HL Deb 14 March 1899 vol 68 cc668-80

My Lords, at the close of last Session, in gringing in two Bills, the principal one of which was for the constitution of a Board of Education, I made a general statement of the views of the Government with regard to a reform of Secondary Education in this country, which I do not think it is necessary that I should repeat on this occasion. I circulated the speech which I then made to Members of both Houses of Parliament; and no doubt that speech has been seen by, or is accessible for reference to, any of your Lordships who may take an interest in the subject; but it may be convenient that in re-introducing one of those Bills I should recapitulate, without going into detail, the main points of the statement I then made. I gave some account of a provision which already exists for Secondary Education from public, local, and private sources, and of the departments and authorities by which that provision is controlled, and by which the expenditure upon it is regulated. I stated that we had no intention of bringing Secondary Education under any centralised control, such as that which has been found necessary in regard to Elementary Education, and that, holding this view, we recognised that the creation of local authorities with adequate powers to make provision, or to control the provision already made, for Secondary Education within their own areas, was a most important, and, indeed, essential point in any complete Measure dealing with this subject. I said, however, that in our opinion the creation of such local authorities ought to be preceded by the constitution of a central authority, not for the purpose of unduly controlling the action of such local authorities, but mainly for the purpose of giving them such information, such advice and guidance as they would not be in a position to obtain from the isolated and detached central Departments which at present exist. I further indicated the nature of the central authority which we proposed to create, and that it would concentrate within one department the powers and duties now exercised by the Educational Departments and the Science and Art Department, and I stated the relations which we proposed should exist between this reconstituted Department and the Charity and Endowed Schools Commissioners. I further pointed out the manner in which we thought it would be possible to obtain for the new Department the assistance of expert and professional advice through the constitution of a Consultative Committee. My Lords, I invited the fullest discussion and criticism upon the Bills which I then introduced. The time was, perhaps, not altogether propitious for obtaining this criticism, inasmuch as those who are perhaps best qualified to offer valuable opinions upon the subject are those who are more or less directly connected with the teaching profession; and the time at which this statement was made and these Bills were introduced, was just about the commencement of the ordinary vacation in all educational institutions. A considerable time, therefore, elapsed before much discussion took place upon these Measures, but during the late autumn and the winter and up to a very recent date, I am glad to say that the subject has been very extensively discussed both by associations of county authorities, and by a very large number of associations of educational authorities. I have no reason to be dissatisfied on the whole with the reception which these Measures have met with. They have been exposed to some obvious criticism—criticism which I think I may say has proceeded more from political than from educational quarters, or quarters associated with local government—upon the limited scope and imperfect character of these Measures, but I think very few of those who have been qualified to discuss this subject with full knowledge, either of the conditions of the present organisation of Local Government, or the present organisation or Education, have seriously questioned the contention which I then made that the preliminary organisation of the central authority ought properly to precede the further Measure which we admit to be equally, if not still more, important, of creating competent local authorities; and from all I have heard, I am more convinced even than I was last year that the course which we have taken in this respect has been the right one, and will in the end be probably the most expeditious one. I referred last year, to some extent, to the difficulties which I still foresee in arriving at any general agreement as to the constitution of the local authorities, and I am not prepared to say that these difficulties have altogether disappeared; but I very gladly recognise that there appears to be some progress towards agreement. The question has been pretty fully discussed between the Associations of County Councils, of County Borough Councils, and of Borough Councils, and I do not see any insuperable difficulties which have still to be got over in coming to an agreement between those bodies. I still have to make some reservation as to School Boards. From causes over which they were not responsible, School Boards have been constrained to enter to so considerable an extent upon the field of Secondary Education that many of them are naturally most unwilling to surrender the position which they now occupy. Though I conceive that very few of them would contend that the School Board as now constituted would be the proper Secondary Educational authority for the future, yet I think I still apprehend that many of them will be disposed to claim a larger share of representation on, and influence over, these local bodies to be constituted in the future than it may be possible for us to concede to them. But, under any circumstances, even if all difficulties as to the constitution of the local authorities had entirely disappeared, I still think it would have been a mistake to create those local bodies and to call upon them to undertake the important duties which it is proposed to assign to them in the absence of any central organisation, which would be in a position to give them all the information, advice, and assistance which they will have a right to expect. This part of the question is, I think, in some degree illustrated by the proceed- ings which have taken place under the Local Taxation Acts and the Technical Education Acts. A great deal of admirable work