HL Deb 16 March 1865 vol 177 cc1732-5

rose to call the Attention of the House to the Effect of the Revised Code of Regulations of the Committee of Privy Council for Education, dated the 8th of February, 1865, on the Education of Children under Six Years of Age. The question he had to bring under the notice of their Lordships, was one of no great magnitude; but in consequence of the system on which our grants for public education were made, persons who had objections to urge, were compelled to call attention to any matter which required explanation or amendment just as it arose. If the system on which grants were made were settled by Bills which must pass through Committee, the attention of both Houses would be called to all the details of any proposed arraugement. As it was, however, the grants being regulated by a system of Orders in Council, which had the effect of law when they had lain on the table of both Houses of Parliament for a month, there was no other course open to a Member of either House but to call special attention to any point in the regulations of the Council on which he might desire information, however inadequate it might of itself seem for special discussion. Practically the matter which he had now to bring under their Lordships' notice was, however, one of considerable importance; for, though it involved no question of principle, it had an important effect upon the prosperity of schools. As well as he remembered, when the principle of payment by results was first introduced by the Revised Code, it had been proposed that so much a head for all children should be paid to the managers of schools as the result of an examination on a day when the children were required to present themselves. Very general objection had been taken to that proposal, on the ground that it made the payment depend too much upon an examination on a particular day; and it was urged that the occurrence of severe weather which would prevent the very young children from attending on the day of examination, might deprive the managers of the reward of their labour. In the course of the discussions which took place on the subject, it was strongly argued that it was absurd in the case of children of such tender age to make the grant depend on examination, and that in regard to them it would be sufficient that the Inspector should be satisfied that there had been a good attendance, and that the children were generally well taught. It was in consequence decided that children under six years of age should be exempted from examination. A Minute on the subject was issued, which stated that for every scholar who had attended more than 200 morning or afternoon meetings of the school, the grant in the case of children over six years of age should be 8s. for each child, and in the case of children under six years 6s. 6d., subject to the report of the Inspector that such children were instructed in accordance with their age. There were some other conditions annexed to that Minute, and it had remained in operation till the month of January in the present year. In February of the present year a Revised Code was laid on the table, in which there were two or three alterations. No particular attention was called to them, but there was one alteration which had induced an inconvenience to which he wished to call their Lordships' attention. The previous article ran as he had read it to their Lordships, but in the new Code the words were "if under six years, and present on the day of examination." At the same time that these alterations were made, a Minute was laid on the table in reference to rural schools, according to which some doubts might arise whether these young children were required to be in attendance or not. On the whole, however, it was clear that such was the intention. The effect of this Resolution had been made retrospective, and he had a case before him in which the average attendance of children last year under six years of age amounted to eighty, but when the Inspector came in February only forty five attending in consequence of an epidemic disorder in the place, only that number was allowed for by the Inspector. Now the effect of this regulation on the funds of schools would be very serious. The regulation was a very unwise one, and it would inflict considerable hardships upon the managers of country schools, who had no inexhaustible purses, but who made considerable sacrifices for the advantage of their poorer neighbours. Though he made no formal Motion on the subject, it was one on which their Lordships ought to express an opinion.


, after some preliminary observations which were not audible in the gallery, said, that when the new Code was laid on the table he had called attention to it, and had stated that there were certain verbal alterations which were necessary to explain clearly the meaning of certain Minutes. He could not understand what the noble Earl meant by retrospective action, as there had been no change in that respect. He did not deny that the rule as to the attendance of young children might work some hardship in peculiar cases, but if money was to be voted for the education of these children, he did not see how the Inspector could satisfy himself as to the sufficiency of the education given unless they attended. Of course it was impossible to have an elastic rule which would meet the case of a snowstorm happening on the day of examination.


said, he had received a complaint on the same subject, but his noble Friend had hardly correctly described the requirements of the present rule. His noble Friend stated that the grant in respect of infants was allowed when the Inspector was satisfied with the general state of the school as a whole. The words of the rule were that such children should be instructed suitably to their age, and in such manner as not to interfere with the instruction of the older children. Therefore it was clear that there must be an examination of some kind. He was inclined to think that the provision was too stringent. It had always been admitted that the requirement of attendance must involve some hardship, and in the case of infants the hardship would be greater. He would, therefore, urge upon his noble Friend the President of the Council the propriety of reconsidering this rule with a view to admitting some relaxation.


also urged a reconsideration of the rule which pressed with especial hardship in the case of schools in country districts, where the attendance of infants during the winter months must necessarily be very uncertain.


, in reply, expressed a hope that the Government would consider whether they could not mitigate the rule to some extent.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.