HL Deb 01 April 1884 vol 286 cc1256-64

in rising to call attention to the Education Code, which is laid on the Table of the House till Wednesday next; and to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty would be graciously pleased to direct that after the word 'Examination' in Article 107 B. of the new Code of Regulations issued by the Committee of the Privy Council on Education the following words be added 'but infants till they have attained the ago of five years shall be exempted from examination in reading, writing, counting, and needlework,' said, that he must apologize for the short Notice of that Motion, he having only within the last few days become aware of the fact that the time which the document to which he was about to refer lay upon the Table of the House had nearly expired. He wished to ask their Lordships' attention to some few points connected with it. It appeared that the Privy Council derived their authority to issue a document like that upon the Table from the Elementary Education Act of 1870. It was clear that the avowed object of that Act was to give what was usually understood by the term "elementary education," and in the regulations issued by the Education Department of the Privy Council in the Code elementary education was defined to be instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, and needlework. That seemed to be very well. But what did they find further? There were what were called optional subjects. They were singing, English, geography, elementary science, history, algebra, Euclid, and mensuration, mechanics, chemistry, physics, animal physiology, botany, principles of agriculture, Latin, French, and domestic economy. But not content with that it was also added— Any other subjects, other than those mentioned in this Article, may, if sanctioned by the Department, be taken as a specific subject, provided that a graduated scheme of teaching it be submitted to and approved by the Inspectors. He was at a loss to know how schools in which all those subjects were taught could come under the class of elementary schools, as intended by the Elementary Education Act of 1870. It was true those higher subjects were called optional; but if they were to be taught at all, the school must be provided with a class of teachers who were competent to give the instruction. It really amounted to this—that the education given in those schools was sufficient to prepare for any profession—he could not suppose that the Elementary Education Act was intended for that—schools, let it be remembered, which ratepayers were compelled to support, and in which there were children whose parents were receiving an income, in some cases, as they were informed, of.£400 or £500 a-year. Then there was another evil attending that discretionary power vested in the Education Department of the Privy Council. The regulations which were issued periodically were perpetually changing. The Lord President, or the Vice President of the Privy Council, might hold entirely different views about education from their Predecessors in Office, and changes were made. Thus they found the Code of 1882 required less than the Code of 1884—teachers and children were overworked, and serious consequences were the result. The Code of 1882 required that a child should have attended 250 times before being presented for examination by the Inspector; but the Code of 1884 required only that the name of a child should have been on the register for 22 weeks in the year before it was presented for examination. The attend- ances in the 22 weeks might have been comparatively few, and to enable the child to pass the examination great pressure must probably have been used. And as regarded over-pressure and the system of cramming children, often to the injury of their health and that of their teachers, in order that they might pass the examination, there could be no doubt that the system which had been adopted of payment by passes lay at the root of the evil. The object was to gain as large a grant as possible by getting the largest number of children through the examination without reference to anything else. There were other matters connected with that subject to which, at a future time, he desired to ask their Lordships' attention. But there was the important question which he desired to bring before the House, whether the education which was then being carried on at so large a cost to the country, and was becoming a serious burden to local ratepayers, was an education that was based upon sound principles? The Return of the Education Department showed an expenditure for 1883 of £2,846,000 being an increase of £44,000 over 1882. He asked whether, with that enormous cost, they were acting upon principles which would benefit the moral and social condition of the people? The principle of the Education Act seemed to exclude that. The dread of religious education had led to the consequent exclusion, also, of moral education. The Inspectors of schools were forbidden "to inquire into any instruction in religious subjects" given in schools; and could moral teaching be separated from religious? An Inspector did not inquire whether a child even knew the Ten Commandments, or what the Bible was; and it was asserted that since the passing of the Education Act of 1870 many young persons, from ignorance of the Bible, had arrived at mature years unfit to be sworn in a Court of Justice. Previous to the Act of 1870 it was indispensable to the obtaining of a Government grant that the Bible should at least be read. He might quote the words of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, who stated that— In one large town of this country there were more than 12,000 children in Board schools who receive no week-day religious instruction of any kind. He left that question, then, with the hope that it might meet with their Lordships' serious attention. On referring to Article 107, it would be found that all scholars—that was including infants—must be presented to the Inspectors for examination, and that this was carried out was shown by the Reports of School Boards. He believed he might mention the London Board, for the Reports of which he had that day asked. He found it stated— That the Committee were of opinion that the examination of infants in reading, writing, counting, and needlework should be discontinued until they have reached their fifth year. And that— A large proportion of the time of infants between three and five be devoted to healthful recreation, lively occupations, games, and physical exercises. A statement relative to this question was recently made, as reported in the public Press, by Dr. Forbes Winslow, whose name must be well known to their Lordships. He said— As one who had had many opportunities of observation, he was able to bear testimony to the direful effect of the over-pressure which was going on at the present moment in ruining the health of young children, and that the lunacy statistics were a sufficient evidence of the evils resulting from endeavours to force into the brain knowledge which it was incapable of holding. The view of the question which he had stated seemed to be consistent with common sense, and he hoped the noble Lord opposite would not object to the Amendment in the Code which he now begged to move.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to direct that after the word 'Examination' in Article 107 B. of the now Code of Regulations issued by the Committee of the Privy Council on Education the following words be added 'but infants till they have attained the ago of five years shall be exempted from examination in reading, writing, counting, and needlework.'"—(The EARL De La Warr.)


