HL Deb 05 June 1862 vol 167 cc400-7

moved for— Copies of Correspondence between the Committee of Privy Council on Education and the Committee of a proposed National School at Chrishall, relative to an Application made for a Building Grant for the said School, and refused by the Committee of Council. The right rev. Prelate said, that the case which he had to bring before their Lordships was a very small one in itself, but it involved principles which, if allowed to remain in operation, would affect the whole of the Church of England Schools. It was the case of the parish of Chrishall, in Essex, in which place, after a considerable period of neglect, something like a little revival had taken place, and an effort was made to establish a school. An application was made to the Education Committee for a grant in aid of the building; but it was refused on the ground that the proposed school was to be in union with the National Society, and that no grant could be allowed unless "the conscience clauses" were introduced. The reply of the Committee on Education created considerable feeling in the parish. It was known that the objection of the Committee was grounded on the circumstance that between fifty and sixty families professedly belonged to the Church of England, and that about an equal number belonged to Dissent, The result was that the Dissenters immediately joined with the Church people in petitioning the Committee of Council that the difficulty might be waived, and that a grant might be made in aid of the building of the National School. It was hoped that a unanimous petition to that effect, in which the name of not a single inhabitant was wanting, might succeed in removing the difficulty which had been raised by the Education Committee; but the reply was to the effect, that although, no doubt, it was satisfactory that all the inhabitants should be willing to concur in establishing a National School, yet the building grants of the Committee were presumed to be in perpetuum, and it was an invariable rule that the assent or wishes of existing parishioners should not be acted upon so as to bind those who came after them. It was added that the parish of Chrishall was avowedly too small to support more than one school; and that as nearly half of the inhabitants were Dissenters, the next generation might be unwilling to let their children attend a school in connection with the National Society; and the fact that an objection might possibly be raised hereafter to the school on the part of some of the parishioners was deemed by the Education Committee a sufficient reason for refusing a grant in aid of the building. If the possible existence of Dissent in another generation was to be considered an obstacle to the making of a grant in aid of a National School, the application of that principle would effectually debar the extension of Church of England Schools by the aid of public money, as had heretofore been the case. The reply of the Education Committee contained an intimation that there was something of a proselytizing system in the Church of England Schools; but such a system the National Society repudiated, except so far as it was bound to carry out its principles as an embodiment of the National Church promoting the cause of education. The National Society, by the profession of its members and by its charter, entertained, and had always insisted on promoting, the principles of the Church of England; but, at the same time, it had in its terms of union certain discretionary powers vested in managers which were designed to obviate objections, probably of a temporary kind, that might be made here and there. It was not correct to say that there was anything of a proselytizing character in the National Society, beyond that which must necessarily belong to it as the representative of the Church of England. Such a statement might equally well be made with respect to the British and Foreign Society, because the British and Foreign Schools were as much the schools of the Dissenters as the National Schools were the schools of the Church of England. The principle upon which the public grants were originally made was that of encouraging religious bodies who had already been exerting themselves in order to promote the education of the country, and it was agreed that the question of religion should be put on one side. The country was to avail itself of the efforts which were made so strenuously by religious bodies; but in the present instance what he and many others felt, and what had been represented to him continually since the question of the conscience clause had been so frequently agitated, was that the money power vested in the Committee of Council was made to control and influence the religious character of schools. That was totally alien to the principles upon which the movement began. If carried out extensively, it must bring confusion into all the efforts that might be made to promote the Church of England schools, and that, too, without a particle of evidence that the discretionary power which managers were entitled and called upon to exercise had been in any way abused. In the absence of such evidence, it was rather hard that those who were exerting themselves to promote Church of England schools should be prevented from exercising the discretionary power vested in them; while, at the same time, they were told that the Committee of Council would themselves exercise a discretionary power as to the schools which they might deem entitled to receive aid where Dissent in any form existed. He held, for his own part, that a discretionary power might be abused in the way of making grants, just as much as in requiring the application of religious tests. It was a fact, however, that the National Society had resisted attempts by managers to introduce religious tests. The Education Committee, in their reply to the promoters of the Chrishall school, professed to be guided by old rules. Now, the only rule bearing on the subject was to be found in page 6 of the last Code, and was to the effect that the religious denomination of each school should be suitable to the families relied upon for the supply of scholars. He presumed that the people themselves were to judge of what was suited to their case. The inhabitants of Chrishall were unanimous in favour of the proposed National school; but, leaving that point, he was at a loss to know when and where this rule had its origin? It was certainly to be found in the last Code, but it had no existence before. When the difficulty about the management clauses was arranged, it was thought that the National Society would be permitted to go on in its good work without molestation; and it was certainly startling to be told that the money power wielded by the Education Committee was to be used to control the character and religious teaching of the National schools.


