the answer to that is that his Amendment would not have that effect. Parents can still be prosecuted for not forcing their children to go three miles to school. One of the objections to the existing Education Acts is that they are so complicated as to be almost unintelligible to a layman, and a great effort is being made under the present Bill to simplify them as much as possible to make them ripe for codification, and it is hoped that the House will not object to this small alteration, which would be really for the general convenience.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
Will the right hon. Gentleman not put in the words, "not exceeding three miles," and that would bring the by-laws and Section II on the same footing, and it would be the same, whether a prosecution was taken under one or the other?
§ Mr. BOOTH
I am not altogether satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman has given a complete answer to the hon. Member for Devizes. It is a very favourite method for the Front Bench now, guided by their officials, to find something which is a little analogous, and then say they are remedying some incongruity. We hear that frequently, and it invariably results in a little less liberty for somebody and a little more power for a Department. We have had no assurance—and I should like to ask whether one can be given— that as a result of this Amendment anybody will really suffer an injustice. It is quite clear that some children who are now too far away, and cannot attend are brought in by this Sub-section, and it is something more than remedying an anomaly.
§ Mr. PETO
Before we leave this, may I ask one question? Would it not, as a matter of fact, be correct to say that where there is a prosecution for non-attendance in the case of a small child the magistrates are well aware of this Subsection of the Act of 1876, and it never would succeed if there was no school 1063 within two miles, and that therefore really there is a protection at present which it is proposed to sweep away?
§ Mr. FISHER
I am afraid I am not sufficiently acquainted with the law to enable me to say whether in all cases magistrates can take that view. It would require a very considerable amount of knowledge of the law, but, in any case, this Sub-section does remove a very serious inconvenience.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will further consider the point I have suggested, because I would point cut that if the words I suggest are not put in you will have the extraordinary position that a prosecution under the by-laws direct would not be good, that if the local authority provided four miles as the limit the prosecution would not be good, because under the old Act they could only prescribe three miles; but that under Section 11 of the Act of 1876, combined with this Subsection in this Bill, it would be good, because it says under Section 11 "within such distance as may be prescribed by the by-laws," and if the by-laws prescribed four, five, or six miles the prosecution will not be good under this Sub-section.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I object to this method of drafting these Bills by reference to all sorts of things. It is a simple thing to avoid all these difficulties with regard to by-laws by simply stating in a short Clause here exactly what the exemptions shall be for the future, and wiping out all enactments which deal with that point. That is the proper thing. The short Debate we have had on this Clause shows the sort of inconvenience that arises. I could not follow the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman when ho spoke of prosecution under by-laws of the Statute of 1876. I would like to ascertain, if he would explain, how it arises that there can be by-laws which prescribe one set of exemptions and the Statute which prescribes something different. I should have thought any by-laws would necessarily derive their authority from the Statute. Would he not consider my suggestion to put in quite clearly what the exemptions are to be, and repeal everything else?