said, the noble Earl had seized the last moments allowed for criticism of the annual re-edition of the Education Code. He pointed out that to-morrow was the last day on which this now edition of the Code would lie on the Table of the House, after which its fresh alterations would become law. There was not a single instance in which the annual edition had not included alterations of a character to make that which was already complicated enough still more complicated from year to year. Each edition had been recommended to Parliament as intended to contain the last changes on the subject. He agreed generally with the criticisms made by the noble Earl. He had brought to notice, in his speed, one particular effect of the working of the present Code. Any reasonable man, he thought, would consider it a defect in this Code that it attached educational grants to the intellectual performances of children of three years old. There was no country in which such an absurdity was adopted. In Germany—a country which was always favourably compared with ours in educational matters—such a thing was not attempted. Infants of this tender age were left either to nurses or crèches, or infant asylums, or to little schools kept at private cost. A public receptacle for the care of children three years old was little more than a foundling hospital. It was taking babies away from the care of their mothers, and placing them at schools at the public expense under the pretence of giving them education. But this was only one of many bad features imseparable from a system of education based on a radically false principle—namely, that of providing for national education by the payment of the teachers by grants upon detailed results of performances in various kinds of instruction. He could hardly conceive a more ridiculous scheme for national education than ours, which proposed to give 1s. grant for every child taught needlework; 1s. for singing, or 6d. if taught by ear;1d. for elementary subjects, among which the art of reading was enumerated as a subject; then passed on to higher grants for higher subjects still as elementary. These schools were supposed to be elementary, yet elementary subjects were paid for much lower than subjects not elementary. Thus, 2s. were given as a grant for what were called class subjects, and 4s. for specific subjects including science and foreign languages. Now, he wished to impress upon their Lordships that nowhere else in the world did a school grant system like that of England exist. He believed that the noble Viscount (Viscount Sherbrooke), whom he did not See in his place at that moment, was the author of this very quaint system. The noble Viscount had taken, it would seem, a commercial view of the subject. The idea was a fear of value not being secured by uncertain tests of the teachers' work and of the teaching paid for. There was a wish, to secure a quid Pro quo—to ascertain that they should get their money's worth. But he should like to point out that the quo meant the expenditure of millions for the general education of the working classes; the quid was only specified performances by specified groups of children, which was anything but the national education wanted. The complaints which were now being made, not of over-education, but of over-pressure in bad education, sprang entirely and necessarily from the action of this false principle. It was an obstacle to all that was worthy of the name of education. The teacher had to make an income to pay his last year's bills by getting up some of the children to earn for him, as the phrase was, the highest grants, and the highest grants were attached to the highest subjects. For this, teachers and pupil-teachers were straining, and children were worked over hours, and were crammed instead of being educated. Those children who could not be so crammed, or backward scholars, were neglected as unprofitable earners of grants. Most irrelevant answers were made to these complaints—such as that there was no over-expenditure, that room was still wanted for more children, and that a few richer children wanted higher education, who were taking the poorer children's bread. But the question was not of too much education, but of the system of school-managers farming little children for grants on sham education and calling it a national system.


