HL Deb 14 March 1862 vol 165 cc1489-502

, pursuant to notice, rose to call the attention of the House to so much of the Revised Code of Education as relates to the grouping of the Children for Examination. The noble and learned Lord said that he had no intention to enter at any length into the provisions of the Revised Code, nor had he any intention to find fault generally with the measure. On the contrary, he confessed that he admired some of it prin- ciples, believing that the time had arrived for the adoption of some measure that would impose some limits to the great expenditure incurred under the present system. There were many provisions of the revised measure of which he approved; and he thought that if some further modifications were introduced, the new arrangement would work very well. But he could not help regretting that religious examination was altogether lost sight of. It was his opinion that the religous education, which the lower, orders of the people received at the National Schools, had a much greater influence than people imagined, for the children took home the lessons they were taught, and thus spread an influence over their parents and other relatives. The examinations were unobjectionable as regarded boys; but he thought that some parts were decidedly objectionable when applied to girls, who did not require the same extent of education in some of the branches. Instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic, was no doubt important to girls as well as to boys; but the former had to devote a portion of the day to learning how to perform household work, and other domestic duties, and especially needlework, which were so important to them in after-life, and therefore could not bestow so much time on reading, writing, and arithmetic as boys could. He was not disposed to agree with the right rev. Prelate who addressed their Lordships the other evening (the Bishop of Oxford) in the estimation which he seemed to place upon these three branches of knowledge. In his opinion, they formed the best possible foundation for the education which could be given in the National Schools to the children of the labouring poor. It was too much to expect anything like proficiency in dictation from those poor children, when men of mature age and ample education often failed to come up to the standard when subjected to competitive examination. He considered that the test of writing from dictation should not form a ground for making the grant. He thought that writing should be paid for as a result; and a small gratuity might be added for writing from dictation. The heading is writing—the thing required is writing from dictation. He altogether objected to the grouping according to age in our National schools. Who would propose to educate their own children on such a system as that proposed under the Revised Code? He hoped and trusted that the regulation as to grouping would be struck out as inoperative for any purpose of good;—for that was really the most important point presented for their consideration under this new Code. The difficulty it was said had arisen from not distinguishing between examination and instruction; but surely it required no great difficulty for any sane man to discern the difference between them. It was utterly absurd to talk of ranging children ill a national school according to their age instead of according to their proficiency. They might as well group the children according to weight as according to age; for the latter was in reality no test of intellectual progress. He could understand, when a number of boys were first promiscuously thrown together for education, that it would be proper to range them, in the first instance, according to age, until the intellectual progress of each had been, in a manner, ascertained; but when that had once been done, the position of the boys should be determined according to their ability; otherwise a boy of fifteen years of age, who might be the greatest dunce in the school, might appear at its head, while a boy of ten years of age, and of distinguished abilities, might be placed among the lowest children. If such a system as this were adopted in a school, nothing better could be expected than that it should tumble to pieces; for it would crush all competition and emulation among the children, and bring them all to one melancholy dead level. Parents, too, would not like to see the places of clever children taken by children who could not answer; a single question in the examinations. For himself, he did not hesitate to say that he would not give his support to a school conducted on such a principle. He thought they must come to the conclusion that the carrying out of this proposal was utterly impracticable if the good discipline of the schools was to be kept up. The scheme, he contended, would be found to work great injustice in the case of scholars whose talents had advanced when in the school to a position beyond their years, and, in fact, to be utterly impracticable. The requirements of the groups were in several instances altogether beyond the capacity of the children, and should therefore be lowered. Nothing would be more disastrous to the cause of education than that any scheme should be introduced which turned out unsuccessful. He therefore hoped that delay would take place in the introduction of any alterations in the present system, and that they would only be made after the fullest consideration. It should be borne in mind that the children in national schools were not, like the children of the wealthy classes, kept continuously at school and carefully watched and taught during their vacations. The noble and learned Lord then went minutely into the detail of three tables (which were subsequently laid upon the table with Resolutions to be moved by him in accordance with his observations). The first table showed the exact state of the classes of Thames Ditton School as they at present stood; the second showed how greatly those classes must be broken up and distributed in order to form the grouping required by the Revised: Code; and the third exhibited the result of an examination of both the boys' and the girls' schools according to the groups, and which examination he (Lord St. Leonards) said proved how impossible it was to adopt the grouping of the Code without the most serious injury to the schools.