§ Mr. FISHER
Perhaps the hon. Member would submit an Amendment on the Report stage. No doubt we should like to have such a clear Clause as he has in mind, but there is this difficulty, that there ought to be some power of local 1064 variation. I submit there is some advantage in leaving it to the local education authority to determine the reasonable distance for a, child to travel to school in a particular place.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill"
§ Captain A. SMITH
I should like to say one or two words about this Clause. I have explained to the House on more than one occasion my sincere interest in the advance of education, and in this case it is perhaps just as well to explain what my position is. The Bill as a whole very vitally affects the great industry of Lancashire and adjacent counties; and not only that, but the whole of the low-wage adult workers. When this Bill came before the House on its First Reading, we went through it, and we found great merit in it. We decided to test again the feeling of: the operatives connected with the great organisation of which I have the honour to be vice-president, and not only test their feeling by ballot but to recommend that they accept this Clause as in the Bill. I had hopes, as others had, that the opinion formerly held and expressed by that great body of workers would perhaps have been altered, and certainly altered in a far greater degree than we ultimately found to be the case. We cannot be surprised that the great volume of opinion of operatives was against altering the age. I believe personally that the Clause will do infinite good, but when you reckon this Clause and take the other disadvantages which they are likely to suffer by succeeding Clauses, you can readily understand the position and feeling of a man and his wife, or a widower or a widow, with a family, as to what their financial position would be under the Bill. I feel that whatever may be said in this House this Clause must be carried. I feel that I could not possibly get anyone to tell with me had I to challenge a Division on this Clause. All I can do, in the name of all those people who are affected by it—and they have certainly a right to have their opinions expressed in this House—is to convey to the House and to the President of the Board of Education their feelings on this matter. 1065 We had hoped that the age, at any rate, if fixed at fourteen, would remain at that. We tried to get by Amendment the privilege for our local authorities in different areas to extend the age to fifteen, which was lost, although, as I said on that Amendment, I did not think that there need be any fear of any local authority in any industrial centre of Lancashire putting that into operation; but saying that does not remove the fear of the people, and if we could have fourteen perhaps that would be better. The hon. Member for Lanark moved an Amendment which I thought then, and still think, would have been an advantage to some of the working-class families. I do not think the Committee really understood, and I notice in the papers to-day that they did not understand, what that Amendment really was. As I understand it, that Amendment in effect was that if parents had a child at an elementary school at fifteen years of age, and the parents thought that in the interest of the child, and taking their circumstances into consideration, the child should go on attending the elementary school until sixteen, they would be only too happy to give the child that privilege, not seeing their way to send it to either a secondary school or a continuation school. I voted for the Amendment on those grounds, and I believe there again it would have been a great saving to many families if they could have had that privilege without having to be put to more expense.
I ought to say, to do justice to a great number of people, and an increasing number of people, in Lancashire, that to my knowledge, and to the knowledge of everybody who has anything to do with education in Lancashire, that a tremendous number of these people have made very great sacrifices in order that their children should receive the education which the country offers. I hope this Bill will give a further stimulus in that direction. Having said that, although I cannot see my way to challenge a Division, thinking it quite useless, as I am sure it is, having satisfied myself that I have expressed the views I am sent here to represent, I hope the President of the Board of Education in the future conduct of this Bill will give some ear to the hardships that will be inflicted if the Bill is carried in its entirety
§ Mr. BOOTH
This is the second warning we have had from Lancashire Members on the Labour benches that this Bill is far in 1066 advance of the public demand, and I think they are right in that. I take it there is not the slightest intention or putting this Clause into operation for some years, and that, at any rate, there will be ample notice given to everybody concerned. There is no doubt that the vote to which the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Captain Smith) referred does not represent to the full the antagonism there is in that district against this Clause. People who were vitally concerned had no vote. There were a large number of voters who were not personally interested. I am not advancing this as a reason why we should not take a step forward if the House thinks fit, but rather to make an appeal that some preparatory work should be done. I understand there will be some years before this blow falls upon tens of thousands of working-class homes, because it will be a blow, I do not say from an educational point of view, because it will be a blessing, but it will be a blow financially, and a very heavy blow, and no one who knows anything about the industrial conditions of Lancashire and the West Riding would challenge that for a moment. A great deal may be done in the way of preparation, and if some announcement could be made that there will be three years before the change would become operative, I think it might do a great deal. People would have this in mind, and would be able to some extent to rearrange household expenses.
We cannot forget that on this Clause a Division was taken as to whether we should give some maintenance allowance to those who have to attend between the age of fourteen and fifteen. The Committee rejected that, so I presume the Committee will take an antagonistic view of the other question when it comes to be moved on Clause 10. There is no doubt whatever that if the working classes realise what this will mean to them there will be a violent agitation against it. Hon. Members can easily find out for themselves. Let them go casually amongst working men, and particularly amongst working women, not on a political errand or a mission of canvassing, or for some particular mandate, but let them talk about the weather or the war news, and then gradually bring the subject up. Not more than 1 or 2 per cent. of the working people in the North of England fully realise what this Clause means. They know that something is going to happen, and that the age is being raised, but with 1067 regard to the abolition of half-time under fourteen, which this Clause practically enacts, and compulsory attendance up to fourteen, and see how many working women actually realise what it means. I think most Members will be greatly surprised. I am not urging that as a reason why this House should not do its duty, but it must be plain to the Government that if they put this particular Clause into operation before the next General Election they will lose dozens of scats.