said, he remembered, as a former member of the London School Board, that a number of children under five years of age were sent to school simply because their parents were away working, and these children mostly passed their time lying on the floor. The by-laws provided for the education of children between the ages of five and 13 years. That was quite right, though in some cases five might be somewhat too early; but the present proposal of individual examination of infants under five seemed to him to be extraordinary, and therefore he trusted some explanation would be given of it. He could see no advantage of children under five years of age being presented to Her Majesty's Inspectors for examination. Such a course was not only objectionable and useless, but it was positively mischievous to the health and intellect of tiny infants.


said, the discussion that had taken place was a striking illustration of the way in which certain noble Lords in that House travelled from the Notice of Motion under discussion. He had innocently come down prepared to deal merely with the question relating to infants under the age of five, and whether they ought or ought not to be examined. But two of the noble Lords had travelled over a number of questions that arose under the Code. It never occurred to him that these would be started. The noble Earl had raised the question whether there should or should not be a Code at all, or very nearly that, and, if any Code, what Code; whether pay meats by results were or were not good; whether all the world was right or the noble Lord. It was strange that the noble Lord had not discovered that the Code introduced by Lord Spencer and Mr. Mundella last year, and altered this year, as the result of experience, by the Circular of Mr. Mundella, was entirely in the noble Lord's direction. It was no doubt true that the Education Department were not able to go far on the same road with the noble Lord. With respect to the treatment of the younger infants, he was in hearty sympathy with the noble Lord, who was preaching on this subject to those who were already converted. His Motion was an anachronism. It might have applied to past Codes, but it did not to the present. The noble Earl did not I appear to understand the effect of the existing Code. It gave no individual I grant to children in infant schools, and it did not require the individual examination of infants under five.


remarked that the Code required that the infants should "present themselves for examination."


repeated that this did not mean individual examination. There was no obscurity on this point among those who administered the Code. It merely meant that the infants should attend, and that the Inspector should have an opportunity of seeing them and ascertaining whether they had been properly attended to. That was a necessary provision, unless they were prepared to allow the teacher to work his own sweet will; but it was only a muster, and there was no attempt at individual examination. The Department and the Inspectors knew quite well what was meant, and that it did not imply an individual test. The payments in infant schools were fixed grants on attendance, and there was also a general merit grant earned by the teacher upon the general character of his school; but there was no unwholesome stimulus to earn a grant upon the results of the examination of these infants. Whether there was or was not an objection to the system of payment by results, it could not arise in the case of these infant schools. There was no such system in those schools. There were some 400,000 little children below the age of five in the schools of this country earning, no doubt, a very important contribution for the schools. He supposed the noble Earl did not wish there should be no inquiry or inspection as to whether those children were neglected. The inspection under the present Code was only of a general character, and he could hardly think the noble Earl could desire that those children should be absolutely ignored by Her Majesty's Inspectors, considering the large amount of public money paid in respect of them. The noble Earl might rest assured that the provisions of the new Code need afford him no anxiety on this particular point, and that there was no reason for any such change as that proposed in the Motion.


said, he believed it was evident that individual examinations had really taken place. What he asked was that such a practice should be discontinued.


said, it was merely a matter of fact that nothing was to be earned by individual examinations. A particular Inspector might think it his duty to examine the children one by one; and there had been a habit among Inspectors—in the belief of the Education Department carried beyond the necessities of the case—to insist on that kind of individual examination, although it earned no individual grant. It was, however, by no means desired that that habit should be encouraged.

Motion (by leave of the House) With drawn.

House adjourned at quarter before Six o'clock, to Thursday next, a quarter past Ten o'clock.