HC Deb 02 August 1935 vol 304 cc3038-61

12.54 p.m.


I should like to raise a matter which was raised in the House on Tuesday last. It is one of the glories of our Constitution that every citizen, however obscure, who feels a sense of grievance against a State official, however highly placed, may have the opportunity of voicing that grievance, whether it be well or ill founded, in Parliament. I hope to exercise that practice this afternoon, and to voice a grievance which is deeply and genuinely felt by the managers and teachers responsible for the carrying on of a humble church school in one of the poorest working-class districts of Manchester, and on their behalf, and also on grounds of public policy, to make an appeal to the helpfulness and generosity of the Minister of Education. There is no dispute as to any material fact in the plain story—

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

I ought to make it plain at once that there is very great difference of fact.


The correspondence in this case, which I shall therefore read to the House, shows not the slighest difference between the Board of Education and the school as to the material facts. It may be that differences may become patent as the debate develops, but no suggestion by the Board has yet been made that any material difference exists between their version and the version I am putting before the House. At any rate no difference can arise as to the origin of this case. On 16th May certain children in the girls' department of St. Paul's School, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester, were instructed to write essays on "My Native Land". It was a Jubilee task, perfectly appropriate, representing no jingoism, imperialism or anything else. All the girls wrote essays indicating love of country. One of the girls wrote an essay which contained these sentences: England is only a small country, but it is better than any other country. It has a good King and Queen who reign over it. It has fought many a battle with different countries. The names of our King and Queen are George and Mary and they are very good to the country. Is there any difference between the Board of Education and the managing body as to that? There can be none. On 22nd May, one of His Majesty's inspectors of schools visited the school, and I will read the signed statement made by a young lady whom I have seen and who, I can assure the House, has no intention but to do her duty. I can also say that the greatest distress to her is that this action might have involved one of His Majesty's inspectors of schools in trouble. This is her main concern at the moment and has caused her acute distress. I have seen this lady and I ask the House to accept what she has said as a true statement of what she saw and heard on that occasion. She says: The inspector read, to himself, part of a child's composition on the subject My Native Land'. He was standing in front of the class though not speaking to the class. He spoke to the teacher She speaks of herself in the third person He pointed to the phrase England is only a small country, but it is better than any other country'. He said That is a bold statement to make'. The teacher stood up for the patriotic point of view and told him (it being the time of the Jubilee) that she had been giving them lessons on England and that she had tried to make them feel that it was the best country because she believed it herself. The inspector argued with the teacher as to what would be done if she were German or French. Finally he said that the teacher was teaching old-fashioned imperialism.


I am sure the House will realise that this is an extremely serious matter. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to let me see last Tuesday a copy of the statement made by the teacher. I know I am not infallible, but my impression then was that the words "teaching old-fashioned imperialism" were not included in that statement. Has it in any way been altered?


The right hon. Gentleman can take it from me that this statement is dated 26th July and it is the only statement I have ever had. It is the statement I showed to my right hon. Friend the other day. It is the only statement, and it has not been touched since. It is the statement the lady wrote on the day she signed it, and it has not been altered in any way since then. What I say about the passage down to this point is that I feel most keenly about this matter from the teacher's point of view. I am not very much concerned with the implied reproof to the child. The Press has done full justice to what it calls the "My England Girl", and her essay has had a circulation considerably greater than those of the great essayists in English literature. I am not going to weary the House with the point of view of the child to-day. It is the point of view of the teacher and the managers of the school about which I am really most concerned, as I am sure the House will be.

I contend, without heat or feeling, that that reproof was wrong. I think it was wrong, first because it was given in public. I do not greatly stress that, but that, as I am instructed, is the fact. Secondly, there was nothing on earth to justify it. These words in the essay simply represent the very artless love of country which is common to all English people, regardless of birth, creed, class or age, and nothing more than that. I also think that it was a mistake on the part of the inspector because he conveyed, rightly or wrongly, to the mind of the teacher than he rather despised patriotism. The inspector stands in a very special position when he inspects these schools, because inspectors are in a position of detachment, and have to hold themselves aloof from anything which could affect the public spirit of the children or the way in which these children had been taught, so far as patriotism is concerned. It was said by my right hon. Friend, and I accept it at once, that the inspector when making the remark did not think he was making any more than a casual comment; but that does not really, in my contention, answer the matter. No comment made in a school of this type to a teacher by an inspector can rightly be called casual. These visits are rare visits. They create a great flutter of excitement in the school. The inspector is charged with the important duty of not only reporting on the education but on the tone and character of the school, and I do not think it is correct to describe any comment of that sort as a casual comment.

