HL Deb 07 May 1838 vol 42 cc937-42
The Bishop of Durham

on rising to present a petition from Manchester, spoke to the following effect*: My Lords, I am not in the habit of intruding frequently upon your time: and 1 can assure you, that it is my wish not to detain you unnecessarily at present. But the great importance of the subject to which I call your attention, and the number and respectability of the petitioners, whom on this occasion I represent, compel me to trespass upon your patience, while I enter upon some details connected with the state of education in this country; the causes which may impede the adoption of a general system; and also the manner, in which the cause has been taken up by foreign nations.

My Lords, the petition which I am about to present to you, is signed, I understand, by 24,000 persons. I consider it, my Lords, honourable to the national character, but especially honourable to the Gentlemen with whom this petition originates; that they have bestowed so much pains upon the investigation of a subject so important as the education of the people. A set of Gentlemen at Manchester, to whom time must be peculiarly valuable, employed as they are in commercial pursuits of vast magnitude; yet have not hesitated to devote that time to inquiries into the evils by which many of their poorer brethren are oppressed, and into the best means of remedying them. They have found a deplorable want of *From a report published by Ridgeway. education prevailing; and their prayer is that you will direct your attention to the great and interesting subject of national education.

By this term, my Lords, I do not apprehend that the petitioners restrict their wishes to a system of education, actually comprehending all the children of the country, as is the case in Prussia for instance. They would be glad; no doubt, if it were practicable, to have a really national system of instruction for all. But I understand them to urge the adoption of such modes of improving and extending the present means of education, as shall be at once effectual and practicable. For, I find that, at a meeting of the friends of the society for promoting National Education, a resolution was conceived in the following terms:— That this Society shall endeavour, by petitions, and other constitutional means, to obtain from Parliament a legislative provision, securing to all classes of the community an improved and a permanent system of Education. Now to this resolution I entirely subscribe; and in this sense I advocate the prayer of this petition.

When I proposed to touch upon some of the details, belonging to this very interesting subject, it was far from my intention to enter upon them at much length; still less to anticipate any discussion, which may be expected to take place upon a Bill laid before you by a noble and learned Friend; whose efforts to enlarge and improve the general stock of knowledge have been so unwearied and so praise-worthy. But it appears to me desirable to allude to some topics, connected with the matter of the petition; if it were only to prepare your Lordships for a more full consideration of the whole subject at some future time.

Among the questions, then, about which the friends of national education have been more or less divided, are,—1st. Whether it should be compulsory or not? 2nd. Whether boys and girls are to be educated together or separate? I find this to be a subject, about which the Glasgow Educational Society have formed a strong opinion. They consider it to be highly desirable that both sexes shall be trained together, both in school and in the play-grounds; but all under the inspection of their teachers.

Another question, upon which different opinions are entertained in this and in other countries, is, whether simultaneous, or mutual, instruction is to be preferred? It is well known, that the plan of mutual instruction was matured some thirty years ago under the auspices of Joseph Lancaster and Dr. Bell. The system has been generally adopted in this country. But foreigners appear disposed to regard it, as tending to make but a superficial impression:

Again, it is asked, at what age it be desirable, that the business of education should commence; and to what extent it should be gratuitous?

But the great difficulty of all—that which, I fear, is at present almost insurmountable, as to the success of any scheme of education strictly national, is, in what manner religious instruction is to be conveyed? It is admitted, I believe by all, who in this country take an interest in the subject of education, that it should be founded upon religion as its only proper basis: and that the bible shall be taught. But then, each particular denomination of Christians is anxious to have their own peculiar views of doctrine entertained and upheld. And amidst such a diversity of opinions, as prevails in this country, by what means are we to select any one plan that will satisfy all? My Lords, the petitioners do not attempt to prescribe any particular plan, but they venture respectfully to suggest, what appears to them the best calculated to obviate the difficulty which I am describing:— They desire to express their conviction that the course pursued by the British and Foreign School Society of prescribing bible classes in every school, and placing the entire volume of the holy scriptures, without note or comment, in the hands of every child (excepting from this rule Catholics and Jews only), is the best system hitherto devised for meeting the difficulties arising out of the varieties of religious sects in this country. My Lords! I heartily wish that some plan could be devised, which would so reconcile existing differences, as to allow of one common course of religious instruction at school; while the catechism, or peculiar doctrines of each denomination, might be reserved for the appropriate instruction of the sabbath-day. But I have no ground, upon which to rest a hope, that such a plan is likely, at the present, either to be devised or adopted.

Nevertheless, my Lords, the amount of evil, arising either from the total want or the partial defects of education, is so great, that every practicable effort should be made to lessen it; and surely no time should be lost, in taking some steps—in making at least a beginning—with a view to remedy it.

