HL Deb 13 May 1889 vol 335 cc1815-29

I have to move the following Resolution— That, in the opinion of this House, the Education Code is defective, inasmuch as it fails to provide adequate facilities for the physical education of children attending elementary schools. My Lords, in moving this Resolution,. I do not desire in the smallest degree to belittle the work of the Government in the new Education Code. I quite feel that it was an improvement on its predecessor. At the same time, I desire by this Resolution to emphasize the fact that physical education seems to me almost entirely ignored in the Code. My Lords, it is necessary that the physique of the population of this country should be improved. But before I enter upon that consideration, I desire to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the population and the circumstances connected with the population of this country are entirely different from what they were a very few years ago, and also that these islands are in a very different position from any other country, I may say, on the face of the globe. I mean by that, My Lords, that whereas Belgium, for instance, is a very thickly populated country, and perhaps more thickly populated than this country, still there is no other land on the face of the globe in which the population is congregated in towns in such enormous numbers as in these islands. Belgium is a thickly populated country, but its population is, to a large extent, found in populous villages; ours, on the contrary, is in a great measure collected within some 20 enormous metropolises, if I might call them so. Then, my Lords, not only have we these enormous cities studding the land, but they are annually increasing at a rapid rate. The population in these islands increases at the rate of something like 300,000 a year, and the whole of this increase goes towards the enlargement of our cities. I believe that the influx of agricultural labourers into the towns of Great Britain is at the rate of something like 60,000 or 70,000 a year. And what cities they are ! Most of these cities have sprung up without any regard to the health of the population, and these masses of people are congregated in a great measure in narrow streets and in confined courts. It is impossible, I think your Lordships will allow, that a generation of children can grow up healthy and strong in such cities unless some means are taken to strengthen their bodies. There is no doubt, as a question of physiological science, that the health of a population is in inverse ratio to its density, or, in other words, that the more a population is aggregated together, other things being equal, the more unhealthy it becomes. Happily, other things are not always equal in the prejudicial point of view, and science is able in a great measure to counteract the bad effects of this overcrowding. But nevertheless, there is a great need, I contend, for the Educational Department of the Government to consider whether they ought not to endeavour to improve the physical condition of children as well as their minds. It is now a quarter of a century ago since Dr. Hayles Walsh first drew the attention of the public to this question, and it is many years since Dr. Cantlie, a surgeon practising in the London Hospital, in giving evidence on this question, stated that after making inquiries among 800 patients in the hospital, he found that there were only one-fourth who could trace their pedigree back to the fourth generation. I believe, my Lord, that if it were practicable to surround the large towns so that it would be impossible for countrymen and countrywomen to enter it, we should find that the degeneration of the race would become so great that the Legislature would be forced to take some action in the matter. The truth is, my Lords, that our eyes are blinded to the degeneration going on, owing to the influx into our towns of countrymen and countrywomen. They improve the race in the towns, but they themselves deteriorate—and their children are less healthy than those who are born and bred in the country. Now what are the requirements of the Code with regard to this matter? There are only two paragraphs in which physical education is at all mentioned. Section 12 sub-Section N provides as to military drill for boys under an instructor for two hours a week, or forty hours during the school time. Section 89 says that the income of the school must be applied only to the purposes of the school, and the school authorities are not allowed to pay the whole or even part of the salary of a teacher of drill unless he is also the drill teacher in several schools. Now, what are the subjects which are taught in the schools under this Code? There are four subjects which are obligatory—reading, writing, arithmetic, and needlework, and for those there is a fixed grant of 12s., 14s., or 15s. 6d. according to the efficiency of the scholars. My own feeling is that physical education is of such importance that it ought to be included in the obligatory subjects; but if that does not meet with your Lordships' approval, I would suggest that it ought to be included amongst the optional subjects, so that any school which chooses to take it up may do so, equally with geography, English, singing, elementary science, or history. Those are subjects which only individual scholars can study, and for which there is a grant of 4s. Now, my Lords, we heard a great deal not long ago about overpressure in the schools. I venture to assert that a good deal of this overpressure is due to the neglect of the Department not to consider the requirement of physical exercise as part of the education in elementary schools. Children of tender years are kept at their desks doing sums, and at other lessons which to them are exceedingly hard, for a much longer time than the children of well-to-do parents are allowed to work; and they are children of parents who have never used their brains to a great degree. If, however, these children had physical exercise, it would be found that their minds would improve as well as their bodies. The children of upper and middle class persons come from parents who for many generations have used their brains, and are children more capable of using their brains than the children of those who for generations, it may be, have not in any large measure done so. I think, my Lords, that if physical exercise were allowed for half an hour so as divide mental lesson from mental lesson, not only the physical condition, but the mental condition of the children would be improved, and the