Another point is that you have to view this episode, not so much from the point of view of the inspector, as from the point of view of the teachers and children. A highly educated man talking to another highly educated man may say something ironical or sarcastic which is accepted as an ironical or sarcastic comment. But, as everyone knows, sarcasm to children or to a less educated man, very often misses fire altogether and is taken literally, and assuming that the comment was what is vulgarly called "leg-pulling," there was nothing to indicate that this was a humorous or "leg-pulling" observation. The teacher took it most seriously indeed. She is a young lady whose one idea is to do her duty, and she is very sorry to be dragged into this. It is only because of her sense of public duty that she committed her recollection of the incident to the statement I have read to the House. What did she do? She took the very natural course of explaining what had taken place to the head mistress, who was not there, but who tells me that the story that the teacher told her is the story which is in the statement; and she also communicated it to the rector of St. Paul's who is chairman of the school managers.

The scene now shifts from the inspector of schools to the Board of Education itself. I should like to read some short passages from the correspondence that followed. For a great national Department like the Board of Education, the manner in which they write their letters does not show in a very shining light the way in which they deal with the grievances of humble schools. Immediately after this episode, the rector of St. Pauls, on 23rd May, 1935, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Board of Education written with no great temperance of language. I will not read it because it referred to the inspector by name. He complains that the inspector found fault with the expression that the girl put in her essay that England is the finest country in the world, said she ought not to say that and told the teacher that she was teaching old-fashioned Imperialism. As my right hon. Friend has raised a question as to the accuracy of the language, I ask the House to bear in mind that this phrase as recorded on 23rd May, immediately after the occurrence, is the same phrase as was contained in the statement and, if it were incorrect, I should imagine that the Board of Education in their reply would have traversed it. How many days does the House think it took the Board of Education to answer it? Just over a month. On 24th June, 1935, the Board of Education replied: We are satisfied that the incident does not bear the complexion which you place upon it and we are unable, therefore, to agree with the inferences that you draw as to its significence or to the fitness of the officer in question for his work. On 6th July the Chairman of the school managers came back to this question: I presume it is not denied that the inspector acted in the manner reported as several members of the school staff can vouch for the accuracy of the account sent to the Board. As the matter is being raised at the next meeting of the school managers, I shall be glad if you will let me know what other construction the Board places on the action of the inspector, and how it reconciles such behaviour on the part of the person concerned. That was answered on 10th July. Reverend Sir, With reference to your letter of the 6th instant. I am directed to state that the Board gave careful consideration to the matter before reaching the decision conveyed in their letter of the 24th ultimo to which they have nothing to add. On 12th July the chairman came back to the attack and wrote: Surely I may expect the courtesy of some short explanation as to the grounds that influenced the Board in arriving at its decision in this matter. Later on he says: If there is some evidence unknown to the managers which alters the entire complexion of the affair, this evidence should be offered so that the managers may reach a different conclusion. He went on to say that, if he did not get the information, he would place the matter before his Member of Parliament. The rector waited for 12 days and no answer was received. There seemed to be no reason for waiting another month. I think the House will agree that I should not have been fulfilling my duty as a member for Manchester had I not voiced this grievance in the House and tried to get redress for what I regard as a very unfortunate occurrence. My right hon. Friend, in answering my question on Tuesday, gave a reply which divides itself into two parts. The first was as to the right policy for the Board of Education to pursue, and the second seemed to me and to many others at the time, I am sorry to say, to be not very well grounded or thought out, because it suggested clearly that the Minister considered it unwise to treat this as a complaint of substance, and he proposed to take no further action in the matter. In the interval I am sure my right hon. Friend has had an opportunity of going further into the evidence. I suggest that I was right when I said that, so far as the documents are concerned, there never has been any contradiction or traverse put forward to challenge any statement in the letter written by the rector immediately after the occurrence. The only challenge has been as to the inferences that people might draw from the facts. Also my right hon. Friend must be conscious of the deep distress and discomfort which this episode caused to the teachers. They genuinely and sincerely felt that the words, spoken no doubt inadvertently and in haste by the inspector, chilled and chided them for their loyalty. That was their impression, and I think the House must agree that it was a very natural impression for them to gather. In those circumstances I ask the Minister and the House to consider what is the right course to take. We all say things in haste, which we repent at leisure. There are very few of us who have not committed glaring indiscretions in our day, and I am not suggesting that this is a deliberate and calculated error in diction or discipline committed by the inspector. I have no doubt that he did not realise that observations, which to him are, perhaps, ironical or sarcastic, though they may pass muster as such among educated people of his own type, to a great many people are taken absolutely literally and may cause immense pain and distress, and this is such a case.

