HL Deb 28 June 1875 vol 225 cc630-7

(The Lord President.)

Order of the Day for the Third Reading, read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."—(The Lord President.)


I hope the deep interest which I have for many years taken in middle-class education, and in school endowments as most influentially affecting it, may plead with your Lordships for your kind indulgence to me during the few remarks I propose making upon the working of the Endowed Schools Act up to this time. My noble Friend the then President of the Council may perhaps remember that some 11 or 12 years ago I was honoured by being made the channel for communicating to him the earnest hope, expressed by several friends of education, including Members of both Houses of Parliament, who met at my house, that a Royal Commission might be appointed to inquire into the educational endowments throughout the country. We were not long after deeply gratified by the announcement of the appointment of such a Commission, and still more by its admirable composition. For we learnt that it was to be presided over by my lamented Friend (Lord Taunton), one of the noblest, most patriotic, single-minded, and enlightened public men I ever had the happiness of knowing, and it was to comprise several other statesmen since distinguished in the service of the Crown, as well as other men conspicuous for their acquaintance with educational questions. Nor was the Report which presented three years afterwards, in December 1867, unworthy of the expectations raised by the high character of the Commissioners. Founded upon a long, careful, and, I may truly say, exhaustive inquiry into the endowed schools and school endowments of the country, it was most able, elaborate, and statesmanlike, both in its description of their actual state and in its recommendations for the future.

Perhaps you will allow me to remind you of the general outline of the comprehensive scheme proposed in it. After proving a general prevalence, even beyond what had been suspected, of abuse, misuse, and disuse with regard to these endowments, and revealing an unexpected amount of difference both as to their number and value between one part of the country and another; after demonstrating that unless endowed schools are compelled to do good work, they will often do positive mischief by standing in the way of better institutions; and after showing how the Charity Commissioners, ably and efficiently as they had generally done their work within the limited scope of their powers, had been estopped by the nature of their duties from considering the educational endowments of any district in relation to each other, or, indeed, from dealing with any case otherwise than isolatedly and separately on its own merits alone; they proceed to state their reasons for the conclusions which they had arrived at—namely, that the schools ought to be remodelled on a system; that in order to effect this in the best way they ought to be dealt with in groups, and that it would be necessary to sub-divide the country for this purpose; that counties would make the best ultimate divisions, but that for the present the Registrar General's eleven larger divisions ought to be taken; and that within each division the schools should be assigned to the three grades, into which they proposed that all schools below the great public schools and above the elementary schools should be divided. And then they go on to say— Some Provincial Authority suck as we shall hereafter suggest should he charged with the duty"—which cannot be entrusted to the governors of the schools themselves—"of determining in what grade each school is to stand. And the Provincial Authority is to do this "by fixing absolutely the age at which boys are to leave," and "by lay- ing down certain limits" as to "the fees to be paid and the subjects to be taught," so as to check schools from practically rising or falling out of their assigned grade. With regard to religious instruction, they report that it might be left to some Provincial Authority to choose in certain cases between two specified forms of rules on the subject. Whether a school is to have boarders or not is, they say, "a matter to be settled by some Provincial Authority." They state that— After Parliament has laid down the general principle, the precise regulations with respect to the master's remuneration may well he left to the local authorities. Again, they say that— To change the conditions on which exhibitions are at present held recourse should be had to the Provincial Authority. "The same authority should also be empowered to sanction" various other changes with regard especially to exhibitions, where the various circumstances of the various endowments would have to be considered, and this a Provincial Authority would he well able to do. As to the question whether schools in certain cases should be kept as boarding schools, or converted into day schools, they say— The proper authority to decide would be a Provincial Authority, capable of thoroughly understanding and appreciating local claims, and yet not hampered by the tendency to consider them alone. And they conclude their long and care-fully-reasoned out description of the duties and powers of the proposed Provincial Authority thus— The Provincial Authority would be, in our opinion, the proper body to draw up new schemes for the regulation of schools within its province, and submit them through the Charity Commissioners, or some Central Authority, to Parliament. I think it is not too much, therefore, to say with the first Commissioners under the Endowed Schools Act, that "the system of the Report" of the Schools Inquiry Commissioners "mainly rests" upon the establishment of Provincial Authorities, subject on some points—and on some points only—to the control of the Central Authority above them, which the Report recommends to be established; but with the head masters and School Governors within their respective provinces subjected to them on many more points: an appeal being reserved in certain cases only to the supreme Central Authority.