I know right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite desire to get the Government out of office. Perhaps that will account for their attitude on this Clause. Still I am not going to attribute any unworthy motives to them. I will only point out that when they were in power they did not bring in a similar proposal, and they did not do so because they knew that if they did they would lose the next election. I am a supporter of the present Government, and if an election lakes place I hope it will be returned again, but I do want to warn them against putting into force at once a provision of this kind which is greatly in advance of public opinion. After the National Insurance Bill was passed, the country had to be agitated in its favour. Here is a Bill which is much more important—much more weighty, and the Government have a chance, if they choose, to secure public support for it before it is actually in force. One of my main reasons in speaking now is to ask whether something cannot be done to educate the people, to prepare them for this change, and to reconcile them to an advanced measure of this description. It is necessary to explain to them, to prove to them, the ultimate permanent advantage to their children of having a better education, and if that be done the people may be willing to suffer the temporary inconvenience which will be the result of the enforcement of the proposals contained in Clause 8. There is a good chance to do it now. Wages are very high, and there will be no unemployment for a good many years after the War. Statesmen of all parties surely must recognise the importance of securing general popular assent to a great change of this character. This is an advanced step. I am glad to say that the members of the Labour party have done a great deal towards educating the people on this matter. They have put the other two big parties to shame in that way, but still the work 1068 has not been done sufficiently well for the Bill to at once command general assent. Women are going to have votes; these very women, by the operation of Clause 8, will have their actual incomes seriously diminished, and this will have been done without their being consulted in any way. I therefore would like to have some indication, which we have not yet had, that the actual passing of this Bill will not be the end of the matter. I take it I am not unreasonable in assuming this Clause will not come into force for two or three years; therefore the interval might very well be spent in preparatory educative work.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I rise for the purpose of associating myself with the observations made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Captain Smith). Like him, I sit for a constituency which is very largely affected by the proposals of this Clause. I also agree with the last speaker (Mr. Booth) that this proposal for the abolition of half-time employment is in advance of the opinion of the people who are likely to be most affected by it, and I very much regret the fact. My own views on the question are not the views of the constituency which I represent in this House. I think, however, I may modestly claim to be amongst those Members of the Labour party to whom the hon. Member referred as having incurred unpopularity by advocating in season and out of season the raising of the age for compulsory attendance at school. I have to the best of my ability during the many years I have been associated with the constituency I represent tried to educate the electors upon this matter. I have endeavoured to point out to them that, taking an all-round view, the half-time system is not to the advantage of the industry with which they are associated, and I think that the work we have done has borne fruit. My hon. Friend referred to the last ballot among operatives in the textile industry as having showed a remarkable advance in a few years upon this half-time question. The previous ballot was on the question not of raising the age of full-time attendance at school to fourteen, but to thirteen, and on that occasion the majority was something like four to one against it. But this is a much bigger question, and yet I believe the majority was only about two to one against it. That shows that though we have not yet succeeded in converting the people of Lancashire to our views regarding the 1069 half-time system, we have nevertheless in a comparatively short time made very remarkable progress indeed. I think if this proposal for the abolition of the half-time system had not been associated with other proposals which are practically an extension of the half-time system to eighteen years of age, the opposition to the abolition of the half-time system at fourteen would not have been so large numerically as it was.