said, he desired before the noble Earl the Lord President replied, to call his attention to the hardship that would arise in particular cases as soon as the revised scheme was carried into effect. He was not about to controvert the principle on which that scheme was founded. It was very reasonable, where in past time there had been any neglect, that the managers of those schools should suffer the consequences. But the case to which he wished to call attention was that of schools in neighbourhoods where there was a large mass of population, and few wealthy residents. The only means of maintaining schools in such localities, or establishing them in the first instance, was to procure subscriptions in the locality to erect the schools, and then rely afterwards on the payments from the children and the Government grant. He had presented a petition, a few days ago, from Chatham, representing the case of the school in that neighbourhood. By the aid of a subscription £ 2,400 was raised, and a school was established. The only means by which that school could hope to be maintained was the government grant, to which under the old system it was entitled. The managers had not incurred any charge of neglect, but the school had not been opened for more than twelve months, and of course but little progress in teaching could as yet have been made, and under these circumstances he understood that according to the Revised Code the School would be entitled to little or no allowance. This was the statement he had received of the position of the schools at Chatham— Perhaps you will allow me to ask your attention to the very great difficulties in which the schools in Chatham will be placed if the new Code, even if revised as proposed, be adopted. Of four Sets of schools in Chatham and Brampton, showing an average attendance of nearly a thousand Scholars, one school for boys, with an average attendance of about a hundred children, who belong mainly to the working class, must be closed In this case (St. Paul's, Chatham) the managers are already behindhand with their funds, and they cannot sustain the least further liability. The managers of a second set of schools (St. John's) contemplate raising the payments of the children, the result of which change must be to drive away the scholars, whose parents are of the labouring class. Such, in this instance, would be the effect of the adoption of the new Minutes, even as revised. In a third and very important set of schools at Brompton, the result of the changes on the part of Government would be probably to sever the connection with the Committee of Council, and certainly to divert the education from the lowest to a higher class. In the fourth, which is our own case, the schools include boys' school, girls' school, both under certificated teachers, and infants' school under a mistress not certificated The result of the new Code would be that one of these schools, and one certificated teacher, would disappear. Our schools supply education to 280 children, with an average attendance of 200, at least 80 per cent being bonâ fide of the working class. The chief defect in the new system was, that it would press with great severity upon the districts which most needed Government assistance. It was extremely hard that persons, who had expended their money and their time in establishing such schools, should now find that both money and time were thrown away. If this evil could be remedied, a point of much importance would be gained; and he therefore asked for it the attention of the Committee of Council, whose sole object, he was sure, must be to introduce that system which would work best in practice and which would prove most acceptable to the public.