I beg my right hon. Friend to meet this grievance by doing two simple things, which are the right, proper and natural things for a Minister in his position to do, actions which do not let down the Civil Service but which give satisfaction to managers and teachers, who, in this matter, feel genuine and sincere concern. First of all, I appeal to him to say that the Board of Education casts no reflection on the managers or teachers, particularly the teachers, at this school. I think we ought really to think all the better and not all the worse of teachers who bring up young children to be proud of the country where they were born and the future of which lies in their hands. It is a vital thing, at a time when in some parts of the country teachers who try to bring up their charges on the right lines are met with difficulties from education committees or head teachers or others who put obstacles in their way, that His Majesty's inspectors should be a shield and buckler to teachers who try to bring up children completely qualified to serve the State. I ask my right hon. Friend to make a statement so clear and so explicit as to make it known to all His Majesty's subjects, including everyone concerned in education, from His Majesty's inspectors of schools, down to the humblest teacher, that no reflections on a child's pure love of country, one of the wholly beautiful things in life, will be tolerated in any school.

1.15 p.m.


May I say at once that I am glad of the opportunity that this debate has afforded of making a much fuller statement upon this unfortunate incident than was possible at Question time. I noticed that in an interview which my hon. and learned Friend gave to the Press he complained that the Board of Education had not treated this as a matter of importance. I can assure him that from the moment this came to my notice I have treated it personally as a matter of great importance from the general point of view, and, if I may remind the House, of very particular importance to the particular individual against whom these allegations are made. So I make no apologies to the House for, I am afraid, having to detain it at some length, because I am sure that the House of Commons, if it should desire to-day to pass judgment upon the conduct of this inspector, would not wish to do so without the fullest possible information and without the opportunity that it has not yet had of hearing his side of the story. Although I gratefully acknowledge the moderation with which my hon. and learned Friend has put the case to-day, I am sure that he will realise that the case has been repeated and broadcast outside without that moderation, and it is not only necessary to meet the moderate expression of views that may be made in this House to-day, but also the less moderate expressions which have been made outside as a, result of this incident.

Let me, in the first place, clear away any matter of principle. It seems to me that the only general issues which can possibly be raised by this incident are these two questions: First of all, Should a child be rebuked for saying that her country is the best in the world? and Should a teacher be rebuked for teaching her that? Surely, to those two questions there can be no two answers. It is not a matter of what political party to which you belong. We all of us believe that pride in one's own country is quite consistent with an appreciation of the merits of other countries, and we believe that if you teach a child to be proud of its own country, it is much more likely to be a worthy citizen of that country in the future. Speaking personally, I feel that any sort of political propaganda in schools is vicious, and it is unfair that a man or woman of an older age, with superior training, should take advantage of the position in which they are placed, but of all forms of political propaganda the one which was designed to ridicule the spontaneous generous love of the child for its own country is the one most to be condemned. Looking at the papers upon this matter I do not think that I can do better than read, the first part of the answer which I gave in the House on Tuesday: The Board would consider as highly improper any attempt by one of their inspectors to discourage among school children love of and pride in their own country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1935; col. 2474, Vol. 304.] I do not see how it is possible to say more clearly or emphatically what is the official policy of the Board upon a matter of this kind. I have made that statement only because I want the House to realise that we are dealing here, not with broad general principles, but with a particular question of fact. Does the incident in question, the incident which to-day is being discussed, bring the inspector concerned within that statement of the Board's policy which I have laid down, and therefore make it necessary that action should be taken upon the matter? Let me say at once that if I thought that the allegations contained in the question were true, then I should have taken a very different view upon the matter. I will read the allegations. First of all, that in the presence of the staff and the children he reproved the little girl for having stated that England was the finest country in the world, and, secondly, that he reproved, in the hearing of the children, a teacher in the school for having taught the little girl in question old-fashioned Imperialism.

I interrupted my hon. and learned Friend, and I am sure that he did not mind my doing so, to say at the outset that there is a complete conflict of evidence as to whether these allegations can be substantiated or not. If any misunderstanding arose owing to earlier letters of the Board on this subject, I can only apologise, although I think that the first letter my hon. and learned Friend quoted did put very well the Board's view on the whole matter at issue. But I can say at once that I now feel that it would have been much better if, in the earlier stages, fuller and more detailed answers had been sent to the managers. I think that my hon. and learned Friend will agree with me, although I do not want to discuss the letters of the managers, that the original letter was, in fact, couched in rather immoderate terms, and was not such as would be likely to receive a sympathetic reply from its recipients. After all, those to whom one writes in Government Departments are entitled to the ordinary courtesy of correspondence which one accords in one's own private life.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is taking action to' correct the correspondents of the Board?