result would be very much better, looked at even from a mental point of view. Then, again, there is another point which I should like to impress upon your Lordships, and that is that the teacher as well as the scholars are kept for very long hours at schoolwork. I believe there is nothing so trying to the nerves—nothing which makes a man so irritable and nervous as teaching; and if you could turn the teachers out to engage in gymnastics with the children, you would find there would be better discipline and less corporal punishment inflicted. This Education Code is a one-sided one. The whole idea pervading it is to train the intellect. There is nothing for the body, which should also receive attention. The intellect and the body I assert should be considered together. But, my Lords, it is no use allowing this subject if you do not put it on a par with the others. Those subjects which are neither compulsory nor paid with money are handicapped, and, I submit, unfairly handicapped. My Lords, it may be said that in the Board Schools of London Swedish drill is taught, and that we have already small companies of boys drilling. I am perfectly aware that Swedish drill is taught now, and for many years I have been trying to get this drill taught in these schools. Although I believe the Board Schools of London have been exceedingly anxious to do all they can in the matter, they have not got the power or the funds to do it, and if they attempted to spend money in this way they would be surcharged. I therefore, through an association with which I am connected, proposed to them to bring over Swedish teachers by means of voluntary subscriptions, to teach the Swedish drill. They consented, and I was enabled to get £400 to bring over the necessary teachers. By that means they have been able to teach the Swedish drill in spite of the Government. Thus the teachers of the Board have been taught Swedish drill and were able to train the girls. But, my Lords, Swedish drill is not all that is necessary. It is excellent for girls, but the experience of several other countries, I believe, proves that it is not everything. Germany has not adopted it. Germany has got regular gymnastic training for its students. Switzerland has not adopted it. and Switzerland has got gymnastic training for the children. In Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway, every child is compelled to go through a course of gymnastics unless physically unfitted. If that is necessary in agricultural countries is it not much more important that English children, who are living in crowded slums and alleys in our enormous towns should have something done for the training of their bodies? And, my Lords, there is another argument, and that is that military drill does not expand the chest; it does not increase the size of the arms; and it does not increase the power of the muscles in the same way as a thoroughly systematic course of gymnastics does. This has been proved by those who have, taken a great interest in this subject. Dr. Brookes, of Much Wenlock, says that of a dozen lads of about equal force and strength, he set six to drill and six to a course of gymnastics for six months, and the result was that at the end of six months the six who had gone through the course of military drill had increased their chest measurement by 11–24, or very nearly ½ an inch, while those who had gone through the course of gymnastics had increased their chest measurement by two inches. My Lords, I do not think I can do better than quote the authority of Sir James Crawford the Director General of the Army Medical Department who lately said at the meeting of the British Medical Association, that in 25 years the number of rejections for the Army had increased from 376.67 per 1,000 in 1862 and in 1866 to 415.58 per 1,000 in 1882 and 1886, showing a physical condition of the masses very much in favour of 1862 and 1866. He said that there was evidence of perceptible degeneration in the lower orders of people, and he says he has been forcibly impressed with the fact that the recruits drawn from the town population gave by far the largest portion of rejections, and that the cause of rejection is inferior physique. The inferiority is shown by the difference in rate between town and country recruits, as well as insufficient chest capacity and diminuity of stature. Again, he says, the masses are of inferior physique to what they were 25 years ago. Another authority, Dr. Fothergill, in a paper which he read before the Anthropological Association at Manchester, said that figures had shown the superiority of country people, as can be seen every day of our lives if we corn-pare the population of Hammersmith, Shoreditch, and such places, with the population in country places like Lancashire and Yorkshire. Very similar evidence, my Lords, has been given by Sir C. Brown in his Report on the London Board Schools. He is the gentleman who brought out the facts which so horrified the public sometime ago with regard to the overpressure in those schools. If we are not careful of the physical health of the children of this generation this country will certainly suffer in the future. I hope I may appeal in what I am about to say with some confidence in this matter to the sympathies of the Conservative Party in this House, for if ever there was a man who cared for the health of the people it was the Earl of Beaconsfield, who said sanitas sanitatum omnia sanitas. There is no nation on the face of the earth which favours physical exercises so much as this country, but the physical exercises are voluntary and are carried on mainly by the rich and well-to-do. The result is that the weak and the poor do not receive that physical training which they should have. The Germans have proved the wisdom of introducing competent physical training, and there is no doubt it was owing in no small degree to this training that their soldiers were enabled to march to Paris. Germany is a country which has done much in this matter of physical education, and I should like to point out very briefly to your Lordships how it was that Germany came to take this step. Most of us know that it was owing to the defeat of the German army, after the battle of Jena in 1806, that Germany determined in future to prevent similar disasters, and in 1811 Johann Jahny formed the TurnerVereine, or Gymnastic Association, which was a German Association for the purpose of hardening the German youths and strengthening their muscles, so that at some future date they might be able to best their enemies. In 1840, the