But, like my hon. Friend, I realise that this is not the time to press our opposition to the proposal. I should not go to the extent of voting against it under any circumstances, but I have always associated the abolition of the half-time system with the necessity for adopting other reforms at the same time. There are a great many things intimately associated with it, and if you touch one without making a corresponding change in regard to the others you are apt to arouse considerable opposition. Therefore I would urge the importance of delaying the operation for some time of this particular Clause, so that, in the meantime, the people may readjust themselves to the change. Several things are needed before the change is made effective among them an extension of the system of scholarships, and also an extension of the system of maintenance. I agree with what the hon. Member for the Clitheroe Division said as to the financial hardship this Clause will entail. Suppose you take the average wage of a half-timer at 4s. a week. That means that the parent will lose, as a result of raising the age from twelve to fourteen, a sum of £20, and that is a considerable amount in cases where there are many young children in the family. Nobody can have read the reports of Sir George Newman as to the physical condition of children in industrial districts without recognising how deplorable it is that such a large percentage of the children should be thus affected. I would suggest that at the same time as we are providing additional educational facilities we ought to provide means for the physical maintenance of the children, and I hope that that will be borne in mind and that steps will be taken to ensure it before this Clause comes into operation. I do not know whether the opposition to this Bill will be so expressive or extensive as the hon. Member who spoke last appears to anticipate. I do not know that I ought to make the confession or not, but the 1070 fact remains that I have not received from my Constituency, greatly interested as it is, any indication either in favour of or against this Clause. I am well aware that this question of half-timers has in a good many cases been a determining factor in the result of elections. However, the House of Commons has made up its mind that this Clause should be passed from an educational point of view, and I heartily welcome it, and in the time which elapses between the passing of the Bill and its coming into actual operation I shall do all I can to try and get carried certain economic reforms which will be some compensation to the parents for the sacrifices they will be called upon to make by having to keep their children at school for two years longer.
§ Brigadier-General HICKMAN
I rather gathered that the hon. Member opposite (Captain Smith) might be inclined to move the rejection of this Clause if he could find anybody to tell with him, and I only rose to inform him that if he does move the rejection and press it to a Division I shall be only too glad to act as his co-teller.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I have listened with much interest to the last speeches that have been delivered, and I am bound to say I disagree entirely with the idea that the House of Commons should on a matter of this great importance be governed by fear of what may occur on the next occasion they appeal to the constituencies. Our duty is to say whether or not the conditions of the times are such as to call for an alteration in our educational system. If it is in the interest of the nation that we should have a general levelling-up of the standard of education, and that it can only be obtained by the abolition of the half-time system, and the advance of the educational age by two years, we ought to have the courage to do it. I am surprised to hear that the people of Lancashire, whom we have hitherto regarded as advanced thinkers like the Scottish, are not in favour of this proposal. It is true the cotton industry of Lancashire is largely concerned with the employment of juvenile labour, but I should have thought that Lancashire by this time—and the West Riding of Yorkshire also—had come to the conclusion that in any advanced movement for the general amelioration of the condition of the population, it is not possible to 1071 consider merely business interests. These interests ought not to be allowed to weigh in the scale against the interests of the whole community, and if it is in the interest of the whole community that a universal standard should be established in order that workers may pass freely from one county to another or from one portion of a county to another portion, on an equal footing in regard to education, that surely should be the consideration governing our action.
My experience is that parents will undergo very considerable privations in order to enable their children to have the benefit of better education. I had the honour, years ago, to serve upon the School Board for Tottenham, which, at that time, had no less than 25,000 children in daily attendance. We had a very considerable experience, and I am bound to say that in those days the parents did make sacrifices—I believe the area has very largely increased since—to enable their children to get all they possible could. I have consistently advocated a system, not necessarily the one referred to by the hon. Member on the other side of the House, of auxiliary help in the shape of maintenance, but I have constantly advocated, and shall continue to advocate, the widest possible opportunity being given to everybody to benefit right from the elementary schools to the universities in order that the best brains may be got, at the public expense if need be, for the benefit of the State. If that is to be done on the one side, we must look to those who have the care and feeding of the young to make some sacrifice on the other. I do sincerely hope that though there may be something to be said, and probably there is a good deal to be said, for explaining the Bill and giving practical illustrations of how it would work in different districts where it would be applied with less hardship than in others, possibly the Government might see their way to be able to apply it somewhat on the principles of the Trades Boards Act, so that they might be able to test its efficiency in working and where the shoe pinched less than in other districts. I hope the Government will realise that if we are to benefit and to have a permanent advance in the system of educating our people—because we must have it in order to compete with our present enemy, who 1072 has done so much in the past, as we know to our cost, to make his people perfect in regard to commerce, and education has largely helped in that respect—we must take this step whether it is popular or unpopular. I think there was never a more mischievous doctrine than that the House of Commons must determine its action by whether that action will be popular in the country. Let us be true to ourselves, and, in the memorable phrase. "Damn the consequences !"