The late Government, in their Bill of 1869 (brought in, be it remembered, in the same Session with several other important measures, which had precedence over it), took only two parts, and kept only one part, of the comprehensive scheme of the Commission of Inquiry—namely, the appointment of a Commission with very large powers for dealing with the educational endowments of the country. For they left out altogether the most important part, in my opinion—the constitution of Provincial Authorities; and they early dropped that of the Central Educational Council. But as in the Preamble of the Bill, which was introduced by one of the Commissioners who had signed the Report, they had implied the intention to carry out the scheme contained in that Report; and as the then advanced period of the Session forbade all chance of carrying more than a short Bill before the Recess, we many of us fondly hoped and believed that the Act of 1869 was only the first instalment of early, systematic, and complete legislation on the subject. Very probably they really meant do so; and Mr. Forster's character for straightforwardness strengthens that impression. But be that as it may, the fact remains that from that day to this neither the late nor the present Government have taken any step towards completing the work on the lines recommended by the Inquiry Commissioners.

I have at various times since, and even during, the passing of the Endowed Schools Act, endeavoured to impress upon this House and successive Governments the great importance of carrying out as a whole, and not merely partially and piecemeal, that comprehensive scheme. And I ventured to predict the failure of any other mode of dealing with a problem at once so large, so complicated, and so delicate—so large; because it concerns at least £20,000,000 of property in money and land, and its application to the efficient promotion of education, and especially of middle-class education: so complicated; for it concerns trusts and emoluments of almost infinite variety in date, in character, and in circumstances: and so delicate; for it concerns multitudinous administrative bodies, scattered haphazard over the country, with very strong, though diverse, personal, family, and local, vested interests. I have no intention of reopening the somewhat warm debates of the last two or three Sessions with regard to the composition or operations of the Commission appointed by the late Government under the Act of 1869. They laboured hard and conscientiously. But they were called upon to do work, which the Commission of Inquiry had declared could not be satisfactorily or efficiently discharged by any central authority alone: for that Commission said— The necessity of dealing with schools in groups seems plainly to imply the corresponding necessity of local Provincial Boards to deal with them. And this I will venture to add, without fear of contradiction; that the first Commissioners under the Endowed Schools Act went beyond the expectations held out by the authors of that Act. For they soon began to startle this House and the country with the sweeping character of their earlier schemes; and it was only after receiving several rude checks from this House that they, with avowed reluctance, entered upon quite an opposite course; and disappointed me, amongst many others, by the hesitating, desultory, and unsystematic character of their later proposals. Indeed, in their Report of 1872, they allow that they had tried to deal with schools in groups, but had practically found it too difficult to do so. They, therefore, determined to give up all idea of carrying on their operations in that way, and thenceforth to treat each case, as if it were an isolated one, separately on its own merits. The consequence has been that they perpetuated in several cases by improved organization, and practically originated in a few cases by resuscitation, in different parts of the country, exactly the unsystematic and unsatisfactory state of things with regard to endowed schools, which the Report so forcibly deprecates; multiplying, to please the trustees, first-grade schools, where there were already enough, and leaving large tracts of country utterly deficient in schools of the grade required there.

