HL Deb 16 May 1889 vol 336 cc206-21

in rising to call attention to the evils arising from the early age at which children may leave the public elementary schools under the present system, and to move for Returns, said: My Lords, this is a subject of very great importance. It is not a question of cubic feet or the distribution of grants; it is a question of the ultimate results of our whole system of education. A very large number of the children now leave school at a very early age, and a part of this evil arises from the liberty given to the Local Authorities to fix for themselves the standard at which children may leave school. In some cases, a child may leave school at the age of ten years, having passed the necessary standard required by the Local Authority. At that age a child is not competent to enter upon the labour to which his life can be devoted, and the consequence is, he runs about the streets and easily gets into the ranks of the criminal classes. I venture to think that this letting children leave at so early an age is very prejudicial to the education and the moral effect of the instruction they receive. If you examine boys who have left school for four, five, or six years, who have passed the standard required by the Act, you will find that in many such cases they have absolutely lost the power of reading with intelligence. I know that is the case in many parts of my own diocese. If that is so it points to there being something radically wrong and deficient in the system of education for the purpose of fitting the children for the duties they will have to fulfil in after life. I am not now entering on the question whether it is very important or not that the children of agricultural labourers should be well instructed on all those matters now comprised in our Education Code, but I do say, after devoting all the time and cost that is devoted to the education of a child, it is a miserable result if you find that after five or six years he has actually forgotten how to read with intelligence. A child's mind is singularly receptive up to a certain age, and it becomes retentive just about the time it is turned away from the school, and at the time when your Lordships are sending your own boys to public schools. The present system of payment by results eminently tends to what is called cramming. There is another reason why you should not let the children leave school at so early an age. We are all aware that between 12 and 15 a boy's moral character begins to be formed, and it is at this critical time that we lose our hold of him altogether. Now, I do not propose that the children should be necessarily detained for a longer period in the elementary schools, although 10 years is hardly a sufficient age for an child to leave off attending school. The evil might be met in another way—first, by the wise extension of half-time. In agricultural districts this might be done by means of winter schools, as is done in other countries, especially in Switzerland where "half-timers" are not interfered with in the summer when they are able to work, but in the dark winter days when people are not employed in agricultural labour, they are sent to the schools. Although I am not in favour of compulsion at any time, I think, if it is employed, it can be far more usefully done at an earlier than at a later age. Children are very often sent to school by their parents for the purpose of getting rid of them; then, when they are just old enough to know how to fall into mischief, we lose our hold of them altogether, and I believe that has disastrous results. An extension of half-time might no doubt meet this evil to some extent. Far more use might be made of Saturdays than at present. I know of cases where children are ready to be gathered in voluntarily into the schools on Saturday afternoons, but, instead of being taught there, they are left running about the cold, damp streets. But there is another way, and that a most important way, of correcting the evil—evening schools. I do not think, until the introduction of the Code, anything material had been done to encourage this useful kind of education. By evening schools in manufacturing towns and winter schools in agricultural districts a great deal can be done to supplement education and to keep the children under moral control, and counteract the mischief which is being done at an important and critical period of their lives. In Germany these evening schools are an integral part of the system of education, and the children are required to attend them. In reference to this point, the Commissioners say that they fully agree that the retention of some controlling influence over the scholars after they leave the day schools, and their removal from the contamination of the streets, would have a most excellent moral effect during a most dangerous period of life, and would be an object worth some public expenditure to attain. But there is scarcely anything in the Code which helps forward the end which the Commissioners have in view. Then they say there is always a necessity for having some kind of evening school for the purpose of fixing what has been learnt in the day school, and it would be worth while to spend something with that object. Further, they say that a special curriculum and standard should be provided suitable to the requirements of each locality, and that no special limit of age should be imposed upon the scholars. That last recommendation is of great importance. They further add that the evening schools of the future should be regarded and organized as schools for the retention of education already received in the day schools, and