§ Mr. PETO (seated)
I think the Committee ought to have very clearly in mind the extraordinary statement made by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) just now. He told us how much he and his fellow Members had been doing to educate opinion in Lancashire on the subject of this Clause 8 of the Bill, and that in spite of the education they had received the majority in the recent ballot on this important question of the raising of the school age and the abolition of half-time was only now two to one against. He told us that he had not had a single letter from a constituent either for or against, and that is really the point to which I want to call the Committee's attention. I agree with the hon. Member for Ponte fract (Mr. Booth). I have been asked in the South of England during the Recess amongst the agricultural labourers with whom I have conversed about the Education Bill. They asked, "Why are you going back to London?"—"I am going back for the Education Bill"—"What is that?" The country does not know anything about it, and now comes the hon. Member for Ealing (Sir H. Nield), who says it is the duty of this House to pass such Bills as this without having regard to the effect on the Government or on Members of this House or whether they are popular or not. What is the doctrine us laid down by the hon. Member for Blackburn and the hon. Member for Ealing? It is this: In the middle of a war we are to pass what is not only an educational but an industrial revolution. We are to tell the country nothing whatever about it. We are to be perfectly satisfied with passing this so secretly that a Member representing a district like Blackburn does not receive a single letter either for or against. The people of this country believe that Parliament is here to carry on the War. People would not believe it when I told them that we were coming back here to go on with the Education Bill, and that it proposed to 1073 raise the school age, to abolish half-time, and to provide for 320 hours a year up to eighteen, and things of that kind. They have never heard of it. Is that anything remotely resembling our ideas of democratic Parliamentary Government? I think it is nothing short of scandalous that we should be told by Members representing Lancashire constituencies that they are not going to divide against this Clause though they know their constituents are bitterley opposed to it—two to one on the latest ballot-—because the House has apparently made up its mind to pass the Clause. I only say that because I feel bound to point out that these revolutionary Clauses are going to be passed, not only without there ever having been an election but without the knowledge of the country, and I think some protest ought to be made against carrying on legislation in this manner.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I was very glad to listen to the speech made by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto). The doctrine put forward by the hon. Member for Ealing (Sir H. Nield) is one that I have often maintained in this House. I think that when we decide here a question of right or wrong we ought to disregard the wishes of our constituents. But I think we ought to be very clear as to what is right or wrong, and I do not think that this question—
§ Sir H. NIELD
May I rise to a point of explanation? I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend does not wish me to be misunderstood. What I meant to say was this, not that we should disregard the wishes of our constituents, but that we should do what we regard as our duty without regard to what may happen hereafter.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
That is what I meant. The hon. Member for Ealing and I would decide questions absolutely disregarding what is the consequence to ourselves at the poll. and only as to whether a thing is right or wrong. I think we ought to be quite certain in our own minds that we are judging with all the facts and arguments before us. As the hon. Member for Devizes has pointed out, this question has not been discussed in public. The constituencies—perhaps my own is an exception—do not know, as a rule, that the school age is being raised to fourteen 1074 universally, and to eighteen for 320 hours a year. They simply cannot believe it possible that such a thing should be passed during the War; we who are here know perfectly well that it cannot be enforced during the War, and I do not suppose the Government intend to enforce it for anything within five, ten, or even twenty years from now. It is a question of getting the teachers and accommodation. I do not think, however, we are justified in imposing these very heavy burdens upon the people of the country without having them thoroughly well discussed in this House, and that is what has not been done. On the Second Heading and on the Amendments hitherto a series of educational experts on every side have been discussing the detailed effect of minor Clauses in this Bill on education. What we really ought to look at is the economic position of the parents. The hon. Member for Blackburn has put his finger on the spot, as he very often does. This education problem has become not merely a religious or even an educational expert problem, but an economic problem of the parents of England, and it is one which should be approached from an entirely different point of view to that of an educational problem. You have at the present time the majority of the parents of this country in such a position that they are physically incapable of sending their children to school, because they cannot afford to do without their wages. We have discussed this Bill as though it were simply a matter of the education of the children, and not of the economics of the home. We have, unfortunately, passed this Clause without providing any maintenance for the children to be kept at school.