My Lords, probably the noble Earl will be anxious to know the general feeling of those who on the whole are well disposed towards the new Code, but who think it is susceptible of some changes for the better. The remarks of the noble Baron who has just spoken (Lord St. Leonards) seem to point to one change which every person with whom I have spoken desires to see made. Even those who are most favourable to the principle of the Code, including, I believe, the Commissioners themselves, are of the same opinion. The noble Baron has stated that some schools, which have been lately formed, will suffer very greatly, because the children there cannot at present come up to the test imposed by the examination. Now, I believe that the plan proposed by the Commission of Inquiry was, that there should be two sorts of grants—one which should depend upon the results of examination, and the other upon attendance merely. Important as it is to introduce the principle of examination, and to make the payment to the schools depend greatly upon that test, persons most conversant with the system believe that it is still almost indispensable to give some weight to the mere fact of attendance, so that the money gained by each school should depend to some extent upon the regular attendance of the children, even of those who are unable to pass the examination. This concession has been made in the case of children under a certain age. There is a general feeling that a similar concession should be allowed in the case of older children; and I believe that if the Government were to concede this point, public feeling with regard to the Code would be greatly changed. It is said that though this Code shows an honest desire to extend the benefits of these schools to remote country districts which have not hitherto been reached by the Government system, still the test of examination will bear hardly upon those country districts, where you have great difficulty in getting the children to make the progress which they attain in large schools in towns. It is further said that the governors of schools will be little disposed to pledge themselves to pay the masters and pupil-teachers when great uncertainty will prevail whether schools will receive any money from the Government—an uncertainty, too, depending upon the results of a single day. I will not weary your Lordships by touching upon the causes which may prevent the attendance of the children on that particular day, or upon the flurry and excitement which the examination will be sure to create. If, therefore, in addition to the stimulus which the examination will give, you make a further grant for attendance, the school managers will be encouraged to go quietly on with their work throughout the year; they will probably then be willing to incur the obligation of paying teachers and masters, and you will avoid the uncertainty which must always attend an examination held on one particular day in the year. I believe that a great change of feeling has taken place in reference to this Revised Code, during the last few weeks. I cannot say that all the feelings of irritation with which it was first received—feelings not, perhaps, very unnatural under the circumstances—have been altogether allayed; but there has certainly been a change. I cannot speak for the clergy generally, but I can speak for a great many of them, and I find that those of the clergy with whom I have opportunities of consulting are, on the, whole not unfavourable to the Code. At the same time, they are apprehensive upon particular points, and on no one point is there greater apprehension than on that to which I have alluded. As a concession has been made with regard to infants under seven, no new machinery will be necessary to make the same principle apply to children above that age. Let one-third of the grant, if yon please, be given for regular attendance in the case of children above seven, and let two-thirds await the test of examination. If this were done, I believe that much of the feeling which at present agitates the minds of the clergy and others, interested in the schools would gradually disappear. I am glad that my right rev. Brother (the Bishop of Oxford) spoke as he did the other night, because it is well, when feelings like those which he described exist, that they should find vent, and they did find vent on that occasion. But it would be wrong to judge of the feelings of the clergy generally by the state of things several months back. It is certain that formerly in different parts of the country perpetual dissatisfaction was expressed with the old Code, and perpetual complaints were made that the masters were above their work, and that the education given was not the most useful possible. I have repeatedly heard it said that reading, writing, and arithmetic ought to be better taught, even though the more ornamental parts of education were left alone; and complaints were also made that the pupil-teachers and the masters were so independent of the managers, and considered themselves so much the officers of the Government in Downing-street, that it was difficult to get on with them. I do not say that those complaints were always well founded, but such a feeling existed, and, judging from this fact, a change in the system seemed called for. But it is singular enough that a system which may be said to have been introduced at the point of the, bayonet, and which was so much complained of, should have enlisted every one loudly in its praise at the moment when it seems about to expire. Virtutem incolumem odimus, Sublatam ex oculis quærimus in vidi. Perhaps a good deal of this feeling is owing to the manner in which its successor has been introduced, rather than to its own virtues. It may be possible to do a palatable thing in an unpalatable way; and a system which would come recommended by gentleness and conciliation suffers in public opinion under ruder and rougher treatment. The outcry at first raised against the Code was not unnatural, but I think it has, upon the whole, subsided; and what is now the earnest desire of the school-promoters is, that as some change was perfectly inevitable ever since the verdict pronounced by the Royal Commissioners, that change should now be introduced in them manner least likely to injure the schools, and to expose the clergy and others, who run great risks in managing them, to the difficulties which, they apprehend under the, new system.