that for some years to come it will be necessary to have in evening schools the course of instruction given in the day schools. Now, my Lords, as I have said, I have no wish to increase the limit of age at which the children are required to leave school, or to raise the standard which they are required to pass before leaving school. In some instances even, I think it might be well if the children were allowed to continue their education in the evening schools, but what I wish to ask the noble Lord is whether some practical effect could not be given to the recommendations of the Commissioners by encouraging the evening schools, and, further, whether something could not be done to restrain the almost unlimited power of Local Authorities to fix the standard at which a child might leave school. I am satisfied that where a child leaves school permanently at ten years of age, great mischief is done, from my experience in manufacturing and large towns, where one is pestered by little boys running about the rail way stations and public places, offering newspapers, lights, and so on. With reference to the powers given to Local Authorities in the matter of fixing the standard, I would ask whether a Return similar to the one that was made in 1881, giving the standards fixed by the different School Boards and other Local Authorities, could not be obtained up to the present time. Such a Return would throw light upon the subject I have brought before your Lordships, which is one of the greatest importance, and by far the most important matter we have at present to consider. I think we are all living under a great delusion with regard to the ultimate effects of this system of education in which we are spending so much money. I do not suppose any sudden change will be made in this matter; we must move slowly, and ultimately this system will act upon the least steady and least educated of the children of the poor. Still, I venture to express the hope that something may yet be introduced with the view of dealing with these difficulties, which, I believe, are productive of very serious evils, which I have only very imperfectly indicated in the statement I have made to your Lordships, and which are so much to be deplored.


My Lords, I think that the danger is not in the children leaving too soon, but rather in their leaving school before work is ready for them. If there were no interval between their leaving school and their going to work, the age of 13 would not be a bit too early for a boy to leave school. What is generally lost sight of is that for the working classes work is one of the most important parts of education. Leaving school is not ceasing from education. The most important part of a boy's education comes after he leaves school. He gains in intelligence, in knowledge, and in discipline. Therefore, to say that the children of the working classes leave school too soon seems to me a mistake. The danger, it seems to me, is that they leave school before they are ready to go to work, that there is an in- terval of idleness in which they lose all they have learned at school, and are not keeping up their education by work. If there were no such interval, I say they would not leave school too soon; on the contrary, I would advocate, in some cases, that they should leave school sooner. The half time system is a very good one. It divides the book-work with the other work. There are two kinds of education—namely, the education of the school and the education of apprenticeship. I am convinced that you would find in the national schools that the half time boys, if tried against the full time boys in anything that requires intelligence, would beat the full time boys. The acknowledged fault of our national schools is that they are too literary; they have too much unrelieved book work; and what is wanted is something of the nature of industry or, as was suggested by a noble Lord the other day, bodily exercise. It is not fit that children of that class should be kept exclusively to book work. There are schools too much the other way being introduced into the large towns called technical schools. They are really national workshops—ateliers nationaux. It would be far better to put the boys in a regular shop or business at once; and in most of the great manufacturing towns they could get education in connection with real work and not sham work. I quite agree that there is very great danger in the interval of idleness between their leaving school under the existing law at the age of 13 and going to work, au interval when they were neither at school nor at work. All classes should remain at school till their life-work begins. It is proposed that there should be more evening schools or continuation schools. I think the continuation schools would be much better called de novo schools, because the scholars have, in a great measure, to begin again at A B C, according to the evidence given before the Commission. This comes of our piece-work payment leading to mere cram. The principle we should aim at is that the children should leave school as soon as the head of the school says they are fit, and work could be found for them. As to evening classes, I have not much hope or expectation in regard to them. The plan has been tried for many years and it has failed, and the reason is very obvious. Would any of your Lordships like, after a day's hard work, to set about a course of study? To expect those children who are tired out by their work during the day to take to hard intellectual labour at night is absurd. Let rational amusement be provided for them in the evening, but it is useless to expect them then to study.