presented, a petition from the Rev. John Douglas Giles, Rector of Willoughby, in the county of Lincoln, complaining that a grant had been refused to a school in his parish by the Committee of Council because of its connection with the National Society, and praying for redress. The right rev. Prelate said, that this case was very similar to that just brought under their Lordships' notice by his right rev. Brother. It had been proposed to establish at Willoughby an infant school in connection with the National Society, and application was made for a grant in aid of the building: the appeal was met by a refusal, it being stated, that after a careful consideration of the application, the Committee of the Privy Council regretted that they must decline to aid the promoters to establish a school, the pupils of which might, in the discretion of the managers, be compelled to learn the Church of England Catechism, and to attend the parish church. It was not possible, however, that they would be compelled to attend the parish church, for it was two miles distant; and the rule with reference to the Catechism did not apply to infant schools. He deeply regretted that the Education Committee should have given such a reply. The progress which had of recent years been made in the education of the people in this country—a progress at which the great and good Prince, whose loss we all deplored, had, in almost his last words, expressed his astonishment—was mainly owing to the efforts of private benevolence, the mainspring of which was the religious zeal of those by whom it was exhibited. It was clear, therefore, he added, that a refusal based on such grounds as those alleged by the Committee of Council in the instance to which he adverted, must tend to check the aid which many good men were impelled to give for the reason he had mentioned. He might further observe that he viewed with some alarm the interruption which had lately been created in a system under which the education of the country had so greatly advanced. He was sorry the system had been broken in upon without the introduction of some more hopeful mode of securing the continuance of that advancement.


said, he also could mention an instance in which there had been, in his opinion, an injustice done towards a National School. In his diocese there had existed for about fifteen years a bad National school. In consequence of a change of master, and unwearied exertions on the part of the landowners and others, the school was put upon a better footing; and then it was thought that it would be better to pull down the schoolhouse and to rebuild it upon a new site. In that case all the landed proprietors and all who could be expected to contribute towards the expense were Churchmen, and the people of the district had no objection against sending their children to the National school. Application was made for a Government grant; but it was refused, upon the ground that there were numerous Dissenters in the parish who had petitioned against the grant. He contended, however, that the school was not a new school, within the meaning of the rule that had been referred to, but was an old school that had existed for at least fifteen years before. In another case in his diocese the largest landed proprietor of the parish was a Roman Catholic, but out of the population of 2,500 not 100 were also of that religion. Application was made by the proprietor for a Government grant to build a Roman Catholic school—a denominational school of the most exclusive character—and a grant of £650 was made. No complaint was made of that grant; but it was complained that the same favour was not extended to Church of England schools. If an impression were permitted to gain ground that the Church was held in disfavour by the Government, an evil would be created, the effects of which would be felt for many years to come.

EARL GRANVILLE (who was very imperfectly heard)

said, he could not admit that the Department over which he presided was justly liable to the charge of hostility towards the Church of England schools, and of withholding from those schools a fair share of the Government grants, to the discouragement of those who were interested in them. The right rev. Prelates appeared to think that some new rule, or new application of a rule, had been introduced. That was entirely a mistake. The rule of which the right rev. Prelates complained had existed under successive Committees of the Privy Council and successive Governments, and had been invariably acted upon. It would be a waste of the public money for the Go- vernment to assist in the establishment of very small schools, which could only be available to a very limited number of children; and therefore they had laid down a rule, regulating that there should be no grant where there were not a certain number of children who could take advantage of it. Where there was a population adequate to support one school, that school was cheerfully aided. In any place where there was a population more than sufficient for one school, that population being composed of two or more religious denominations, and any one denomination could show that it had a sufficient number of pupils to justify the establishment of a separate school, such separate school was assisted. In one case referred to by a right rev. Prelate, the whole population of the parish was only 1,080, giving 120 as the average number of children likely to attend school. Two applications for grants were made, one for the National school to contain 150 pupils, and the other for the British and Foreign Society's school to contain 252. It was evident that the proper course to pursue was to refuse both applications, as one good school would be adequate to the wants of the parish. The right rev. Prelate, however, complained that the Committee did not act upon the same principle in regard to other denominations, and instanced a case where a grant had been made in aid of a Roman Catholic school. If the case were as the right rev. Prelate had stated it, the Department over which he (Earl Granville) presided would not have a word to say; but in the case of Roman Catholics, the grant was made because they could not attend the Church schools in consequence of the rule that the Scriptures were to be taught in them without note or comment; and the result of a refusal, where there was any considerable number of Roman Catholics, to assist a Roman Catholic school, would be that the children of that persuasion would attend no school at all.