My hon. Friend had better allow me to continue. We are discussing a very important subject, and he should allow me to get to the end of my statement. It seems to me that much the best thing that I can do is to give to the House an account of this incident as given to me by the inspector concerned. First of all, the House will have to judge not only the facts of the case, but what inference is to be drawn from the facts which they consider established and obviously to do that it would be desirable, had it been possible, that they should have the same opportunity, as I had, of seeing this inspector. But as, of course, this is impossible, I fear that I must, in order to give the proper background to this discussion, tell them something about the record of the inspector.


And about the records of the teacher and the child.


This is a most serious matter that could possibly arise, and I am sure that Members of the House, who are now acting in a judicial capacity, want to deal with it judicially, and I hope that we shall keep it on a plane of that kind. I noticed that one paper said that this inspector must obviously have been a young and reckless man. He is a man of over 50 with a considerable period of service. He has an excellent war record. He enlisted in the Army at the beginning of the war, won a commission in the ranks, was twice wounded, and was in hospital until well on in the year 1919, and he was for many years before he took up his present position church warden of his local church. There is one other point, and on this occasion I am entitled to say with regard to it, that it is a great tradition in this country that we never, in fact, inquire into the personal political views of our Civil servants. As a Minister you can work alongside a man for years and not at the end know to which political party in his private life he may belong, and you get the same support and loyalty from them all. Frankly, my judgment in this matter would not be in the least affected by what political party this man belonged to, but, in view of the fact, that this is the most serious charge that could be made against him, I think it is only fair to the House, in order to enable them to judge what was the meaning of any words that he used, to say that he is in fact known to be a man of political views which hon. Members opposite would describe as old-fashioned. I have said all that because I want to establish to the House that the individual in question is a man whose personal patriotism is beyond question or criticism.

Now as to the two allegations which are contained in the question placed on the Order Paper by my hon. and learned Friend for the subject matter of which he made himself responsible. Let me deal with the incidents which gave rise to them. The first of the two allegations—the one to which my hon. and learned Friend, as he stated in the House to-day, attaches the least importance, but the one which has certainly got the most publicity in the Press in the last few days—is the allegation that the inspector reproved, in the presence of the staff and the children, a little girl. The inspector meets that allegation by a complete denial. He says that not only did he not reprove the little girl, but that he never spoke to the little girl and, owing to circumstances which I will explain later, he never even knew which girl in the class it was who had written the essay which is the subject of this incident. If I may say so my hon. and learned Friend in reading out the statement of the teacher, did not give the House anything which would bear out this allegation, for the teacher's own story was that all the remarks that were made were made to her in an aside. Therefore I do not know on what this allegation is based.


I think my right hon. Friend misunderstood what I said. I never used the words "in an aside". The statements that were made to her were made in front of the class and, as I understand, in the hearing of all.


I am much obliged to my hon. and learned Friend. I gather now that the allegation is not that he personally rebuked the child, although I rather understood from the form of the Question that the child overheard the conversation that had taken place with the mistress and that that meant that he had also rebuked the child. Therefore, I have only to deal with the second allegation, that the inspector reproved the teacher in the hearing of the children. Let me say at once that whatever the nature of the rebuke, whether it was a rebuke of her views on patriotism or a rebuke of the way she taught arithmetic, for an inspector to rebuke a teacher in the presence of the children would itself be gravely improper. That is not a thing which an inspector of long service would be in the least likely to do.

Let us see what the sequence of events were and judge whether, in fact, whether the words used were a reproof or not, they were used within the hearing of the children. The inspector was visiting the school in the normal course of events, and he came into this class and, first of all, examined the children in mathematics. Then he questioned them in a certain amount of history. It was just before the end of the period, before the break came, that he wanted to examine the written work which, as my hon. and learned Friend has explained, was not being done at the time but had been done a week before, and had been corrected by the teacher, and was then in the form of piles of essays lying upon the teacher's desk. The inspector went to the desk and, with the teacher, began looking through the essays. While he was still looking through the essays the time came for the break. The teacher dismissed the class and the children, of course, began to go out. It happened that the essay which is the subject of this debate was the last essay in the pile. At the time the inspector read it the class was already dispersing, and he says deliberately that he is convinced that no child could have overheard, unless they had been deliberately eavesdropping, the conversation that took place between him and the teacher. Even if they had been able to overhear it they would have been quite unable to identify from the form of the conversation to what particular essay it referred. Hon. Members who have had any experience of schools in this country will realise that conversation between a man and a woman standing at the desk at the time the class is dispersing is not one which is overhead at any very great distance.