I want to put in as few words as possible a point of view that has not been put so far. It has been agreed that the parents of this country are willing to make very great sacrifices for their children. We all know that of the working classes. It has been shown in Lancashire that there are at least one-third of the parents of Lancashire willing to make the sacrifice of their children's wages in order to send them to school until they are fourteen. That is a triumph of human nature when you consider what the circumstances of those people are. It seems to me that in this problem there are two schools of thought. The first is the one that does not think it possible to get more parents self-sacrificing; that does not believe it possible that economic conditions can be so improved by 1075 trade unionism, syndicalism, or any other form of political organisation; that does not think it possible so to alter the economic situation or so to improve the stamina and character and devotedness of the parents that they will voluntarily make the sacrifice. There is the other school, which, taking its extremist view, disregards the parent altogether and takes the view of the hon. Member for Ealing that what is good for the State must be carried out by the individual willy-nilly. Many think that as Germany has done this, we must make our people do it also. Just as we adopted Conscription because Germany did so, we are to conscript these people now in relation to the schools. That is the extreme Nationalist view—that the whole population of the country are made for the nation, and are to do what is in the interests of the whole nation, disregarding the individual who has to obey these laws. I think it is time now that the Board of Education made some attempt to harmonise these two differing views. I do not see why it should not be possible in certain cases to allow a voluntary raising of the age, to provide the accommodation for the children in the schools up to fourteen, and to see whether the parents would not send their children to those schools. If they did, those parents would be better people for the rest of their lives, and the children would be better people for the rest of their lives. They would feel that their parents had made sacrifices for them, and the parents' self-respect and moral character would be better than those of any parents who had been conscripted into this sacrifice instead of making it voluntarily. We all know the enormous value to self-respect and moral character of having done a thing voluntarily. By making your rules and regulations, by saying that the children shall go to school, and that if the parents do not send their children to school the parents shall go to prison; by treating, I say, the problem in that way you lose the enormous moral advantage you would get from a people like ours, who are willing to make an enormous sacrifice, to be unselfish and self-sacrificing for the good of the children. There are certain parts of the country where. I am confident, public opinion would force the parents to keep their children at school. 1076 Everyone knows that if Mrs. Jones next door sends her children to a secondary school Mrs. Smith will also send hers, for she does not want her family to fall behind the other family. Public opinion is only to be resisted up to a certain point. One-third of the parents in Lancashire, at present, keep their children at school to benefit their education. If that proportion, instead of being one-third, was one-half, the other half of the population would fall into line, because they would not dare to have it said that they had fallen behind their neighbours in their love for their children, in the spirit of self-sacrifice for them. In the matter of recruiting at the end of the first year of the War people did not volunteer to fight because they wanted to fight; they went because the pressure of public opinion was such that they could not stay at home. That principle applied to education would give us an educational system which would be enormously in advance of that proposed. In the first place you would get more self-sacrifice and more devotion to children. In the second place you would get an enormous improvement in the character of the education given. At present the teachers know that their classes are there, and whether they arc good or bad teachers, whether they are heart and soul in their work or not, whether the schools are good or bad, the children have to go there, and, just like sausages out of a machine, arc treated by the ordinary educational syllabus, and are turned out so-called men and women at the age of thirteen. If attendance at these schools were voluntary, if parents did not feel compelled to send their children, there would be competition, between one and other of these schools to keep up their numbers, and to improve their method of teaching. This latter would be infinitely in advance of present day teaching, because there would be a natural competition between teachers to keep their schools up to the standard. You would thus get a healthy competition which would mean good teaching, which would mean the real mental and moral education of the children who came under that tuition. I do not say it is possible to have or to do this now, but the idea to be kept in view is the provision of facilities coupled with moral stamina amongst the parents of the country which would induce them, apart from the pressure of public opinion and apart from the pres- 1077 sure of real sound ethics to send their children to school, because it would be a benefit to the children.