My Lords, with regard to long compulsory retention in schools, it seems to me that it is injurious to the children themselves, to their parents, and to their schoolfellows, and a hardship upon their teachers. There is a class of boys and girls at the schools who are of an age beyond that of most of their schoolfellows, and who, because they do not pass a certain standard, are kept in compulsory bodily idleness and not allowed to earn their living. They are a burden to their parents or to the ratepayers, as the case may be; they are discontented and generally less amenable to discipline than the other scholars; and thus they form a most unwholesome element in a school. Some Boards of Guardians have recommended that after the age of 12 the school instruction of the children under their charge should not interfere with the training of their hands, which is best acquired at an early age. The right reverend Prelate seems to overestimate enormously the moral and religious influence of keeping children long at school; for work itself is a most wholesome part of education, and though I have always believed our school hours to be too long, they occupy after all but a small portion of the day. The alleged relapse of scholars into ignorance is largely due to the repulsive form in which instruction has been given under the old Code, to the time spent on parsing, spelling, and rules of grammar, instead of in the perusal of instructive and interesting works, from which grammar and spelling are unconsciously learnt with little labour. I have received many excellent letters from working men, badly spelt and faulty in grammar, but full of good sense and. useful information; and on the other hand, in former days great statesmen and commanders were most incorrect in their spelling; indeed, I lately read a letter, written about a century and a half ago by an ancestor of Her Most Gracious Majesty, very indifferent in grammar and full of mistakes in spelling. The blending into one chaotic confusion of primary and secondary education is the greatest mistake, and the proper remedy for this is to be found in scholarships from elementary to more advanced schools. I will end by heartily supporting the right reverend Prelate's appeal for rather more encouragement to evening schools from Government, especially during the winter, when the shorter hours of daylight imply shorter hours of work.


It is most satisfactory to learn from the right rev. Prelate that he does not wish to increase the hours during the day at which children should attend the elementary schools. I think that that would entail great hardship upon the parents of children of the working classes, and I think also that it would be met with great opposition from the farmers in the agricultural districts as well as from employers in the towns. This debate shows, I think, that there is a very strong feeling in favour of half-timers, and also in favour of evening schools. Although the noble Lord said he thought the evening schools a failure, he attributed that failure to the lack of recreation. The classes of the Evening Recreative Schools Association, which has done such excellent work, under the auspices of one of the Royal Princes, are attended in very large numbers. If you invite children to evening schools where practical work is mixed with a little physical recreation, they come in large numbers very readily. I believe the whole reason of the unsatisfactory nature of much of the present education—for I must say that it is unsatisfactory—is that it is too literary and not practical enough. My Lord stated that the children of the working classes should be taught to work. I say that the children of all classes should be taught to work. I should like to see the child of the Duke as well as the child of the working man taught to do something with his hand. That is very useful for boys, but it is even more useful for girls. Our girls are turned out from school without being able to make the homes of their future husbands happy and comfortable. The home is the nursery of the virtues, and the principles upon which civilization and social order are formed have to be taught in those homes; and, if the woman who has to keep the home is unable to make it an attractive and comfortable home for her husband, how can it be expected that the principles of social order can be taught in such a home? In America about 11 years ago a niece of the Bishop of Huntingdon was very much struck by the utter neglect of all housewifery duties in the homes of the artizans of New York, and she could not understand how it was that artizans who received such high wages should live in such a miserable condition, and she came to the conclusion that it was because their wives had never seen what a comfortable home was; they had no knowledge of how to make a home comfortable; it did not come to them intuitively as it does to our daughters of the middle class, and even of the working class. She had the happy thought of starting classes for the purpose of teaching housewifery. Those schools have been a great success, and many of the girls have gone out of them and married, and there is a marked difference between the homes presided over by women educated in her schools and those in which the wife has come from the ordinary schools. Girls, I am sure your Lordships will agree with me, ought to be taught at an early age that dirt is a disgrace and that disgrace is a sin. I hope this House may be able to do something towards making the daughters of the working classes more able to make homes happy. The Colonies are crying out for men who can handle a plough and shoe a horse; instead of those, we send them clerks and would-be gentlemen. They are asking for wives who are able to mend and wash, and who understand something about a dairy, and about the management of poultry; instead, we give them young women who are fitted to be governesses, and who are utterly incapable of doing anything which is required of them when they become wives. In view of the depression of trade and agriculture, it is necessary that all classes should do the utmost to promote economy and thrift. It is imperative that our boys should be taught handicrafts and that our girls should be taught housewifery