Now let me come to the actual question of what was said by the inspector to the teacher. As I have said, this was the last essay at which the inspector was looking, and he was struck when he was reading it by the rather crude but very definite form that the essay took. Incidentally, I am informed that this essay which has since won world-wide publicity in the columns of our daily press, was at the time awarded five marks out of ten by the teacher. When the inspector was looking through the essay he pointed to the particular passage to which my hon. and learned Friend referred, and which had been read out to the House, and said, in an amused way: We do not usually see it put quite as strongly as that now. I think hon. Members will agree that that was not necessarily a very dangerous statement to make. In answer to it the teacher began to give her views upon the approach to patriotism and the teaching of it. She is a girl, obviously, with a very definite viewpoint on the matter, and no doubt she expressed admirable sentiments in an admirable way. The inspector had no desire, as he had his work to do, to enter into a prolonged conversation, and he brought the conversation to a close—it had lasted, according to his statement, something like half a minute—with the phrase: "Did not the old-fashioned imperialisms in the past sometimes lead to war?" I will have a word to say later on about the wisdom of making remarks at all of that kind, but I would ask the House to realise that what we are dealing with at the moment is the allegation that he reproved the teacher for teaching old-fashioned imperialism.

When he gave me his account of the conversation he particularly stressed two points. The first, was that he had never used the word "teaching" in this connection at all, and that whatever remarks he made were in reference to the conversation he was having with the teacher, and not in regard to the essay or the way the child had been taught. The second point he stressed was that he used, not the phrase "old-fashioned imperialism" but "old-fashioned imperialisms", in the plural and not the singular, and that what he had in his mind had no particular reference to this country or to this child but was in reference to the teaching of history and the dangers into which those sentiments had led. Anyone who thinks of the Germany of Bismarck and the France of Napoleon will not quarrel with a statement of that kind.

There is only one other point. The time was 11 o'clock in the morning. The inspector says that he did not notice at the time that the teacher was in any way disturbed or distressed. That may be purely a lack of observation, but he points out that he was in the school for the rest of the morning, that he saw the headmistress after 12 o'clock, and no reference was made to the incident, and that the other inspector continued at the school until it closed in the afternoon, and that she too saw the headmistress and no reference was made to this matter during the whole of the day.

Let me deal with the inspector's answer to the charges which are made. In the first place, I think it is clear that the allegation that he personally and definitely rebuked the child has been dropped. As to the incident with regard to the teacher, he made it quite plain to me that he had no intention whatever of rebuking the teacher, that, in fact, as he said, he had seen nothing about which to rebuke her and regretted that anything he said could possibly have been taken by her in that sense. The House has not had an opportunity of seeing or hearing this man, and, in view of all these things, I accepted both his explanation and the regrets he expressed. But I did tell him that I thought it was ill-advised for an inspector in the course of his official visits even to enter into a discussion of this kind in circumstances which might lead to misunderstanding. Conversations which may be perfectly innocent and harmless between two individuals of equal status, may lead to misunderstanding and, indeed, to misrepresentation, if they take place between people in these particular circumstances. Of course, it is the common practice for inspectors to enter into conversation with teachers, to make challenging remarks to them on various subjects and out of such conversations to get an idea of the teacher's personality and outlook, but, in future, they will, I know, exercise great discretion as to the circumstances and the occasions upon which such a thing is done.

That is the whole story. I wish I could have given the full facts at an earlier stage, but I am sure the House will realise that it was not possible to do so within the limits of a Parliamentary answer, although I should have been glad to have given them to the hon. and learned Member if he had approached me. I hope the House will accept the answer that, while the Board holds the most stringent views on this subject, yet, in view of all the facts of the case, I do not feel it was one in which disciplinary action was necessary. Hon. Members, I know, felt themselves unable to do so, because I was told afterwards that some people felt that my answer had been weak and that everyone would have been satisfied if I had reprimanded the inspector. But if my answer had been considered strong, I wonder whether it would have been considered fair to the individual in question, an individual with a most worthy record and who, I am sure, the House will agree, acted without any ill intentions at all, even if in some of his acts he was ill-advised. I am sure that the last thing that this House ever wants any Minister to do is to purchase a patriotic reputation at the expense of a sense of justice. I do not yield to anybody, not even to the people who have been shouting the loudest in the past few days, in my pride in my own country. I want my children to learn the greatness of its past and of its future, and I want the children of others to learn it, too. I think they are more likely to be proud of their country if we keep it a country of which they can be proud.