Will their successors do better? Their names, when announced in Parliament, justly commanded public confidence. Sir James Hill was well known for his able and judicious work at the Charity Commission, within the limited scope of its powers. Mr. Longley had done good service as Poor Law Inspector, and had gained the confidence of every district successively placed under his charge. My noble Friend Lord Clinton was also favourably known both for his official work at the India Board and for his usefulness in his own county. They may, and I hope will, profit by the exposure of some of the errors of their predecessors. But I boldly say they cannot do well. For, like them, they have work given them to do which, in the words of the Schools Inquiry Commissioners— cannot really be dealt with by a central authority alone; but requires the co-operation of a local body, which, as a matter of course, must be capable of looking at the comity, or, perhaps, several counties, as a whole; but which shall know the district well, and not act, in mere dependence, on the reports of its officers. And now what is the present position of the question? I have ascertained that only a third at most of the vast property yielding more than £600,000 a-year, comprehended under the head of educational endowments alone (to say nothing of others) subject to the Act of 1869, has yet been disposed of; either quite irrevocably by schemes already legally in force, or else by schemes in such a stage as no longer fairly to admit of being now interfered with. And though, no doubt, some endowments might have been very much better applied, if the comprehensive scheme for dealing with schools ingroups had been followed, I think I may safely say no great harm has yet been done: and we are still in time. But every month makes a difference, by disposing for ever of more and more of the magnificent property available three years since for the systematic spread of Secondary Education. I say disposing of finally and for ever: because, under the new scheme, schools will no longer be so disgracefully robbed or perverted as to afford just ground for public indignation, or to enlist public opinion in favour of their being otherwise dealt with. They will be far less assailable hereafter in their respectable misapplication than hitherto in their scandalous abuse. We are still in time: but only just in time. And I would earnestly entreat Her Majesty's Government to seize the golden opportunity before it is too late. If I am asked how this could now be done with- out legislation for the purpose impossible at this period of the Session; I would answer from the experience of a voluntary committee of some 30 or 40 in my own County, comprising most of the chief landowners and the Bishop, with a certain number of clergymen, yeomen, and tenant-farmers as representatives of the more important educational endowments, which met to propose a scheme for the whole County to be submitted to the Endowed Schools Commissioners. I was much surprised and gratified at the diligent attendance at our meetings, and at the amount of response soon given to appeals for a spirit of sacrifice of petty local interests to the general good of the County. I would venture to suggest, without pretending to speak of their legal powers for the purpose, that the Government with the aid of the Lords Lieutenant, could easily name Educational Councils, fairly representative in their character, either for their several counties, or for registration districts comprising two or more counties, as recommended by the Inquiry Commissioners; and could assign to these local Councils instead of to the Central Commissioners, the duty of considering schemes after conference on the spot with the trustees of the different school endowments to be dealt with in those counties or districts, previous to the final determination of the Commissioners and of Parliament. And I feel confident from our Devonshire experience that some such Councils would act very usefully and greatly smooth difficulties. I myself should prefer a County basis for dealing with these, as with various other local matters; "because," in the words of the Inquiry Commissioners "each county is a whole by itself, and has a political and social life of its own." But the question of the best division is, for the present, unimportant. What is vitally important is to commence action before it is too late. Before concluding, I must again earnestly appeal to the Government to interpose at once and determine that the remaining two-thirds of the vast property left by the munificence of our ancestors for educational purposes shall be wisely and systematically distributed so as to assist to the utmost in providing throughout the country sound and economical secondary education for generations yet unborn. Let it not be within the next few years all irrevocably disposed of—squandered, in fact, not corruptly, but wastefully—by a continuance of the same desultory, unsystematic, and unsatisfactory action, which has hitherto unavoidably characterized the course of the Commissioners under the Endowed Schools Act.


hoped that, in consequence of the great amount of Business on the Paper, the noble Earl would excuse him if he did not follow him in a discussion on the general question of the administration of the endowed schools; and he would now tell. his noble Friend what he did not like to tell him in the course of his speech—that he was out of Order. The Bill before their Lordships did not deal with the general question, but merely carried out a certain arrangement in respect of vested interests. When last year the Government felt obliged to adopt the unpleasant course of doing away with the old Commission and appointing a new one, he stated the reasons which induced them to adopt that course. The new Commission had only been at work six months, and it was impossible to say yet whether its schemes would be satisfactory or not. He hoped, therefore, that his noble Friend would excuse him for not going further into the subject.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a accordingly, and passed.