—My Lords, I am very glad to express my satisfaction at the tone and temper of the speeches we Have heard this evening; and a complaint which I might have had to make against the two noble and learned Lords has been removed by the right rev. Prelate who has just sat down. Those noble and learned Lords pointed out several objections to the proposed system, but they omitted to point out any mode by which those difficulties could be avoided. The Government is placed in a most difficult position when they introduce a measure—immensely assisted as they have been by the manner in which the question has been ventilated—and when they have made alterations in compliance with the suggestions of various critics to meet all the objections which have been raised, to find those objections repeated, without any suggestions how the difficulties were to be met. There is, no doubt, a great deal in what has been said by the noble and learned Lord of the evil inseparable from any system of grant. If voluntary efforts are not forthcoming, the evil is insuperable, unless the Government were to assume—as I think few persons in this country would wish them to assume—the whole duty of providing education for the people. There is one way in which this difficulty has been met in large districts, where voluntary contributions were not forthcoming, and that has been by means of a rate, as was recommended by the Royal Commissioners. The Government, however, decided not to adopt that recommendation, not having heard anything in its favour. With respect to some schools referred to by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Kingsdown), it seems to me that one of them at least was bankrupt in point of instruction. It failed to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, or it would have obtained the capitation grant. Unless we break down the whole (System, I do not see how otherwise we can deal with schools in this condition. The right rev. Prelate has rather objected to the manner in which this Revised Code was introduced, as though it might have met with a different reception had the manner of its introduction been different. I do not object to the discussion that has taken place, for if we had not had it, we could not have had that change of opinion in its favour which has occurred, and which is increasing every day. But when the right rev. Prelate points out that the pressure is entirely of a pecuniary character, I cannot flatter myself that the Vice President of the Council or myself could, by any increased sweetness of manner, have pleased those from whom, for the first time, We required results before payment. Our object has not been, and is not, to destroy a good work, but to cure defects, and to create some stimulus to ensure that schools shall really impart sound elementary instruction before receiving the public assistance. The right rev. Prelate proposes to reduce that stimulus to an almost infinitesimal amount. His proposition to pay one-half or one-third for mere attendance would very much lessen the stimulus we desire to apply, and without which the whole system would be really useless. I must now notice the observations of the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord St. Leonards). In the first place I must thank him for his acknowledgment of the general advantage of the new Code. It was necessary to apply some check to the continually increasing expenditure on schools. There was one point in the noble and learned Lord's speech that would have caused me pain had I not a complete answer to it—I mean his apprehension that the religious instruction in schools would be interfered with by what we propose to do. Now, the right rev. Prelate who addressed us the other night (the Bishop of Oxford), and who exhausted every topic of objection against the Code, left that point quite untouched, and the right rev. Prelatte who has just spoken (the Bishop of London) has made no complaint of any such apprehended interference. Your Lordships will remember a story of Oliver Goldsmith, about three men who were discussing the consequences of an expected invasion—an overburdened porter, who asked what would become of our property; an imprisoned debtor, who feared for our liberties; and a soldier, who exclaimed in more forcible language than I shall employ here, "What will become of our religion?" Considering that the right rev. Prelates have not thought it necessary to point out any threatened danger to religion conveyed in the new Code, I hardly expected that a lawyer would have been anxious on that account. But knowing the deep religious feeling of the noble and learned Lord, and also that the laity, as well as the clergy, are interested in so important a matter, it is not so surprising that he should have expressed the feelings which he entertains. But I am glad to be able to assure him that he is wrong in that apprehension. We have recently seen some Resolutions laid upon the table of this House, and some are about to be proposed in another place, intended to meet all the points of controversy in relation to this question, but in neither of these is there the slightest allusion to any religious difficulty. The noble and learned Lord has discussed some of the details of this question. I confess I feel in some difficulty in answering him. Upon questions that come before this House, involving the consideration of the existing law or amendments of that law, it would be presumptuous in me to contend with the noble and learned Lord. He is a great lawyer and a distinguished Judge, but even his long and useful life has not made him the highest authority upon the best mode of teaching children in National Schools; certainly not so high an authority as another noble Lord (Lord Lyttelton), who has devoted himself to the cause of education—who was the first last year to sound an alarm, and to commence an agitation against the new Code, and who recently proposed certain Resolutions which he afterwards thought it right to withdraw. That noble Lord came to the conclusion that we were perfectly right in the course we had adopted, both as to the examination of children individually, and also as to the question of age. As regards the standard of requirements we have agreed upon, the objection is somewhat novel, that it is of too exacting a character. On the contrary, the point which I have heard argued with the greatest force is, that by the limit we put to the instruction required we are degrading and lowering the quantity of instruction which ought to be given to children of the labouring classes. The noble and learned Lord dwelt to-night on the monstrous anomaly of teaching girls arithmetic. He said they did not know it, and they would never learn it. If they do not know it already, that is a reason why you should begin to teach it to them. If the noble and learned Lord doubts its being of use to them, I will ask him to go into the shops of any small tradesmen, and I am very much mistaken if he will not be told that one of their great difficulties is to get girls who are able to keep the books, because they have not that knowledge of accounts which is so really useful in establishments of that sort. And when he says girls cannot learn arithmetic, that is an imputation on the female mind of this country which I cannot for a moment admit. I believe at that early age girls are much more quick and intelligent than boys. I certainly know nothing in the physical or moral condition of English young women that should render them incapable of learning the common rules of arithmetic, if they were properly taught to them. In France, from the greatest houses of business down to the lowest shops, females are employed in keeping the accounts. The noble and learned Lord thinks great loss of time, and consequent expense, will attend the individual examination of children. This is a matter which I hardly think it right at present to discuss; but I may mention that the system is carried out with great ease in schools in Ireland, and I have no doubt experience will enable us to make proper arrangements here. Even if we are obliged to increase the number of Inspectors, I believe it will be good economy, where you are spending large sums of money, to insure, by a small percentage, that the sums are properly applied. With regard to the examination of children, the noble and learned Lord seems entirely to have misapprehended what we are about to do. In the first place, so far from wishing to diminish the instruction given, we hope, under our system, that all those branches of instruction which are now taught will Continue to be taught under the beneficent action of the managers of schools; all we do is to insist on a minimum standard of knowledge in elementary subjects in order to justify us in giving the grant to the particular school. We do not intend in these examinations by age to interfere with the classes in the school either before or after the examination. The noble and learned Lord alluded to the inspection of particular corps, and to the fact that an officer, with an experienced eye could at once judge how they went through their movements. No doubt, in the same way, an experienced Inspector could judge very well of the general tone and discipline of a school, and of the mutual relations of master and scholars; but an examination of the knowledge which each child possesses of reading, writing, and arithmetic, to be worth anything at all, must be individual. You cannot set twenty children to read at once with any hope of being able to distinguish how each acquits himself. Knowing the great interest which the noble and learned Lord takes in the subject of education, and the kind way in which he often comes forward to suggest to the Government modes of remedying existing evils, I listened for any indication of the means by which he thought the objections to individual examination might be overcome; but I do not think he gave any.