said, that this was as important a question as could be brought under their Lordships' attention. He could not understand on what principle grants to denominational schools were not to be regulated by the existing state of religious belief in the district; because, if allowance were to be made for changes in the future, where were these to end? Were they not to educate children in the religious belief to which they belonged, because their de- scendants, in some future generation, might exchange it for another? He wished to say a few words as to how the Parliamentary grant had been distributed. So far as the object of the Government was to prevent the application of any exclusive system of education, he entirely concurred in sentiment with the noble Earl; but his own inference from what passed was, that there was a struggle going on between the Committee of Council and the National Society; the former thinking it their duty to take measures to force the National Society to modify their rules by introducing a "conscience clause." This appeared to be at the bottom of the affair. He believed there was no need for the introduction of any such clause; but if the National Society should ever think fit, upon due consideration, to modify their rules, he personally should rejoice in the change. He regretted, however, that the Government appeared disposed to lay down a rule, which would have the effect, directly or indirectly, of subverting the principle of denominational education as at present understood.


said, that even admitting that there was no new rule, still it was impossible for any one conversant with the subject not to see that there had been a considerable change in the practice of late years. He was not prepared to fix the precise period at which this change had taken place, but the grants to Church schools in connection with the National Society were no longer made in the same manner. I t was utterly discouraging to those interested in the Church education of the people, to find that within the last few years the distribution of those grants should have been made on the principle introduced by the Committee of Privy Council. As a Vice President of the National Society, he knew that there had been a change in the practice in regard to the distribution of those funds.


said, he deprecated anything like religious differences when they were engaged in promoting the great and sacred object of national education. He believed that the contest was about symbols rather than about the real substance of the subject. All were anxious to educate the people, all were anxious that that education should be not tinged merely, but pervaded through all its parts, by religious principles; and he believed that the best system was one which equally assisted all sects to effect this object, leav- ing it to each sect to teach the form of religion which, it approved. He could speak on this subject from some personal experience. When he came into possession of a parish of some extent and importance, he found the schoolhouse in a dilapidated condition, and a jealous feeling amongst his tenants, many of whom were Dissenters of great respectability. To this contest he would not listen. He rebuilt the school at his own expense, supplied the funds for carrying it on (except the usual school pence), and then placed it in the hands of the clergyman of the parish—a man whom he knew to be of a conciliatory character and sincere in his desire for the promotion of education— enjoining him that it was for the benefit of all his tenants and of all the persons upon his estate, of whatever religious denomination; and that, while conducting it upon Church of England principles, he should never forget the kindly and the powerful influence of conciliation. No offensive placards were to be placed upon the school walls; he positively prohibited the hanging-up of boards which intimated in any form of superiority or triumph that Church of England doctrines were taught there; and the result, he believed, was that the schools were thriving and useful. Not a word did he hear about religious differences, and this end was attained simply by avoiding all offensive forms and symbols. If the same principles were generally adopted, he believed equally good results would follow, and the great cause of education would be promoted in the midst of religious harmony instead of religious bitterness.


said, the practice which had been referred to by the noble Lord was the system which had been adopted and followed by the National School Society throughout the land. It was the system throughout his diocese, at any rate. But if the practice complained of by his right rev. Friend (the Bishop of Rochester) became general, they would have no schools at all in our small rural parishes, and the complaint that those parishes were neglected would go unredressed. But, after all, the truth remained, that the only persons who assisted in building schools, and in maintaining them when built, were the Church people.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at a Quarter past Seven o'clock, to Friday, the 13th instant, Eleven o'clock.