HL Deb 11 April 1889 vol 335 cc204-8

, in rising to ask the Lord President of the Council whether it would be possible to insert words in Article 85 (a) of the new Code which will make it clear that the requirement of 100 cubic feet of internal space and 10 square feet of internal area, for each child in average attendance, will either not be applied to existing schools or will only be applied in extreme cases, said: I should not like it to be supposed that, in asking this question, I intend to imply that the Government has any intention of putting severe pressure on the voluntary schools; and I should like to add that I have not yet had time thoroughly to study the Code, and the more I look into it the more important do the changes proposed in it appear to me to be. They seem to me to be so serious that it might be necessary that we should have a little more time thoroughly to examine them before giving an opinion as to the way they would work. I am glad the Government has given us two months instead of the statutory one month during which the Code might be considered in Parliament. No doubt the Government has paid regard to one of the fundamental recommendations of the late Commission of Inquiry into Education—viz., that both the Board schools and the voluntary schools should be considered as constituting an essential part of the educational provision for the country. There is no reason to believe that there is any desire on the part of the Government to hurt the voluntary schools in any way, but there is a great deal in the Code which affects them very much. I hope I may be permitted, after putting this question to-night, to reserve to myself the liberty of saying something at a later stage about the general working of the Code. I think it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of a great many of the changes. They grow under one's eye as one considers them, and the Government will probably find that it is really of value to the Department that they should know by some public discussion what would be the effect of a great many of these proposals. But the particular question which I ask now has been pressed upon me very much, because it is one of the very first things that struck the minds of the managers of voluntary schools. The 85th article of the new Code is so worded as to give generally a power to the Department to insist upon 100 cubic feet of internal space and 10 square feet of internal area being provided for every child in average attendance. There are a great many cases where that would be very oppressive. In many cases it would be almost impossible to raise the necessary funds. There are other cases, especially in London, where it would be impossible to obtain the necessary ground for enlargement. In many cases, again, the managers would, in the first instance, have been glad to comply with such a provision, but were discouraged and practically prevented by the Department itself from complying, because the Department refused to make any grant corresponding to the increased area. In these various ways there can be no doubt at all that anything like a universal requirement of this increased accommodation in the schools would be so oppressive as practically to interfere seriously with the general principle of recognizing the voluntary schools as part of the provision for the education of the nation. I shall be glad, therefore, if the President of the Council is able to give some assurance that that is not the intention of the Government, and to say also whether it would be possible to insert words which would make it quite clear that this requisition is not to be applied to existing schools, or would only be applied in very extreme cases. I do not think it would be difficult to provide such words if there were a real desire to insert them, and I am sure it would make a very great difference in the way in which the Code is generally regarded in the country by those who have charge of these schools all over England.


I should be the last person to deny that a full discussion of the new Code would be not only objectionable, but of immense advantage. I should also like distinctly to say that the Government recognize as fully as the right rev. Prelate the desirability of maintaining the settlement which has been made with respect to the education of this country. The voluntary schools are as much a part of our system as the Board schools, and are as much recognized in this Code as they have been on any previous occasion.. The Government desire to do equal justice as between Board and voluntary schools, and thereby to promote the efficiency of our national education. With regard to the special question. asked by my right rev. Friend, what is required by the Code is that— School premises should be healthy, well-lighted, warmed, drained, and ventilated, properly furnished, and supplied with suitable offices, and contain sufficient accommodation for the scholars attending. That refers to existing schools, and a note follows as to construction of new buildings, and it is said that the Department will "endeavour to secure the 100 cubic and 10 square feet for each unit in average attendance." These words were introduced ten years ago to give the Department discretion, on which they have acted. No hard.. and fast rule is laid down, and the Department have only been desirous to act in accordance with the recom- mendation of all the Royal Commissions— That the 100 cubic and 10 superficial feet should be the minimum accommodation provided for each child in average attendance in all school buildings in future to be erected. At page 63 they remark that:— Superficial area is but a rough approximation to the actual accommodation of a school, and that the truer criterion, especially in schools for elder children, is to be found in the amount of seat room provided. We think that the demand for increased accommodation for each child in those buildings in which it has been hitherto calculated at eight square feet per child should be measured rather by the need of more seat room than by the simple calculation of superficial area. The proper measure of a school's accommodation should be the seat supply. So long as there is adequate room for the children in average attendance, existing schools need not fear the interference of the Department on the ground or want of space. No raid upon schools heretofore sanctioned was ever contemplated, and there are many reasons why it would be unjust. They need not be apprehensive of any undue pressure.


It is impossible to say even two or three words on the subject of the New Code without expressing one's great sense of the difficulty of the subject. No one knows better than I do the extreme complexity and difficulty of these educational questions. A Bill in Parliament is bad enough, but a Code is always more difficult, because it is full of details of the most complex kind. I do not purpose at this moment to go into the question of the Code. If it were always to be administered by my noble Friend I should feel perfectly confident that all was right, but it may at some time have to be administered by someone very different. The point I wish to press upon noble Lords is this—that the Code proposes greater changes than have been made in our system of education during the last twenty years. I am utterly unprepared at present to give any opinion as to how this Code will work. It fails to embody many of the important modifications of the existing system which have been recommended by the Royal Commission, so that the Code cannot be described as the Code of the Commission. The Commission expressly state that their recommenda- tions can only be taken as part of an entire scheme. I acknowledge the skill, labour, and goodwill to the cause of education with which the Code is framed; but at present one cannot express an opinion as to its educational effect. I can not, however, help thinking that if the excellent example of Mr. Mundella, which inspired the confidence even of his opponents, had been followed, it would have been a wise, generous, and considerate course. In 1881, when changes small and insignicant compared with those of the present Code were introduced, Mr. Mundella allowed the proposed Code to lie on the Table for a whole Session in order that a basis of general agreement might be found. I remember that there was hardly anything in Mr. Mundella's career as Vice President that met with more general assent and applause than that action. It is worth considering, in so grave a matter as this, whether it would not be better to follow a precedent so wise and generous, before the Government are finally committed to the great and vital changes which are embodied in this Code.


The more I have looked into the Code since the discussion the other day, the more I have been struck with the great magnitude of the alterations—many of which, I think, very great improvements—and the more I have felt that it requires very careful discussion as a whole, because of the working of the different alterations in conjunction with each other. I trust that before the expiration of the two months which have to elapse after the Code is placed on the Table, before it acquired the force of Law, there will be time for full discussion which, in your Lordships' House, ought to take place soon after the Recess. The working of the Code in the country would be greatly facilitated by public attention out-of-doors being called to the various provisions which, at first sight, can hardly be adequately understood in their full bearing.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, to Tuesday the 30th instant, a quarter past Four o'clock.