HL Deb 04 July 1881 vol 262 cc1925-33

, in rising to present some Petitions from Boards of Guardians in Devonshire and from a local Chamber of Agriculture praying that the limit of age for compulsory education might, be lowered below 14 years, and that passing the Third Standard only, instead of the Fourth Standard, might be required of children as the condition of their being allowed to work for their living, said: My Lords, in presenting these Petitions from the Devonshire Chamber of Agriculture, and the Boards of Guardians of South Molton, Holsworthy, and Newton Abbot, which are identical in their Prayer, and from the Board of Guardians of Okehampton, which only differs slightly from that Prayer, I must begin by professing my complete agreement with the first of these entrusted to me, that from the South Molton Board of Guardians, the circulation of which in Devonshire led to its adoption, either in its entirety, or with slight modification, by these other bodies— Your Petitioners beg to state that they are fully sensible of the great importance of education, and are sincerely desirous that even the poorest children in the land should receive such instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic as to enable any child wishing4 to do so after leaving school to proceed further in the acquisition of knowledge. I can, from personal experience of nearly 40 years, first as Vice-Chairman, then as Chairman, of the South Molton Board of Guardians and of its School Attendance Committee, testify to the sincerity of the statement of their full appreciation of the importance of education. For the Guardians in both these capacities have throughout loyally endeavoured to carry out the law, not merely by legal proceedings, but, both before and since the Act of 1870, by often substituting an order for the workhouse for out-door relief in cases of obstinate refusal or evasion on the part of parents or children; and, further, in the instance of many Guardians, by their personal influence as employers of labour. I can say the same from long personal knowledge of my friend, Colonel Tanner Davy, the mover of the Petition at the Chamber of Agriculture. And I feel bound to say this on their behalf, because I well know to what misrepresentations both the Petitioners and I shall be exposed from the declaimers in favour of education, who, thanks to the educational grants from the Treasury, and the more recent school rates levied on real property—public contributions both originated in my time—have now the opportunity of cheaply earning a reputation for superior enlightenment and sympathy with the people. It was very different 40 years ago, when I first began endeavouring to promote education at the sacrifice of much labour, a good deal of money, and for a long while of a certain amount of popularity. Your Lordships will forgive me if I go on to say, in no spirit of boastfulness, but merely in my own defence against attacks which I foresee, that I have endeavoured to promote and improve education to all classes—in my own class, by giving some prizes to the great public school, of which I and most of my sons have been alumni; in the middle class, not only by taking a leading part in the foundation of the Devon County School—the first county school ever established, which has passed more boys at the University local examinations than any other school in England—but also more recently by actively assisting in the foundation of Cavendish College, which is now enjoying a success and doing a work worthy of the illustrious name which it bears. Yet in money I have spent many times more in building, maintaining, and supporting elementary schools for the wage class, and training colleges for teachers in them, than I have for both the higher and middle class together; and though this is to be reckoned by thousands in the course of my life, what I have done in this way is little indeed compared to what has been so spent by many Members of this House, and also by many others. For the amount freely given for building elementary schools and training schools for teachers, by members of different Christian Churches, and especially of the Church of England, amounts to £5,000,000 in my own time, besides what they have given for their maintenance, which would amount to many millions more. I must also, in passing, express my concurrence in what the Petitioners go on to say— Your Petitioners must add that they would, moreover, desire to see all children (except those whose parents deliberately object) instructed besides in the elementary truths of Christianity. The good sense and good feeling of the nation, in spite of our defective legislation on this point, from the first sanctioned the general adoption of at least Scripture reading in the schools, except, indeed, in one of the largest and wealthiest towns in England, which, to console it for its excessive juvenile delinquency, and, indeed, general criminality, its excessive amount of preventible disease and preventible mortality, has the exceptional honour of returning two Cabinet Ministers to Parliament. But I pass on to points of more immediate practical importance. The Petitioners say— Your Petitioners are satisfied, from their own experience and that of elementary school teachers, that one especially of the well-meant provisions in the statutes, and the only bye-laws of late sanctioned by the Education Department, is often a cause of great hardship to some of the children themselves, to their parents or surviving parent, if independent, and, if paupers, to the ratepayers, and that it unquestionably much impedes the industrial training of those children, while generally adding very little to their book-learning. Your Petitioners mean the provision prohibiting (except on the half-time system as under the Factory Acts) the industrial employment of children up to the age of 14, unless they have passed the Fourth Standard, or have made 250 attendances yearly for five years at a certified efficient school. This implies less time of earning and of industrial training to the children, and correspondingly more expense for their maintenance and schooling, either to their parents or to the ratepayers, as the case may be. I hardly know what I can add to the Petitioners' reasoning. They do not deny, what I confidently affirm, that children can and often do pass the Fourth Standard at 10 years old. But what we contend is, that though the Fourth Standard is desirable for all, and attainable by many, children, it is not yet at present practically attainable by others, and probably never will be for all. According to the old proverb, one man can take the horse to the water, but 50 cannot make him drink. The Petitioners say— In the instances, such as your Petitioners have known, of children having, owing to their parents' neglect or their own, passed only the First or Second Standard at 13, this prohibition implies another year's detention at