HL Deb 09 July 1877 vol 235 cc958-65

I must again ground my plea for your Lordships' indulgence in the deep interest which for now nearly a quarter of a century I have taken in Middle Class Education. As to Endowed Schools, I may be allowed to mention that some 15 years ago, at the request of a number of distinguished friends of Education, including several Members of both Houses, who had done me the honour to meet for a conference at my house, I presented to the then President of the Council a Memorial praying for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the many educational endowments scattered over the country. We were much gratified soon after by hearing that a most able Commission had been appointed, presided over by the late lamented Lord Taunton, which, after a long and careful enquiry, presented one of the most statesmanlike, exhaustive and, in my view, conclusive Reports I ever read. The only misfortune was that its recommendations were so little heeded, if, in truth, they were read, either by the late or present Government.

The late Government, indeed, proposed a measure purporting in its Preamble to be framed upon that Report; but omitting the most important of its recommendations—that upon which in the language of the Commissioners subsequently appointed by that Government, "the scheme of the Report mainly rested." And the Act as passed embodied little more than what was only a subsidiary recommendation of the Report, though one always acceptable to the official mind—namely, the establishment of a Central Commission to do all the work, local as well as central, which the Report had recommended should devolve mainly upon local bodies entitled in it "Provincial Authorities," slightly controlled and brought into harmonious action by a merely supervising central authority. The Endowed Schools Act was, therefore, practically an arch with the keystone left out—the play of Hamlet with the part of Hamlet omitted —as might be seen by an enumeration of some of the chief duties and responsibilities proposed in the Report to be entrusted, to these Provincial Authorities. They were to determine the grade of the school; to fix absolutely the age at which the boys were to leave, and to lay down certain limits as to the fees to be paid and subjects to be taught; to settle whether the school should have boarders or not; to make regulations as to the master's remuneration; and to change the conditions on which Exhibitions and Scholarships should be held. The Commissioners concluded their long and carefully reasoned-out description of the duties and powers of the proposed Provincial Authority by saying that each would he, in their 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 was glad to hear from the late Secretary to the Colonies the other day an energetic protest against centralization, and a stout defence of local self-government. I only regretted that he should have applied those generally sound principles to the case of the Prisons Bill—in my opinion a very good measure on the whole—and prison administration, a subject to which the objections were not fairly applicable. But I regretted still more that he should have concurred with his Colleagues in the wanton creation of a new centralized administrative bureau, acting through Government Inspectors sent down from London, to dispose finally and irrevocably of more than £20,000,000 worth of educational endowments in different parts of the country; while the Report by which his Colleagues and himself professed to be guided stated that the necessity of dealing with schools in groups seems plainly to imply the corresponding necessity of local hoards to deal with them. The noble President of the Council disappointed me sadly by saying in his reply to me last year, when I urged the Government to pass a Bill for the establishment of Provincial Authorities, that, in his opinion, the Central Commissioners were more capable of taking a fair and impartial view of what was required in each district than persons who, from local considerations, would be anxious to have schools of the highest grade, though the Schools Inquiry Commissioners spoke of their proposed Provincial Authority as capable of thoroughly understanding and appreciating local claims, and yet not hampered by the tendency to consider them alone. It was in reliance on the recommendations, and still more on the cogent reasoning and evidence, of that Report, that both during the passing of the Endowed Schools Act, and repeatedly since, I have pressed for the establishment of some provincial Boards; and, in their absence, confidently predicted the failure of the central authority to do the work really well. Even if the composition of the Endowed Schools Commission, able and honourable as were its Members, had been as satisfactory as, owing to the previously-published opinions of at least one of them, I thought it was the reverse; even if they had, in their administration, shown as much judgment and discretion, as several divisions proved, that in the opinion of this House, they had not, they could not satisfactorily accomplish their allotted task, because they had work to do which, in the language of the Report of 1869 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 county, 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. The Endowed Schools Commissioners told you, in their Report of 1872, that they had tried to deal with schools in groups, which the Report of 1869 had described as absolutely necessary, but found that under the Endowed Schools Act the difficulty of doing so was too great, and that they had in consequence given up that idea, and resolved to treat each case as an isolated one on its own merits. Their Successors were admirably selected, and seem to have acted as judiciously as circumstances allowed. But while praising their appointment in this House two years ago, I confidently said they could not do really well under the Endowed Schools Acts of 1870 and 1875, and I repeat to-day that even superhuman wisdom would not have enabled them to succeed.

I shall now proceed to show how unsatisfactorily, when tried by the noble Duke's own test, the two successive Central Commissions have worked in the important matter of school grades. I may remind your Lordships that the Schools Inquiry Commissioners explain that by 1st grade, they mean a school where the boys leave at 18 or 19; by 2nd grade, one where they have to leave about 16; by 3rd grade, at about 14; and that, after very careful investigation, they had satisfied themselves on several quite independent grounds, that in town districts 16 out of every 1,000 boys wanted some school higher than the public elementary school; that at least half, or eight of the 16, wanted 3rd grade schools; the 1st grade, according to the prevalence or not of classics, having either two or three, and the 2nd grade, six or five. They state that— The most urgent educational need of the country is that of good schools of the 3rd grade— that is, of those which shall carry education up to the age of 14 or 15. It is just here that the Endowed Schools appear most signally to fail, while nothing else takes their place.… And the private schools cannot be relied upon to fill this gap, for as soon as a Master is thoroughly successful in a school of this sort, there is everything to induce him to raise his terms and fill his school with hoys of a higher social class. Now, I have ascertained that up to the present time, schemes for 220 schools have been finally approved by the successive Central Authorities, of which at least 110 ought, as I have just shown, to have been 3rd grade, whereas there are only 93; while the 1st and 2nd grades are respectively 42 and 85— making together 127, instead of only 110; and of these the proportion of 1st grade is far too large.