I think that the system of evening schools is capable of much wider extension, and that there are particular reasons why it should be-extended to Scotland; and I would venture to trespass very shortly on your attention with some remarks in reference to the effect of the early withdrawal of the children of our schools. We have in Scotland, as your Lordships are aware, a uniform Board School system, and anyone who has taken a practical interest in the working of that system must have been very much struck by the gap which invariably occurs after the Fifth Standard. I have myself frequently seen a large and flourishing class in the Fifth Standard in one year, and the next year it has dwindled down to a miserable half-dozen. Although the working of this costly system ought to have introduced, and probably has, much larger numbers into our schools, and therefore ought to have increased all the classes, we do not, I think, find that anything like the proper proportion of increase in the higher standards is maintained. It is interesting to ask what the cause of this may be, and I do not think that in the discussion which has taken place, one of the causes, at any rate, has been alluded to. It has often been said that the fees are to blame in this respect, and that if education were free this would disappear. That is a proposition which I am hardly disposed either absolutely to deny or assert, but the matter is one that is of particular interest to us in Scotland at this moment, because we are great sufferers in this direction. I, of course, do not wish to raise any question which is not directly before the House, but I should venture to express the hope that the report which has been published that the whole of the grant which is to be made in aid of fees is to be spent in the lower standards is not correct. It has been argued that the parents will spend the savings which they will make from the free education of the younger children on the education of the elder. I venture to doubt whether there will be any such result. At any rate, we should bear this in mind, that we should certainly lose those whom it would be our best interest to secure—namely, the clever children of intelligent parents. I think the view of very many of the parents is that they will pay just as much as they are obliged to pay, and no more. For myself, I confess that I should like to begin at the other end, and if remission of fees is to be made it should begin, at any rate in a large proportion, in the higher standards. I may mention in this connection that I know from experience that certain Boards at present, either wholly, or partially, remit fees in the Sixth Standards with good results. Again, some Boards give remission of fees according to the number of children of one family, sometimes letting the fourth child in free, at any rate letting off the eldest of the family. I do not pretend that these views will meet with acceptance everywhere, but I would like to press upon my noble Friend the Secretary for Scotland to take them into consideration. But, my Lords, with regard to this particular question of early age, I do not think that parents, in the views they take, are altogether correct, although it appears to me that the regulations of the Code, and especially the regulation as to the granting of certificates on passing the Fifth Standard, are such as to encourage these ideas. It may very fairly get about among the less well-informed classes that if the Government allows a child to leave school at any age on passing a certain examination, that child has reached a point in his education where it may reasonably be held to be complete. Apart altogether from whether the examination in the Fifth Standard is a satisfactory test, and apart also from the questions which have been raised by the noble Lord who spoke last and by the noble Lord opposite as to the particular instruction which ought to be given in the schools—whether it ought to be more in the nature of material instruction and less of literary instruction—I would venture to say that the opinion which has been expressed by the right reverend Prelate that a child of ten or eleven cannot be expected to retain a permanent impression of any education which it receives at that age, is one that anybody who looks into the matter will be forced to admit. I might mention, perhaps, an illustration which has come under my own personal knowledge—a case in which a certain number of boys and young men who had passed out of the school age requested a School Board to establish an evening class for their benefit. The School Board naturally expected that they would receive a sum for the higher instruction of those pupils, but on the class being opened it was found that almost all of these young men wished elementary instruction, some even going back as far as the Second Standard. Now, all these evils are increased by the children leaving the school at the early age at which they are now enabled to leave by these labour certificates. We lose the very best of our scholars, because those who pass at that early age are those who either by natural ability or greater industry, or better teaching, have been brought up to the mark. This, again, is specially important to us in Scotland. It has always been the boast of Scotland that there is no halting place between the elementary schools and the Universities. I do not argue that that is the best system; I am inclined to think that it is not; but on the other hand, I do say that anything which either directly or indirectly tends to lower the standard in the elementary schools is a great mistake. As regards the remedy which should be applied in these circumstances, it is more difficult to speak, but the right rev. Prelate and other noble Lords have spoken of evening schools. Well, all I would say on that matter is this: that in the first place, it appears to me to be a remedy which will not be applicable to any great extent in rural districts, where there are small schools at a great distance, and it is impossible to maintain evening schools; and in the second place, and more generally, it is surely not a satisfactory state of things that we should have a system of education so incomplete that we have to set up another system of education in order to begin again the education which has been forgotten after once being acquired. My Lords, there is one matter which I think might be carried out with advantage. We have already laid down certain fixed limits of age. At the age of 5 we compel children to go to school, and after the age of 13 or 14 we allow them to leave school. I do not see why it should not be laid down that the labour certificates, on passing the Fifth Standard, should not be granted at an age when the children are confessedly immature—that they should be kept at school say till the age of 12, at any rate, before being allowed to go out to work. After all, a child between 10 and 12 is not capable of work, to any great extent, of a nature which should stand in the way of education. I think this would at any rate be better than the other remedy which has been proposed, which is to raise the standard and require, perhaps, the Sixth Standard before granting a certificate; because that would only shift the difficulty, and probably lead to greater cram. The noble Lord the Vice President spoke the other night of the vast expenditure which is made on education in this country. I think there is one thing which is intolerable about that vast expenditure, and that is that we should not get value for our money. It is because I think leaving school at an early age leads to expense in that direction that I am very glad the subject has been brought up.