I resent the imputation that I should pass in silence any attempt to ridicule that pride or shatter their childish ideals. All over the world in the last few years we have seen things to make us shudder. We have seen political opponents murdered, butchered and confined, and in some countries it has been done in the name of patriotism. One of the things of which we are justly proud in this country, one of the things which justifies that little girl in saying that this is the best country in the world, is that here we are just as patriotic as they are anywhere else, but we never allow our patriotism to degenerate into injustice. This sense of justice may be one of the last bulwarks of political liberty and democracy in Western Europe. The House has now heard all the facts upon which I formed my judgment. I leave the House to form its judgment upon them.

1.43 p.m.


We shall all be grateful to the President of the Board of Education for treating the matter with the gravity he has, and for having examined the case so dispassionately. Every hon. Member, I am sure, will agree in deploring the introduction into our schools by anyone of anything in the nature of political propaganda. It has been my privilege to be a teacher in a school for 11 years and I have also been associated officially with the Board of Education on two occasions. I can say with confidence from my own experience that the number of allegations, whether well or ill-founded, which has ever been made with regard to propaganda in our schools has been extremely few. I have never known of any such accusation being advanced against a teacher in any school where I was employed. I am sure it is the desire of every hon. Member that our schools should be completely protected against any abuse of the confidence reposed in the teachers by the teaching of political propaganda.

The hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) presented his case with great moderation. It rests upon the allegation that a child was reproved by the inspector on the occasion of his visit to the school. From my own experience I can easily visualise the situation. I know exactly what happens on the occasion of an inspector's visit. The inspector very rarely discusses the work of the children in the presence of the children. Indeed, never in my recollection has an inspector discussed the work presented to him in copy books and so forth in the presence of children. It is almost invariably done when the children are leaving at the end of the morning or afternoon sessions and before the inspector leaves the particular classroom in which he has been engaged. I cannot conceive, from my experience, the possibility of a child overhearing anything which the inspector might chance to say to the teacher, and, as I see it, the allegation in regard to the observation made by the inspector must necessarily fall.


Will the hon. Gentleman explain why it must necessarily fall, merely because in his experience he has never known such a thing to happen?


Because, as I say, this particular part of the inspector's work is invariably done at the end of the session and before he leaves the classroom. The hon. and learned Gentleman said he was most concerned with the teacher. Let me deal for a moment with our concern for the child. I wonder how much regard for the well-being of this child has been shown in connection with this business. Let me read a passage from a newspaper. It is headed: Maud Mason Gets a Film Star Reception in London. The newspaper account goes on as follows. The passage is long but is worth reading: Thirteen-year-old Maud Mason arrived in London from Manchester yesterday as the guest of the 'Daily Express' to prepare for her visit to the House, of Commons to-day no hear the debate which started with her now famous Jubilee essay on 'My Native Land.' And Maud, an unknown schoolgirl in a simple blue frock, had a greater reception than most film stars reaching London after months of advance publicity. A few moments before her train slid into Euston Station, photographers and reporters spread themselves along the arrival platform. A news-reel cameraman arrived with apparatus to take 'shots' of Maud. They waited to ask Maud about the essay in which she said 'England is better than any other country,' and so drew down on her teacher a rebuke from a school inspector for old-fashioned Imperialism.' Then Maud, a little girl in a blue frock, stepped out of a compartment with her mother. Camera lights flashed, and reporters shouldered each other in frantic efforts to draw either Maud or her mother into conversation. I guided the party into the nearest taxicab to shouts of— 'Just a few lines, Mrs. Mason.' 'How do you feel about it Maud?' 'You might say just something—anything will do.' I venture to suggest that anything has done, in the course of these discussions. I am not accusing the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I would ask this question of those who are concerned with the wellbeing of this child. What do they believe will be the impression left on this child's mind by listening to this discussion? Will it be good? I think that it will be bad for the child to have this false notoriety forced upon her in obedience to a mere press stunt.

Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY

It will do her good to hear for herself that the House upholds the child who says that this country is the best country in the world.


How can it be good for the child to hear this discussion concerning herself in connection with a matter of this sort? How can it be good to give her an exaggerated opinion of her own importance? How can it be good to teach a child to believe that some little error committed by an inspector—if there has been an error—can be exaggerated into an issue of first-class importance in this way. The thing is a monstrous imposition upon the child and indeed upon the public of this country.