§ Sir J. D. REES
My object in speaking on this Clause is to say that there are some features in it which obviously must lead to considerable expenditure, and on no occasion when I have asked the Minister of Education to indicate what was the cost of any particular feature, and in particular this sub-Clause, has he given me any approximate figure, or indeed any information at all on the subject. I am well aware that it is not possible to give accurate estimates. I am also aware —one must know—that it is extremely difficult to apportion in any way the sum mentioned as the probable cost of this Bill amongst the different items. That must be admitted. Nevertheless, I do myself feel that at any time it would be right, when a "Rill is being passed, that the cost of it to the taxpayer should be one of the most important matters that the House of Commons could consider, and particularly now. If that is the case—and this is one of the great operative Sections of the Bill—if I am right in holding that which nobody would deny, how much more is it necessary at this time to take account of the cost and let the House know exactly where it is going in a financial sense as well as from an educational point of view? When we remember that at the present time the country is staggering under burdens which it is almost impossible to bear, and that further burdens, for other purposes than education, must inevitably be imposed upon it before we are through this War, we should be occupying our attention with that to the exclusion of every other subject at present, including education. While I possess a zeal for education not inferior to that of any other Member of this House, I must protest that hon. Members who have addressed the House upon this subject have simply made accusations against others who, they said, had less interest in education than themselves. These hon. Members in their remarks have clearly betrayed one thing —that they want to provide an alternative home for the children. It is not education they are after, but a home—an alternative home from what they call the gutter, though it may be from the green fields, which I consider one of the best possible places of education for the children! However that may be, they ask for an 1078 alternative home. I submit it is no function of education to provide a home for children, and that the money which is expended under that head should be debited to some other account than that of an Education Act. It is because uopn this score I have received no satisfaction, indeed, no reply from the Minister in charge of the Bill that I am speaking. I have received copious explanations which were totally unsolicited from the hon. Member for North Somerset, who has taken upon himself the function of explaining this Bill to all hon. Members who have been seeking explanations from the Front Bench. I have received explanations from that hon. Member, but I still look for information which I hope I shall receive from my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench. That he cannot give accurate details and information I know, but it is at least possible that he should be able to say something upon the subject. I believe his chief, the Minister for Education, has stated that the rough cost of the Bill to the country will be £10,000,000. This I already see largely encroached upon by the Clause about which I am asking for an explanation. I expect to get some answer, even if it should be necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he cannot give me the information for which I ask. I want it at any rate, and if it is impossible to estimate the cost of the Bill, let it be so stated. Let it be made clear to the House that under the present circumstances of stress and storm, when it should not be considering any subject save the provision of men and money for the War, it is engaged upon the consideration of a Bill without regard to the cost. It may be all right. Let it be stated so. Let the House know exactly where it is going and what it is doing, and then I have nothing more to say.