The noble Lord who has last spoken has directed your Lordships' attention to Scotland. That is, no doubt, something outside the subject which the right rev. Prelate sought to bring forward. At the same time, I am not at all disposed to quarrel with the noble Lord for having called the attention of the House to the various matters to which he alluded. They are very important subjects, and I will only say that a great many of them have been very carefully thought over and considered. With regard to the age of leaving school, I think we should hesitate in laying down any hard and fast rule. The right rev. Prelate seemed to object to the Local Authorities laying down the standard at which children should be exempt. That was done in view of each locality adapting itself to its particular requirements. It is all very well for us here to talk calmly of this question of the early age at which children leave school, but there are many, many families in this country to whom the 2s. 6d. or 3s. a week which a young child may earn is of the greatest assistance, and to say that a boy is not to be allowed to earn that on account of his age is confounding two things—it is counting mere instruction as of more importance than education. I cannot help thinking that the moral effect upon a boy or a girl who can do something to lighten the hard trials to which their families are put, to bring small earnings to help to meet the growing appetites, is more valuable than the three R's or any other form of elementary education. I am very far from saying that the child would not be better for staying longer at school, but if he can assist his family it seems to me that after attaining the standard which is fixed, his first duty is at home. There are many households which could not get on at all without the assistance of girls of about 10 or 11 years of age. Those who fancy that girls so young are useless should go into the streets here or elsewhere in town or country, and see children of that age taking care of infants while the parents are working and the house is shut up. In the parks of London there are plenty of such cases to be seen. My right rev. Friend asked me in respect to this question whether the standard at which labour certificates are granted cannot be raised. That is rather a matter of legislation; it cannot be done by the Code. With regard to the question of half time I am not aware that there is any difficulty thrown in the way of half time education, but it is rarely in force except in very populous districts. In those populous districts, as Huddersfield or Bradford, for instance—you will find there is an enormous number of children who are educated at half time schools, and probably there there are discrepancies; one town may fix a standard one degree higher than another. Still, you can hardly say that Bradford is not competent to fix its own time for the children to be allowed to leave school. You must remember, my Lords, that this whole system of compulsion was altogether novel in this country. We are complaining that there is still a great deal that is undone, but surely no one can look around him without noticing the enormous difference in the education and in the character of the children to what it was in former days. I do not mean to confine myself to 1870, for volunteers had done a great work previously. There is no doubt truth in what has been said about the children forgetting a great deal of what they learn in the schools. But I would like to ask those who have been educated in our large public schools whether they have not forgotten a great deal more than they have retained of the education they there received. I would like to ask some of those young gentlemen who have studied in our public schools—not leaving them when they were 10 or 11, but going there at the age of 13, after a previous elementary education, and remaining there till they were 18—how much of what they learnt in those five years they have not forgotten by the time they are 30? I have met very remarkable instances of boys who were supposed to be well up in Greek when they were at school, but who ten or a dozen years afterwards know no more of Greek than they do of Hebrew. The fact is, there is a great deal of the education of both the upper and the poorer classes which simply passes away like vapour. I have endeavoured so far as I could to get rid of the system of payment by individual results, in order that there may be a more generous and generally fairer system of education without the cram, which does not give permanent results. Now, with regard to evening schools, the objection made by the noble Lord opposite seems to me a crucial one, applying to the whole system in one sense—that is to say, you cannot lay down general rules for town and country. We have given by the new Code greater facilities than there have been before for treating those subjects which are taught in evening classes. There is one point that has been pressed upon me to which I should like to refer—namely, that