I turn from that side of the question to another. I do not complain of the hon. and learned Gentleman raising this matter in the House, but I think that even if the Board did not give satisfaction to the correspondent who wrote about the matter originally there was no necessity to raise it as a first-class issue. What was to prevent the correspondent handing over the correspondence to his Member of Parliament and inviting that Member to go to the Minister and discuss it? That is done over and over again. Many of us receive accounts of grievances from our constituents. We take those grievances to the Minister responsible and we find out the facts. In this case no attempt has been made to find out the facts. This inspector has been pilloried in the Press, north, south, east and west in the most un-English way. Until to-day no one has heard a statement of the case by the inspector himself. In spite of that fact, this stunt, for it is nothing else, has been carried on to the detriment, I believe, of the child's wellbeing and mentality, and it might well have been to the detriment of the inspector's future. As to the observation made by the child, we have all probably said over and over again that our country is the best in the world. Many of us entertain the belief still. But the question arises all the same, whether it is wise for us to allow even children to commit themselves to observations of that kind without a quiet attempt to modify those observations—observations which cannot arise from experience. After all it is a natural sentiment for us to entertain, but we must be careful that we give to children the desire to get balanced judgments upon these matters, even such a matter as the appeal our own country makes to us.

I think I express the views of most hon. Members when I say that this is largely a storm in a teacup. If hon. Members really want to raise issues of this sort they are not the only people who can do so. Let me recall to them that not many weeks ago the manager of a school publicly declared that when he was called upon to appoint teachers to his school, he would ask each candidate whether he was a Socialist—whether he was a member of the Labour party—and, if the answer was in the affirmative, he would not appoint that person as a teacher. We raised that matter, but we did not raise a storm about it, as we might have done. Errors of that sort occur from time to time. They are small, after all. They are just the things which ordinary people are subject to, inspectors as everyone else, and we ought not, I think, to exaggerate them as this incident has been exaggerated to-day.

May I say one last word in regard to inspectors generally? When I was a teacher I rather dreaded the visit of an inspector to my school, not so much because of anything that was to the disadvantage of the inspector as because of my own demerits as a teacher. But the relationship between teachers and inspectors in the last few years has been transformed. There is no perpetuation of the old division between inspector and teacher. They discuss the business of the school, so to speak, as man to man, in a comradely, friendly kind of way, and that change in the atmosphere in the schools has been all to the good of the teacher, the school, and, I believe, also the inspector. I have nothing but words of admiration for the enormous service that our inspectors of schools discharge. It is an invaluable service to our educational system generally, and I fail to see having heard what the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. and learned Gentleman have said, that even if—and I say "if" advisedly—there had been some sort of, shall I say, indiscretion—and that, as far as I can see, is not the case—that it would have been worthy of the fuss that has been made to-day.

1.58 p.m.


I am frankly glad that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Moss Side (Sir G. Hurst) has raised this matter, because I think the Debate has been of the greatest value on a matter which is, after all, of very considerable national importance. I only desire to speak very briefly, because I have many friends in the teaching profession, friends with differing political opinions, many of them holding the views of hon. Members opposite, and I would say of the great majority of those men and women that they are always careful to leave those political opinions outside the classroom and that those who do take them into the classroom with them very often find curious and, from their point of view, disappointing results. If the House will excuse a personal note in this matter, I happened to be born a member of the Society of Friends and was educated at one of their schools, where I was impregnated day in and day out with very strong pacifist ideals and politics of what were then known, and are known now, as of the Gladstonian brand. I owe a great deal to that school and to my head master, but the effect of that education upon me was to turn me into a member of the Tory party, a member of the Church of England, and a supporter of the blue-water school of thought, as opposed to what I think one might not describe unfairly as the bilge-water school of thought.

I want to make this suggestion about the case which the House has been discussing this morning, that men of education, teachers and school inspectors who intended to abuse their position for the purpose of disseminating political propaganda among the children would do it in a very much more subtle manner than that which has been described this morning. An inspector would know perfectly well the consequences of such action had it been deliberate, consequences which have in fact occurred today. He would have known very well, and that is what puzzles me, frankly, with regard to the publicity which has been given to this case. I imagine this inspector being possibly a person of a slightly facetious frame of mind. There is nothing more unfortunate than for an inspector to develop a sense of humour, or a schoolmaster for that matter.


Or a politician.