Now, the undue multiplication of 1st and 2nd grade schools will not only be a. waste of money, but by furnishing a supply in excess of the natural demand, will tend to diminish the prosperity and, with it, the efficiency of each school. You will have a disastrous competition between them for pupils. They will either lower their prices to keep up their numbers, and thus tempt parents to send their children to schools of too high a grade, and to keep them unduly long at learning, instead of beginning earning; or they will have their schools half empty with fewer masters, obliged each to teach more subjects, and therefore teaching less well; while, in either case, the standard of masters will be lowered through the impaired prospects of remuneration offered.

Political economists have divided work into three classes—that of production, of distribution, and of verification; the work of production involving in most cases far more and far heavier bodily labour than either the work of distributing, as merchants, shopkeepers, and carriers do, that which has been produced; or the work of verifying, as lawyers, accountants, and others do, the legality and accuracy of transactions. It is obvious that the number of distributors and verifiers required must depend in great measure upon the amount of raw or manufactured produce to be dealt with. When the learned Professions, and that of clerks and such like are already so overstocked, when trade is dull and manufactures slack, is it wise to multiply schools for qualifying boys chiefly for the work of distribution or verification, involving only little or very light manual labour, and to stint the number of 3rd grade schools, better suited to boys early to be trained to hard bodily labour—to increase our present tendency to the condition of some place in Germany, where it was said some time ago, "a Professor could be had easier and cheaper than a stonemason?"

I have said that the classes using the 1st and 2nd grade schools, thus unduly multiplied, will have the education of their children in them deteriorated in consequence. But what is far more serious, the best of the lower middle class, and the most intelligent and self- denying of the artizans, willing to make sacrifices in order to secure for their children a better education than they had themselves enjoyed, will be cruelly and unjustly denied their fair share of the benefits of the magnificent educational endowment, yielding more than £666,000 a-year, and worth more than £20,000,000, provided by the pious munificence of our ancestors. And their case will be all the harder because, for reasons which I have already given from the Report, they cannot expect the void thus needlessly created to be supplied by private enterprize; and the present respectable misapplication of these endowments is much more hopelessly irrevocable than was the previous state of abuse, misuse, and disuse of many of them which invited reform.

It is sad to think of the mischief that has already been done, of nearly two-fifths of these Endowments already as good as finally disposed of—or some £250,000 out of £666,000 a-year income, or near £8,000,000 out of the £20,000,000 it is worth at 30 years' purchase; but sadder still to think of the future mischief that will be done to the cause of Education, if the remaining more than£12,000,000 are to be, as I fear they will, much of them, similarly misapplied; and saddest to reflect that this is the result of the ever increasingly bureaucratic inclinations and centralizing action of successive Administrations.

Moved for— Return made out, county by county, with in each case a proximate estimate of the annual endowments of

  1. "1. The number of schemes finally approved and in force in England and Wales under the Endowed Schools Acts, 1869, 1873, and 1874;
  2. "2. The number of schemes published by the Charity Commissioners under those Acts, but not yet finally approved;
  3. "3. The Endowed Schools not returned in 1. and 2. nor included in section 3. of the Endowed Schools Act, 1873, which are within the general provisions of the Endowed Schools Acts;
  4. "4. The aggregate number and income of Endowed Schools included in section 3. of the Endowed Schools Act, 1873: Also,
Return of the number and grades (as determined by maximum age of scholars, amount of fees payable, and course of instruction) of schools established or regulated by schemes approved under the Endowed Schools Acts, in the following form.

SCHEMES submitted by 1st Grade. 2nd Grade 3rd Grade. Elementary Schools.
Endowed Schools Commissioners
Charity Commismissioners
—(The Earl Fortescue.)


said, that as the Return moved for by the noble Earl was wholly unopposed, he should not have thought it necessary to trouble the House with any remarks were it not that it might be supposed that he agreed in the views stated by the noble Earl if he allowed them to pass wholly uncontroverted. As to the advisability of a central authority carrying out operations in regard to the Endowed Schools throughout the country, Parliament had decided that these schools should be in future dealt with by the Charity Commissioners—he would not go into the question whether that decision was right or wrong; but as long as the law to that effect remained on the Statute Book, the duties of those Commissioners must be carried out. He must also emphatically deny that there had been any failure on the part of the central authority to do what was desired. There was nothing in the present law, or in the practice of the Charity Commissioners, which could prevent a local inquiry being made, if they thought fit, into the requirements of the districts with which they dealt; and, moreover, if they deemed a public inquiry to be necessary, it was within their power to hold one. If the noble Earl had gone into specific instances in particular districts where the Commissioners had failed in doing their duty, he would have taken a more practical course than he had done by making vague charges in general terms. The noble Earl had made accusations without bringing forward proofs to substantiate them, one of those unsupported accusations being that the operations of the Charity Commissioners constituted a cruel denial of education to the middle classes. [Earl FORTESCUE: I said the lower middle class.] He ventured to say there had been no cruel denial of education to the lower middle class, and that the noble Earl ought not to have made that charge against such a body without proving it. It must be remembered that the work of the Charity Commissioners was not yet completed; and, as far as he could ascertain, he believed that they were acting in a manner which was most conducive to the educational interests of the country, and which also reflected credit on their exertions.

Motion agreed to.

Returns ordered to be laid before the House.

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