system of compulsory exercises was introduced by Adolph Spiess into the teaching of the schools. In this country we have what may be called TurnerVereine in our large Universities and schools, and in the association for physical exercises, which are so much delighted in by the children of the poorer and middle classes. There is no nation, perhaps, which indulges so much in physical exercises as the English nation. But, my Lords, that is not the point. Being voluntary the result is that the weaker and poorer children do not obtain that physical training which I should like to see them have. The example of Germany, will, I hope, induce your Lordships to see whether it is not possible to do something in the same direction in this country. The Germans have proved the wisdom of introducing that system into their own country. Some people have asserted that force and strength are anachronisms in the nineteenth century, and that science is sufficient for everything, and that by machinery we can do with few physical requirements. But, my Lords, you will yourselves have noticed that those who excel in anything are the people who have most physical power. Take our Parliamentary Leaders; are not they all men who have been renowned for physical strength, or our leading barristers, physicians or City Clergymen, all of whom are hard worked. Could they, if they had not strong constitutions, go through their work? Is strength not also necessary in the lower classes? Consider, my Lords, how hard is the work of a compositor, railway guard, or omnibus conductor. And even in the case of women—dressmakers and semptresses—could they go through their hard work unless they had some amount of physical strength? I believe, my Lords, that really this is a matter in which very little expense would do what I should desire. I have seen practical proof of this in a case with which I am connected, where I converted an ordinary schoolroom into a gymnasium for the small sum of £5, and that was done without in the slightest degree interfering with the ordinary school work, simply by hanging up a few ropes, by introducing into a doorway a bar which could be used for athletic exercises, and one or two other things which could be put on one side when necessary. In fact, my Lords, a large gymnasium is not wanted in every school. I do think it would be well if there was a large gymnasium, or perhaps even two or three gymnasia in our large towns. No doubt some schools have already set up gymnastic apparatus in their playgrounds, but the absurdity of it is that having set up that apparatus, they are not allowed to pay anyone to teach the use of it. I think, my Lords, I have shown that the power of excelling in anything depends in a great measure on physical stamina. I believe, my Lords, that by such a system as I propose the great national crime of drunkenness would be diminished, and I have the authority of one of the principal teachers of gymnastics for saying that those exercises have a distinctly moral effect on young men. As to teachers, I would suggest that the Education Department should name certain gymnasia which should have power to grant certificates. Health and strength are priceless boons to the individual, and I believe them to be equally priceless to the nation. Woe to the nation whose sons and daughters are incapable of enduring fatigue! She will be successful neither in peace nor in war. In peace she will be driven by stronger nations out of the markets of the world, and in war neither money nor science will avail to replace the sturdy arms and steady nerves which should have been forthcoming to defend her. Salus populi suprema lex.


My Lords, anyone I think who has looked at the Code will have seen how many subjects there are for the children to take up, and they must be aware how difficult it would be to introduce new subjects which could only be taught by additional teachers at increased expense. It is not correct to say that there is no physical training at the present time. It is creeping in gradually. The recommendation of the Royal Commissioners states that in their opinion it would be dangerous to introduce gymnasia at once, as they are not suitable for weak and underfed children, and unless under very skilful teaching are more likely to do harm than good. In many of the training colleges teachers of gymnastics are being introduced and large bodies of the teachers are themselves being trained in military drill. Though that is the only thing spoken of in the Code, it is a matter of the utmost importance. Military drill is very valuable, and has very beneficial effects. I cannot agree altogether in what has been said as to the physical deterioration of the people. With regard to the suggestion that the physical condition of recruits is now inferior to what it was in times past, I would point out that in times of pressure inferior recruits are taken, and that when recruits are plentiful the standard is again raised. A case was brought to my own knowledge where a man 5ft. 11in. with a very large expansion of chest, active, a good runner and workman, was rejected because he had a hereditary stiff toe. At a time when there was a scarcity of recruits, that man would have been taken as perfectly qualified to fulfil the duties of a soldier. I only give that as an instance to show that there are times when fair recruits are rejected on such grounds, while those of inferior calibre are received under pressure of circumstances. My Lords, I should be very sorry that there should be a negative put upon the Motion as as to the necessity for physical instruction; but I do not think the time has come for adopting the noble Lord's Motion, and introducing it into the Code generally. Can it be said, for instance, that it is necessary in the rural districts, where the children leave school to engage in cricket, football, or swimming, that they should have this gymnastic apparatus, which is dangerous to be used except under supervision? Gymnastics require very special teaching, and, although I quite agree that much might be done for small sums in introducing apparatus, the teachers are not so easily to be found. It is true there is no direct grant for military training, but throughout the country the time occupied by it counts as part of the school attendance, I hope the noble Lord will be content with having brought the subject forward, and that, believing there is a desire on the part of the Department to introduce physical training into the schools as far as possible, he will not press his Motion to a Division.