school of a child despairing of escape from it, except by the lapse of time, and therefore probably idle, conscious of being a burden instead of a help to its parents, and therefore justly discontented and probably disposed to be mutinous, and almost certain from its age to exercise some influence over its school-fellows, probably to their disadvantage and to the annoyance and discouragement of the teacher. Moreover, the postponement of all industrial training till after 14 places the child in many kinds of work at a permanent disadvantage, and renders it for life a less productive member of the community. Who, for instance, doubts that a boy who has not begun to handle animals till after 14, will, unless he happens to have an exceptional aptitude for it, stand at a lasting disadvantage compared with those who have begun at 10 or 12? The practical operations of this provision bearing hardly upon all, bears all the harder upon the agricultural ratepayers; because, while they find the juvenile labour required by them thus rendered scarcer and dearer, they have to pay in school rates for the often useless schooling of many, and in poor rates for the maintenance of not a few, children who might be maintaining themselves by labour profitable to the community, and doubly useful to themselves as a source of earnings for the present and of industrial training for the future. I was ridiculed some time ago for talking of the influence of recent school legislation upon agriculture, and especially upon weeding. But it is obvious that weeds must considerably affect the present, and, if left to spread, the future productiveness of the land. Weeding, however, can only profitably be done with cheap labour by those who have passed or those who have not yet come to their full strength. The crippled and aged have backs and fingers too stiff, if not eyes too dim, for weeding with efficiency or comfort, whereas the sharp eyes, flexible frames, and lissom fingers of children are particularly suited to the work. I stated some years ago in the House, previous to the present agricultural depression, that £50,000 a-year less was being then spent on juvenile labour than before in Norfolk, so that a county, once considered the model county of England for neat and skilful cultivation, had, I learnt from good authority, perceptibly deteriorated. We hear much of the danger of England's being distanced in her present severe industrial competition with other countries on account of their superior education. The highly protective Tariffs of all other civilized nations, including our own Colonies, look as if that was not their opinion. But if this danger be real, I believe it rather to arise from the ill-devised and unsatisfactory, though most elaborate, scheme of education, gradually forced upon the nation by that unpractical and essentially bureaucratic Department, the Education Office, with its expensive and complicated system of tests, with its voluminous Codes, requiring a costly army of clerks in Downing Street to administer them, and a costly flying corps of some 150 Inspectors, scouring the country to test and enforce them, by annually examining every child in the schools, sometimes for five years or more, in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and separately noting its progress in each. What would be thought if they examined the cloth for any Government Department—first, when the wool had been carded; then, when it had been spun into thread; then, when woven; and then, when dressed and pressed; instead of examining it once for all when sent up as cloth? Why not test the children only on leaving school? A great majority of the school teachers throughout the country deprecate these frequent examinations, not only as being very costly and troublesome, but very depressing to slow children and repressing in their operation upon quick children, retarding the progress of the slow, many of them say, one year, and of the quick two years, involving in the aggregate a serious loss in the postponement of productive work, and the prolongation of costly schooling to millions of children. I do not impute much blame for this to the Parliamentary heads of the Department. With their many other important political duties as Members of the Cabinet, the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon), who for years besides the lead of this House had the charge of many legislative as well as administrative measures, and my noble Friend his Successor (Earl Spencer), with much special attention to give to Irish questions, it is impossible, as there are but 24 hours in the day, they should have been able to devote much time and attention to the Department. We see an illustration of this when the very able permanent officials in it, always seeking fresh fields to conquer, carried that anomalous novelty called Advanced Elementary Education—certainly never contemplated by the authors of the Act of 1870—so much further than the noble Duke intended, that he strove in vain, too late, to restrain it. The education given in most of the schools under the Department, judged by its results, is stated to contrast unfavourably, not only with that in the half-time Greenwich naval schools, declared by a naval officer sent by the United States to report upon the naval schools of Europe to be decidedly the best of them, the class of lads there being, however, superior to the average, but to contrast unfavourably with that in the half-time district pauper schools under the Local Government Board, and the half-time reformatory and industrial schools under the Home Office—all three with children of inferior hereditary types and low early associations, but all three with regular drill, to which I think every schoolboy in England, from the Duke's son to the beggar's, should be subjected, as a most useful educational and disciplinary instrument, valuable for industrial as well as martial training. The teachers and managers of these institutions, in charge of some 30,000 children, at a recent meeting earnestly protested, on account of the probable consequences to those children, against being transferred to the Education Department. My friend, Mr. Chad-wick, a member of the original Commission of Inquiry into the state of factory children, having long taken a deep interest in education, and recognized throughout Europe as one of the highest sanitary authorities, says in a recent address— The long-time teaching has large physical drawbacks. The first evil is a reduction of aptitude fur physical labour and steady industry. We must keep in view, as a cardinal maxim, as the first objective point in all popular elementary education, the Primo vivere deinde philosophari. Long desk-work makes labour painful to the pupils at the outset. It certainly tends with us to overcharge the labour market for sedentary service at the expense of agricultural service. It is now a subject of wide complaint in our rural