HL Deb 19 July 1888 vol 328 cc1735-7

, in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether they consider it desirable that the playgrounds of Board Schools in the Metropolis should be opened for the benefit of all children on Saturdays, instead of being closed as at present; and, if so, whether they will amend the Elementary Education Act so as to make it quite clear that the expense of carrying out the above scheme may be provided for out of the ordinary School Board rate? said, there were in the Metropolis 385 schools with a playground of less than one acre each, and 12 schools with a playground of over one acre each, and the whole extent of these playgrounds was about 70 acres in all. These 70 acres that had been purchased at great expense by the ratepayers of the Metropolis were closed to the children on Saturday afternoons, when they could be best utilized owing to the half-holiday which the children then enjoyed. The explanation of this was that if the playgrounds were kept open it would be necessary to provide for the attendance of caretakers, and this was an expense which the School Boards did not consider that they were authorized to incur. There was much difference of opinion on the point; but at present considerable doubt existed as to whether the Education Act of 1870 permitted any outlay on physical instruction. Another point was whether the right of entrance to these playgrounds ought to be confined to children attending the schools, or whether it should not be conceded to all the children of ratepayers. This matter of physical training for children was one of great and increasing importance. At the commencement of this century the bulk of the population in England was agricultural; but now there were two Englishmen living in towns of over 4,000 inhabitants for every one who lived in the rural districts, and this disproportion was annually increasing. Their Lordships were probably aware of the fact that the population of large towns, especially the poorer part of it, was growing up under conditions adverse to health and strength, and it was becoming very necessary that steps should be taken to promote that physical training which was so conducive to health. It was, therefore, very important that a decision should be given whether or not the Code did permit the School Boards of London to pay for physical training. If not, the Act ought to be amended so that we might follow the example of France and Germany and other Continental nations in this matter.


said, he cordially agreed with the noble Earl as to the importance of physical training. He did not know that an amending Act was necessary. He was under the impression that the existing Act permitted School Boards to provide for such training out of the rates; but it would be desirable to have an authoritative statement on the subject. Many of the gymnasia were provided by private donors in connection with the School Boards. The difficulty seemed to arise in regard to the very trifling expense that was needed to provide caretakers and keep the gymnasia and appliances in order. Rather than incur that expense the School Boards preferred to shut the places up.


said, that the Question on the Paper merely referred to the matter of opening the playgrounds on Saturday afternoons, and he had received no Notice of the noble Earl's intention of raising the point as to the powers of School Boards in regard to physical training. He could not, therefore, give a specific answer to the inquiry of the noble Earl on this point. It was his impression that, to a certain extent, at any rate, it was within the power of School Boards to provide for physical training. Several School Boards, he knew, supplied a drill sergeant. In regard to the playgrounds, he had not received any representations on the subject, nor was he aware of the difficulty which prevented them being opened on Saturday afternoons. The noble Earl suggested that all children, whether attending the school or not, should have a right to be admitted to the playground on such occasions. He should rather doubt whether the School Boards would undertake to control such a population in so small a space. He should make inquiries into the whole matter, but it must be borne in mind that it was not wholly within the control of the Education Department, for all the expenditure of the School Boards was subject to the review of another Department. When the School Board for London made an experiment by erecting a small workshop and furnishing it with tools of a simple kind, the expenses were disallowed by the Auditor of Public Accounts. For himself, he should have thought that the expenses might have been allowed on the ground that the workshop was required for the instruction and recreation of the children. It was not necessary to assure the noble Earl that the tendency of the times was in the direction in which he wished the Education Department to go, and that probably in future more would be done for the training of the eye and hand than had been done hitherto.


said, everyone must sympathize with the object the noble Earl had in view. It would be of advantage that the Lord President of the Council should state whether he thought that caretakers of playgrounds on Saturdays could be provided out of the rates.


said, that he should not like to express an opinion, for were he to do so his decision might be overridden by those who had control of the money.