By taking them according to the class.


I think the objection to taking children according to the class has been very clearly pointed out by the noble and learned Lord himself. The managers and masters of schools would have a direct pecuniary interest in keeping the clever, better-instructed children, who ought naturally to be in the first class, back in the second class, so as to make sure that in every case the minimum amount of instruction would be certified, and the grant obtained. The noble and learned Lord quoted the case of a clever girl who said, "If I get put down, my mother will not send me to school." I believe one of the great advantages of this standard of proficiency according to age to be that it will introduce quite a new element into the school. If parents know that a certain standard will be required, they will be deeply mortified if their child does not reach it, and there will be a stimulant to send their children to school which does not at present exist. I stated the other day that, after most careful consideration, I believed every one of the alternatives proposed by way of substitutes for particular details of this Code broke down on investigation, and I am afraid the course now suggested by the noble and learned Lord, while very greatly increasing the pecuniary grants to schools, would not obtain compensating advantages. These Parliamentary grants ought to be an instrument for remedying evils which exist. The impossibility of keeping the children of the labouring classes at school beyond a certain age, even though it may be desirable to do so, is admitted. Your efforts, therefore, must be to obtain as constant an attendance as possible at an early age, which is the only chance of getting for them such elementary instruction as will fit them for the positions they may occupy in after-life. The noble and learned Lord says that girls are often taken away from school to mind younger sisters at home. But the great inducements we hold out in the infant schools ought to lead them to bring their sisters there, and to attend themselves in the higher classes. The noble and learned Lord gave a number of statistics, which I found it rather hard to follow, and he said they had been furnished at his request, without the parties having the most remote notion why he wanted them I do not know whether the amount of simplicity is greater than anywhere else in the district, which has come under the observation of the noble and learned Lord, but I think a schoolmaster or schoolmistress who is asked just at this moment to furnish statistics on particular points of educational interest must have some notion, at least, of the purpose for which they are required. Be that as it may, I have not the slightest doubt these returns were fairly made. In some respects the results which they disclosed seemed to me very good; in others I thought there was a lamentable failure, and this very inequality is what the Revised Code seeks to amend. After the enormous amount of statistics published by the Royal Commissioners, I have grave doubts whether those of any single school would be of much value; and therefore I am afraid I cannot accede to the request of the noble and learned Lord that the return should be printed. I have only, in conclusion, to thank the House for the very moderate and candid tone in which the subject has been debated.


in reply denied that he had made any direct charge of want of capacity in female children.

House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.

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