If he develops a sense of humour in the hearing of children, he is very often misunderstood, as many of us know, and I imagine this inspector's mind, he being the type of man the Minister has told us he is, running somewhat on the lines: 'What do they know of England who only England know?' What are the reasons upon which this little girl bases the statement that her country is the finest in the world"—. we all know that— and what are the reasons which she has given? My hon. and learned Friend has allowed me to read the remainder of the essay, and I see in it one reason which appeals to me very strongly. I see that the young lady, when drawing to a conclusion, said: In other countries the men generally kiss one another, but in this one they merely shake hands. That is a reason which would appeal to many hon. Members in this House as a very solid one for giving this point of view. But surely this case is not one in which an important official has abused his position for the purpose of deliberate disparagement of our institutions or our country. It is not a case of a man paid by State money using it even for anti-patriotic propaganda, so far as I can see. Had he committed this offence, if it is one, in many other countries, he would be at this moment in a concentration camp, and the matter would not be under discussion on the floor of the national assembly.

I want to say, as a very strong Conservative myself,that I think this is no hanging matter. I believe that the publicity which it has had to-day is more than sufficient punishment for any offence which the inspector may have committed. I think at the same time we are indebted to my hon. and learned Friend for giving the matter the publicity of debate, if only for the reason that I should like to agree whole-heartedly with the sentiments of the writer of this now world-famous essay, that this is the finest country in the world to live in, largely because we have a Parliament in which, if I may say so after a very short experience, we develop a wonderful toleration towards one another's opinions, and it is largely the finest country in the world to live in because it possesses a House of Commons with a sense of tolerance and a sense of proportion, which I hope will be lived up to this afternoon.

2.3 p.m.


I should like to add a very few words to the very interesting discussion which we have had. The question before us must have been of deep importance to anyone who cares for education, and the discussion has been very valuable because it has drawn from both sides of the House a definite expression of the view that the position of a teacher should not be used for political propaganda. That, unfortunately, is occasionally forgotten, but not so often as some people believe. There are two unfortunate circumstances in this matter. The first is that the inspector should have left on the mind of the teacher the impression that the essay did not express sentiments with which he agreed, and the second regrettable thing is that the Board of Education did not at once respond to the first letter written by the chairman of the governors. I will say, in passing, that if the chairman of the governors believed that the inspector had reproved the little girl for writing such an essay, it is only right that he should have written to the Board as he did. But I think it will be regretted that the Board did not at once, understanding that, deal with the matter and obtain the facts of the case as they have been put before us to-day by the President himself.

I think the way in which the matter has been dealt with by the President of the Board does put a very different complexion upon it. It is the duty of teachers and inspectors to teach children to think, and not what to think, and if a teacher or inspector uses his position to influence politically the young mind he is guilty of betraying his trust. It is well that we should have had the principle affirmed in this House that the schools should not be used for that purpose. The girl said in her essay that England is the finest country in the world. It is, and why is it? It is because no one, Tory or Socialist, reactionary or reformer—


If you said that, you would be equally wrong with the inspector. Surely there is a little bit of the country that is not England, and if you said that, some Scottish patriot would get up and censure you. We seem to be getting to a state now when a man cannot say anything unless he is censured.


The hon. Gentleman seems jealous because I did not include Scotland. I am quite ready to say "Britain." To continue what I was saying, Britain is the finest country in the world, because all men and women of any degree are free under the law to express their opinions. They are not free, as teachers, to use the schools as a means of political propaganda. This Debate has been of great importance because it can be referred to in future as a Debate in which the principle was laid down that our schools should be regarded as means of training the young mind, free from any attempt at political bias.

2.8 p.m.


I do not want to say anything about the conduct of the teacher or inspector, or even of the chairman of the managers, but to refer to the conduct of the Press. I do not remember in recent history anything that has been so discreditable as the Press comments on this matter. We are talking about love of our country, and I do not take second place to anybody in that regard. I do not lose an opportunity of bringing children round the House and of telling them that, in my view, in spite of all its defects, this country is the best in the world. One of the things about the country that I admire—it was referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman who brought this matter forward, and by the President—is that we are generally fair-minded. Nobody, however, will say that the Press has been fair-minded in regard to this case. They took advantage of the child and of the child's parents, and even of the hon. and learned Member who voiced the complaint in the House to-day, but the one thing they did not do was to get any expression of the view from the gentleman who is in the dock. After all, the man in the dock is the inspector, and there was in the Press no signs of that fairness which never condemns a man without trial. He was never given the opportunity of going into the dock or the witness box, but was treated as if he were an anti-patriot and perhaps a member of this party, because a section of the Press usually regards members of this party as unpatriotic. The attitude of the Press in this case has been discreditable in the extreme, and I hope that we shall not often have cases exaggerated in the way that this has been. If we do, we shall not long be able to continue to say that our country is the best in the world.