As a specimen of the deficiency of means of education in Scotland, I beg leave to lay before your Lordships a statement by Mr. Stow, a director of the model schools, Glasgow. Our readers will bear in mind, (he says) that a sixth of the whole population (independent of infants from two to six) ought to be at school: There are of children in attendance at school, out of the population of Old Aberdeen, only one child out of every twenty-five; Paisley, Abbey parish, one out of eighteen; Dundee, one out of fourteen; in large districts in Glasgow, one out of fifteen or sixteen; smaller districts in Glasgow, one out of twenty-four. In 132 parishes, in the counties of Aberdeen, Elgin and Banff, in 1832, there was only one in every eleven. By a survey lately made over the whole town of Paisley, it appeared that, independent of a vast number of adults, nearly 3,000 children above six or seven years of age were unable to read; and that much of the education received was merely a smattering at evening schools, after being fatigued with the day's work. As to a very populous and important part of England; Estimating the population of Liverpool at 230,000, it was found, that 12,000 children, of all ages, were receiving, at the cost of the parents, an education of a very low order; 13,000—partly at the expense of the parents, partly from charity—a more effective education; 3,700 some little instruction in Sunday schools; 4,000 of the upper and middle classes, educated in superior private schools; leaving not less than 30,000 children, between the ages of five and fifteen, receiving no education either really or nominally. The report then proceeds:— Taking this as a fair measure of the quantity and quality of the education received by the children of the working classes in this country, and comparing it with what may be done, and what, in other civilized countries, has been done, for the education of the same class; the result is one which cannot be dwelt upon, without some feeling of pain and humiliation. Now, let us see what this state of Education is, compared with that in other countries:— In Nassau, the population were educated in the proportion of one in six; in Saxony, one in six; in the State of New York, one in four; in Protestant Switzerland, one in five; in Eng- land, the nominal education was only one in eight; but, in many large towns, any real education was only given to one in seventeen. But it will be said that, in order to correct this sad state of things, a considerable expense must be incurred. In Scotland alone, it has been calculated that, in order to put matters on a right footing as respects education, no less an outlay would be required than 362,5801.; of which about 50,000l. might be considered an annual charge.

As to England, I have no materials upon which to build any safe calculation. But I was lately present at a meeting of the National Society, (which society, I am happy to say, is about to make great efforts in order to improve and extend its operations), where it was calculated that 15,000 additional schoolmasters would be wanted. These masters must be better trained than heretofore; so that, whether the calculation be correct or not, there can be no doubt but in England, as well as Scotland, very great expense must be incurred before an improvement, such as the petition calls for, can be made upon our present systems of education. But then, it must not be forgotten, that the effects, anticipated from better and more comprehensive modes of instruction, are to encourage habits of industry, and to diminish every species of vice and crime. You may, therefore, confidently look for a decrease of that expenditure which is now occasioned by police; by your prisons, and prosecutions. Here again, I gladly avail myself of the research and intelligence of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury. What was the increase of cost arising from crime, the fruits of ignorance? Look at the county rates. In 1792, jails 92,0001.; in 1832, 177,0001>.; prisoners' maintenance, in 1792, 45,7001.; in 1832, 127,0001.; prosecutions, in 1792, 34,0001.; in 1832, 157,0001.; constables, in 1792, 6591.; in 1832, 26,0001.; total, in 1792, 172,3591.; in 1832, 487,000l. Thus, the expenses directly from crime, trebled in forty years, whilst population is only increased sixty per cent. The metropolitan police alone cost 210,000l. per annum, to restrain crimes, which a good education might have much prevented, or diminished. My Lords, I cannot indulge a hope that, in the present financial state of the country, her Majesty's Ministers would feel themselves warranted in incurring expenses to the amount that I have mentioned; even if the various difficulties to which I have adverted, could be satisfactorily removed. I am quite satisfied that they are aware of the importance of the subject; and would gladly make an effort to supply the lamentable deficiency which has been shown to exist in the means of education; if they could feel it consistent with their duty, as guardians of the public revenue. And I trust, they will be able to make some arrangements, by which a commencement at least may be made in forwarding this truly national object.

It is very evident, my Lords, that one of the first steps to be taken must be to establish Normal schools for the training of schoolmasters. Upon this point, the opinion expressed by the Statistical Society of Manchester, as the result of their inquiries into the state of the borough of Salford, is at once clear and and judicious:— That in the establishment of Normal schools, the funds devoted to educational purposes would be more usefully employed than in any other manner; for they consider it hopeless to expect an extensive improvement in the conduct of schools until the teachers have first been qualified for the task of education. Here then a commencement may be made in this vitally important work; a commencement at once safe and effective. I must, then, before I conclude, respectfully impress upon her Majesty's Government the necessity of making such a beginning. I trust they will be enabled, without inconvenience, to make some advance to the National Society, and to the British and Foreign School Society, in order to assist the exertions they are making towards the formation of Normal schools. I would also suggest, that some grant should be made to the Educational Society at Glasgow, who are at this time employing themselves with much success in improving the system of education in that part of Great Britain. By thus extending aid, so greatly wanted and so loudly called for, her Majesty's Ministers will show their anxiety to wipe off this reproach from our national character and institutions. You, my Lords, will, I trust, zealously support them in any efforts they are disposed to make in such a cause; for, as you regard the religious and moral welfare of your countrymen, as you prefer innocence to crime, comfort to misery, peace and good order to turbulence and licentiousness, you must be disposed to give the most favourable consideration to the prayer of this petition.

Petition laid on the table.

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