districts, that the eyes of children taken into schools under the new compulsory law are seriously injured. We see such a result elsewhere in the large proportion of the soldiers who are spectacled in some of the more educated States on the Continent. Curiously enough, within the last week, I was reading in a French paper of the attention which the great increase of shortsightedness in France attributed to increased school attendance is exciting. Mr. Chadwick goes on to say— Then as respects females, we find that curvatures of the spine are seriously frequent in long-time schools where physical exercises are deficient. These evils the half-school-time principle reduces decidedly and immediately by much more than one-half. With us, and in France and Belgium, there are complaints of the increasing scarcity of competent agricultural labour, and of the tendency which the population shows to seek more sedentary or more interesting society of the towns. This evil agriculturists are beginning to trace to the defective character of their education, which fails to interest them in rural life and rural occupations. The opinion of this veteran official inquirer is remarkably confirmed, I find, by an eminently independent and unofficial thinker and writer, Mr. Herbert Spencer, who remarks— To be a nation of good animals is the first condition of national prosperity. Not only is it that the event of a war often turns on the strength and hardihood of soldiers, but it is that the contests of commerce are in part determined by the bodily endurance of producers. Thus far we have found no reason to fear trials of strength with other races in either of these fields. But there are not wanting signs that our powers will presently be taxed to the uttermost. Hence it is becoming of special importance that the training of children should be so carried on as not only to lit them mentally for the struggle before them, but also to make them physically fit to hear its excessive wear and tear. Confirmed in my views by such high and varied authorities, I will conclude by reading the Prayer of the four Petitions— Your Petitioners therefore pray that passing the Third Standard, which implies the possession of elementary knowledge quite sufficient to enable the child afterwards to acquire an indefinite amount of further knowledge, may he substituted for the Fourth Standard, as the indispensable preliminary to engaging in ordinary work, and that, at least, until the establishment of some efficient general system of half-time labour and education, 12 may be substituted for 14 as the limit of compulsory school age. The Okehampton Petition prays for 13 instead of 14 as the limit of compulsory school age, and 10 for beginning half-time work.


said, he would not enter into the question of the limit of age of school board pupils, as it had been debated over and over again, and Parliament had given an emphatic judgment upon it. He must confess that although he had listened with attention to the speech of the noble Earl, he could not even now understand what it was the noble Earl desired. His speech seemed to be an attack upon the Education Department, because at the commencement of it he confessed that he did not like it, in the middle he repeated that he had no opinion of it, and towards the end he stated that he distrusted it. The noble Earl said that the time of the Lords President was too much taken up by various matters outside the Department to admit of their being able to superintend the work of the Office as much as they ought. He was very much surprised to hear the noble Earl make such an attack upon the Education Department. Now, at the time the late Government were in Office he was responsible for everything that took place in that Office; and he had no hesitation in saying that it was one of the best-officered Departments of the Government. All the working of the Department was carried out, under the authority of the Lord President, by the Permanent Secretary (Sir Francis Sandford), who was a most able man, and had taken a high position at Oxford. The Inspectors of the Department, also, were worthy of the high character they bore; they were an excellent body of men, and did their work in a most satisfactory manner, as also did the Examiners. He was therefore at a loss to know the ground on which the noble Earl had attacked the Department; and he felt it his duty to rise and protest against the statements the noble Earl had made.


said, he entirely agreed with the noble Duke as to the efficiency of the very distinguished body of gentlemen who managed the Education Department under their political Chiefs; and he also had the highest possible opinion of the Inspectors throughout the country. He believed that both the gentlemen in the Department and the Inspectors fully understood what the people required in regard to elementary education. When he saw his noble Friend's modest Notice on the Paper, he did not expect that Ms noble Friend would make a speech attacking the permanent officials and their political Chiefs; but his noble Friend had gone through the whole subject of National Education in a manner which he (Earl Spencer) was not prepared to hear. His noble Friend would hardly expect him to follow him through all his points. He could not at present do justice to the subject; besides, the question should be brought up on a Motion, and not upon a Petition. He would answer the Question of which his noble Friend had given Notice. They all knew how zealous his noble Friend was in the cause of education; but he differed from his noble Friend in the views which he had put forth that night. He received a great number of Petitions, almost identical in terms to those presented by the noble Earl, last year both after and before the passing of the bye-laws which really completed the system of compulsory education in the country. His answer to the Petitions was that he did not see that there was any practical hardship whatever in the present law, for every child had an opportunity of going to work before the age of 14, either by passing Standard IV., which could very well be done at the age of 10—no fewer than 9,000 children under 10 having passed that standard last year—or by making the requisite number of attendances under the so-called "Dunces' Clause." Any modification of the present restriction, which only told against a very few children, would, he believed, tend to remove the inducement now felt by parents to keep their children regularly at school. He did not, however, see why the principle of half-time should not be more largely applied to agricultural districts, so that children might be able to go to the fields just as they did to the factories in manufacturing districts. Huddersfield and other large towns had even adopted Standard IV. for half-timers.


said, he begged to disclaim any intention to censure either the officers of the Education Department or the Inspectors.