evening schools should be extended to adults over 21. Well, I have no objection to adults coming to evening schools, but it is a serious question whether the country should pay for them. My noble Friend behind me said, "Do not let a child go until he has work ready for him." That is a rule that would not work for a moment. In my own neighbourhood children of 10 years of age can, in certain parts of the year, get abundance of work. I have known cases where the children of a single family, going out and gathering acorns to be sold to farmers for their sheep and so forth, have in one year earned £3 to £5 for their parents. I need not say what is earned by children during the hop-picking season, when children of very immature age, much younger than 10, take an active part with their parents. Some years ago I asked a farmer what he paid to one of his labourers for hop-picking —which lasts about six weeks; he said he paid to a man and his wife, who brought with them their two young children, £25 in six weeks. That, no doubt, is exceptional, but shows the importance of child labour at times. All these things show that you must not be too rigid in laying down hard and fast rules according to which children are to be allowed to leave school. If they have reached a certain standard and their labour is valuable, and their parents wish for it, their parents have submitted to compulsion on the understanding that the time is to come when they are to have the power of availing themselves of their children's services—and the children themselves know that there is a certain time, and no doubt look forward to it—it is harsh and cruel to enforce their further attendance. When you speak of agricultural instruction in schools, the very fact that these children are leaving at that early time shows how impossible almost it would be to have an agricultural education with any effect in the schools themselves. They get it fast enough when they go to work; they become familiar with horses and cattle, and they learn a great deal by a steady, slow process, which sticks to them for the rest of their lives. As for the interval immediately after leaving school, there are societies, like the Boys' and Girls' Friendly Society, which doing valuable work in keeping up correspondence with these young people when they leave school, and agencies of this kind multiply. And, my Lords, you may depend upon it that as the system of education goes on you will find that the necessity of it will impress itself upon the parents who have themselves had it, and that the extension of education will come rather by inducements than by force. I do hope that, because it is seen that this system of leaving school at an early age has its disadvantages as well as its advantages, you will not be too active to interfere with it by laying down some iron limit which may bring an opposition to compulsory education, which hitherto there has not been. Do not let it be supposed that we are worse off than we were before. The right rev. Prelate referred to the Report. The Commissioners in the main all agree, but as the minority Report is rather fuller on this point I quote it— As to the earlier ago of leaving there is no doubt that children are much more advanced educationally in regard to their age than was the case 10 or 15 years ago: children were then kept at school till 14 doing work which they now master at 12. Table 18 of Educational Department, Report 1886-7, p. 258, shows that of the total population under 15, 53.2 per cent were on the roll of inspected schools. In 1876, of the total population under 15, 40 per cent were on the roll of inspected schools. Taking the country throughout we are of opinion that during the last 10 years there has not merely been a great increase in the number of children under instruction, but a considerable prolongation of the duration of school life. That is a very important statement, and one which is justified by the statistics which the Committee give. Well, my Lords, I have had to address your Lordships upon this subject two or three times lately, and the Motion of the right rev. Prelate does not in itself call for any observation. He asks us for information, the precise nature of which he does not specify. I can only say—and I am sure my noble Friend (Lord Norton) will bear me out—that the efforts which were made to supply the Royal commission with every kind of statistic which could have been available for any purpose whatever seem to have been exhaustive. But at the same time, if my right rev. Friend will come to the Department and make known what it is exactly that he wants, if it be in existence it shall be pointed out to him, and if it does not exist it will, if there be no ground of great expense or other such objection against it, be given with the greatest pleasure.


I wish to thank the noble Viscount for the kindness with which he has met my request. I have no wish to prolong the discussion, which has taken a very much wider range than my Motion at all suggested.