My Lords, there can be no doubt entertained by anyone that physical training is required for children. I should think we all agree that it is one of the most important branches of education in our national schools. Indeed, I would go further, and say that I think that it is very important as a part of mental training. I think, my Lords, there is nothing in education more effective than drilling both boys and girls for habits of discipline and quick attention. If I understand the noble Lord's notice, it means that the Code is defective on this point; but he does not point out the defect, or the remedy if such defect exists. The Report of the Commission is very careful to say that athletic instruction in our schools should be cautiously introduced, and upon a regular system in order to be guarded from any physical injury. It is, however, being introduced very largely. I may mention that I saw the other day a very large exhibition of drill to music by some hundreds of London school children. How is the further object aimed at by the noble Lord to be carried out? Does he mean that a special payment by capitation should be made for the children well drilled? It appears not; for, on the contrary, he has said that he does not want to increase the expense, and that what he proposes to do would not do so. I do not mean to say that the expenditure might not be very well made, but I do not see how there can be a payment made for the children who are to be drilled, without increasing the expense of the whole Educational System. Is it to pay a few shillings a head on results of drilling? That is a system which I altogether condemn. I believe that the system of paying a small sum on every detail of education is the very thing which has injured our national education in our country. I believe with Matthew Arnold that such a system as we are now adopting of payments for every detail of education, is the cause of inferior intelligence compared with other countries in our schools. When the noble Earl refers to the German System, I agree with him. Adequate support should be given to the schools for all purposes, and that it should be given upon strict Reports made: to the Department, not only upon this or that detail of education, but upon the whole system, which would include the moral, the intellectual, and the physical education of children. Under such a system as that, the introduction of physical education for the children would be adapted to the circumstances of various schools. The proposal of the noble Earl is to apply equally to all schools, and yet his argument was that it is wanted in town schools more than country schools; that it is the crowded towns, where children get no outdoor exercise, which require this physical training. Certainly a regular course of gymnastics cannot be applied equally to all, and when applied care should be taken to properly apply it. I take it that what we want to do is to regulate a system of physical exercises (which was the topic of the noble Earl's speech), and to incorporate it into the educational system of this country. I hope he may be able to explain to us a little more plainly in what way he would propose to obtain his object.


My Lords, the adoption of physical training would diminish the strain which the noble Lord is quite right in saying is far too severe in the case of the children of parents, who for generations have not used their brains. He should have said, who have not used their brains in abstract studies, for they have to use them, and do of course, in their trades and callings. But there is no doubt they have not the same facility as the children of those who have been accustomed to use their brains on abstract subjects, and, therefore, the strain is much more injurious and severe to them than it would be to the children of your Lordships, or of the more highly educated classes. But I think my noble Friend has done very great service in deed in pointing out the means of affording facilities for a greater amount of physical education and exercise in our schools than we now have. I have no doubt that under proper management, by this means greater physical development—development of the human frame—will be procured, and that it can be better procured by well adapted and superintended gymnastic exercises than by drill. But drill may be applied widely without any danger, and it has been applied with great advantage to the general education as well as in its mere physical results. Even the "peace at any price" party must feel satisfied that drill can be introduced with very beneficial effects. Some years ago either the late Sir Joseph Whitworth or his foreman (I cannot call to mind which it was at the present moment), stated in evidence that for industrial purposes any young man who had gone through a thorough course of drill was worth at the very lowest estimate 1s. 6d. a week more in wages, in consequence of having acquired the habit, and therefore the power, of moving promptly at the word of command, which was of ten of immense industrial importance, and prevented many accidents. My Lords, I cannot say that I think this Code does as much for the promotion of drill as it ought; and I have no doubt the illustrious Duke will bear me out in saying that early habits of drill wonderfully facilitate the performance of work, and that they import a handiness in after life, whether a man is in the Army, Navy, or elsewhere. It therefore seems to me that the Code still remains one which attaches too much importance to book learning, and devotes a great deal too much time to it. The children could pass through the same literary test if a portion only of the time were devoted to this purpose. It seems to me that this is a very strong argument in favour of diminishing the length of the hours devoted to book learning in our schools, and giving more time and some pecuniary encouragement, not merely to gymnastic training, which requires considerable expense in the employment of skilled professors, to prevent danger to the children, but to drill; and in these days of Volunteers, Militia, and short service, it would be a very strange thing if, for a moderate sum, some competent retired non-commissioned officer could not be found to drill the boys in the most remote rural schools. The adoption of gymnasia in our large schools is needed, and I think very inadequate encouragement is given to it by the Code. But I should like to see all our children drilled from the Duke's son to the beggar's son in the workhouse.