I really think my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Wedgwood) has got to the root of the matter in that he wants to provide on all occasions for what he considers true and real education, while preserving the authority of the parent, which I agree with him it is most important to preserve. He does not think the provisions of the Bill are known to the country. He includes in this Clause 8, one of the most operative and most important. He is very likely right. If so, that is still more reason why we should know, and why it should be explained with the utmost care 1079 from the financial point of view and in its economic aspect. I confess I do not know whether the provisions of this Clause are well known to the electors of the country. I do know that proposals are being made which must interfere a good deal with the provision of labour at a time when labour is exceedingly scarce and likely to be more scarce. The Bill, however good it may be—and I am far from disputing that—is not a timely measure with which to occupy the House at the present time. I have been told that the extra cost in connection with one of these Clauses will be £4 16s. per head. I had that given to me privately by my right hon. Friend, not in the Committee. If you take into account some hundreds of thousands of children, that will mean a considerable amount of money out of the total of £10,000,000. My right hon. Friend below (Mr. Lewis) has been good enough to give me his complete attention, for which I am very grateful. I know that no one is more capable than the right hon. Gentleman of dealing with educational matters, of which he possesses the greatest acquaintance, and, like all Welsh Members, he has a most burning interest in this subject. I hope, however, that he will not accuse me of any less interest in education, because I desire to have some information as to what this measure is likely to cost. It is not possible to have anything regardless of cost. One hon. Member spoke rather impatiently in regard to my reference to the cost, and he said that the State would meet the cost. May I point out that the State is his own pocket, and he does not seem to realise that every working man has to pay these charges through indirect taxation? I hope my right hon. Friend will devote a few minutes to the financial aspect of this question, with special reference to the Clause before the Committee.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Herbert Lewis)
May I point out, in reply to the last speaker, that my right hon. Friend, at the earliest possible stage of this Bill, gave an estimate which was the best we were able to give of the probable cost of this measure? Since then, in the course of the Debates on the Committee stage, questions have been addressed by my hon. Friend with regard to the cost of particular provisions in this Bill. I regret that for the moment I am unable to recall them, but I remember one question in 1080 which he asked what the cost would be of a particular provision, when, as a matter of fact, it was wholly impossible for my right hon. Friend, or anyone else, to predict how many local education authorities would adopt that particular provision. My own belief was that only a very small number would be likely to adopt it, but whatever the number, small or large, it would be absolutely impossible to give any estimate whatever of the cost.
There is one general observation I should like to make, and it is that all the nations which have made, I will not call it expenditure, but an investment in education, have found it to be the best investment that any nation could possibly make. It is impossible to furnish statistics as to the probable results, or to say how many millions will be produced by the expenditure of so many millions upon education during the next few years, but I can say with conviction that the country can look forward with the fullest confidence to receiving, in one way or another, I believe materially and directly, a return which will amply compensate it for its expenditure. There is also a return which we can neither value nor measure in money—in fact, it is beyond calculation and beyond price—and I believe that this country of ours will receive a rich reward as a consequence of the expenditure which it will incur upon the provisions of this Bill.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I wish to take this opportunity to disclaim some of the ingenious suggestions which have been made in reference to some of the observations which I made earlier in the Debate. It shows the tendency there is directly an hon. Member expresses his views to distort them, and to give them a meaning which was never intended. My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Wedgwood) said that I desired the conscription of parents to send their children to school. On the contrary, I wish to see the curriculum so widened that every child will desire to go to school to get that information imparted to him. It has been suggested that I am advocating the passing of a measure which is not understood in the country, and my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto), who is always so very forcible in the manner in which he addresses himself to this particular aspect of Parliamentary life, is perfectly entitled to say that, in one sense the Bill 1081 is not understood. I supply the answer, and I say it is because the proceedings of this House have ceased to interest the country. Our Debates are no longer reported in the newspapers, and quite rightly, because our business is to get on with the War.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
That is a general statement which may or may not be true, but it has no particular relevance to Clause 8.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I think the country has ample knowledge of this Bill. Previously we have had a similar Education Bill withdrawn on account of pressure of time, and if the country does not understand this question, or the agricultural labourers of Wiltshire do not understand it, then it is their own fault. Therefore I think my remark in regard to what may happen to us hereafter if we support this Bill is quite justified.