My Lords, I have no hesitation in saying that I consider drill most valuable to young people in all vocations of life. I believe that it will add very much even to the power of science, because where proper physical training is not given, although young men may acquire a great amount of scientific knowledge, still they will suffer so much in bodily health that they will not really be in a position to turn to full account the scientific instruction that has been imparted to them. I am convinced that the application of military drill to a limited extent and as a regular part of the daily work of the schools would conduce to the advantage, both mental and bodily, of the scholars. I quite agree that gymnastics are a delicate thing to deal with, and will require that great care should be taken to see that they are not carried too far and do not cause accidents; but the case is quite different with drill, which can lead to no accidents. As to the matter of expense, there are many non-commissioned officers in every part of the country who could under proper regulations give instruc- tion in drill to the children without causing any very considerable outlay of money for that purpose. As far as the Army is concerned, men are now sometimes taken into the service who shortly after they enlist are found to be disqualified physically, and they have been discharged, entailing great expense to the country; and therefore I quite agree that the sooner boys at school begin drill the better it is in every way. The boys of the Shoeblack Brigade, as it is called, march through the streets as well as soldiers could, because they are drilled young and take a pleasure in it. That shows there exists a disposition to learn drill, if the opportunity for it is afforded. If a reasonable time were devoted to drill in Board Schools and other schools generally, it would be greatly to the advantage of all concerned, and also to the country at large.


My Lords, the Royal Commission, of which I was a Member, have inquired into this question, and they had the Report of the Inspectors of military gymnasia before them. I hope that the result of this discussion will rouse the attention of the country to a matter of considerable importance. I am afraid that people may get the notion that there is no drill in the schools at the present moment; but the fact is that there is a great deal of drill given now in the schools, to the delight of the children, and with a good effect on their power of work at their studies. I entirely concur with the illustrious Duke as to the great difference between gymnastic exercises and drill; and the Royal Commission were of opinion that the introduction of an elaborate gymnastic apparatus into the school playgrounds was not to be recommended unless there was adequate and competent supervision of the chilren during their exercises. The Commissioners reported that in towns the best results, both physical and moral, might be expected from the introduction of some system of physical instructtion, such as that recommended by the War Office, but that care must always be taken in applying it to delicate and weak children. I believe that the training colleges might do much in training teachers to carry on drill, and I believe that it would be of enormous advantage to have the bodies as well as the minds of the children exercised.


My Lords, I have given you my opinion in this matter. I can state it in a very few words. Physical education would include drill, and as everything depends upon the grant that is given, the National Schools will push into the background subjects that do not earn money. My own opinion is this, that this subject should be included in the class of optional subjects, so that each school should be left to do what it can. If it did not choose to take up this subject, it need not do so. If it chose to take up drill, it would be paid for it. If it chose to take up gymnastics, it would be paid for it. In reply to the noble Lord Norton, I wish to draw his attention to this fact, that I do not ask for any more money, because I only desired to put this subject among the optional subjects. If the scholar is not drilling, or at gymnastics, he will be reading or writing, and therefore the payment will not be increased in any way. I do not think sufficient stress has been laid on the health question. This is a question entirely of health. It is not an ornamental question, or a question of military drill merely, but it is one of health. and I hope it will go before the country in that form. If this training is not required, do not let us have it; but all I said was that we should have it in the large towns, and if the noble Lord will give me an assurance that he will place the subject among the optional subjects, even limiting it to the large towns, I will withdraw my proposal. Otherwise I will not.

Question put, resolved in the negative.