has been done by county councils, by county borough councils, and by borough councils in disposing of the funds which have been entrusted to them by Parliament for the purpose of assisting Technical Education, but there can, I think, be no doubt that the administration by the county councils of very large grants, without any experience or without much guidance from any central authority, has, in many cases, led to some waste in the application of those funds. Their application, therefore, has not been as efficient as it might have been. The dual administration under the Education Department and the Science and Art Department has not been, in all respects, satisfactory, and some cases have come under my observation in which, I think, schools and classes have been recognised and aided by Government subventions by one department without full knowledge of what was being done by the other department, and this has led, in some cases, to unnecessary competition and undue expenditure both of public and local funds, and consequently to some loss of efficiency. When it has been announced that it is the intention of the Government to reorganise these departments, and when the office of Secretary of the Science and Art Department is about to become vacant, which will not, of course, for the present be filled up, there must ensue a period of transition, in which the defects of this dual administration will necessarily, for a time, be accentuated. I hold, therefore, my Lords, still more strongly than I did last year, that it is necessary that we should make an attempt to put our own house in order before we try to introduce order and a better system into the local administration of education. My Lords, I think that on this occasion I may confine myself to some explanation of the points in which the Bill which I am asking leave to introduce differs from that of last year. The constitution of the Board of Education provided in the Bill of last Session has been criticised, I think not without some justice, as being somewhat awkward and clumsy. It provided in certain cases for the retention as a member of the Board of the Vice- President of the Council. In other contingencies there would have been no Vice-President. We propose in the present Bill to constitute a Board of the same character as the Board of Trade or the Board of Agriculture. Like the Board of Trade, and unlike the Board of Agriculture, it will have a Parliamentary Secretary as well as a President, but the office of Vice-President will cease to exist. We have, however, following the precedent of the Board of Trade Act of 1867, introduced a temporary provision providing that during the present tenure of office of the Vice-President of the Council, he will continue to be a member of the Board. In justice to the Vice-President, I think I ought to state that this provision has not been introduced in any way on his initiative, and that he himself entertains doubts as to its expediency. We have, however, considered that the experience and knowledge of the subject which is possessed by the Vice-President will be of great value, not only in the conduct of this Bill through the other House of Parliament, but in organising the Department if Parliament should sanction this Measure. We have, therefore, thought it desirable to follow exactly the precedent of the course which was taken in the Board of Trade Act of 1867. The present Bill will give more elastic powers of transfer of the educational functions of the Charity Commissioners to the new Department. It will give power to the Queen in Council, by Order, to transfer to the Education Board such powers as may appear to relate to education. The question of whether a trust is of an educational or other character, and the apportioning of the endowments for educational or other purposes will, however, as in the Bill of last year, be reserved to the Charity Commissioners. Our intention is that this transfer should only gradually come into operation, and the only power which at present will be transferred from the Charity Commissioners to the Board of Education will be that of the inspection of schools now under schemes framed by the Endowed Schools Commissioners. The future transfer of these educational powers from the Charity Commissioners will be facilitated by a change which has recently taken place in the composition of the Commission. One of the Commissioners has recently been appointed to the office of Registrar to the Judicial Committee. His place will not, at all events for the present, be filled up, and the educational duties which have hitherto almost entirely occupied the time of the Commissioner appointed under the Endowed Schools Act, and the Commissioner whose time has hitherto been entirely occupied by educational duties, will now take his share in the ordinary duties of the Board; and the Commissioners have been informed that, in view of pending changes which are in contemplation, it will not be necessary, or, in the opinion of the Government, desirable, that they should push on the work of framing new educational schemes except in such cases as, for local reasons or under special circumstances, appear urgently necessary. The question of inspection and examination of schools by the new Board is one of such importance that it will be dealt with in the present Bill in a separate clause instead of in a sub-section of a clause, as in the former Bill. That sub-section was found to confer considerably larger powers of inspection than were intended by us, or than, I think, we generally understood, and I am advised that under the Bill introduced last year all Public Schools would have been liable to inspection except Eton and Winchester, which are in a separate category by themselves. I have endeavoured to ascertain from the governing bodies and headmasters of Public Schools how far they are of opinion that it is desirable that the inspection of Public Schools by an Educational Board should be general, and how far they would themselves be willing to come under it. The result of these inquiries has been to me somewhat unexpected, and I think in a sense eminently satisfactory. Most of them, the largest and most important Public Schools of the country included, have, through their headmasters, expressed the opinion that they are so impressed with the public advantage of a general inspection of Secondary Schools by some competent authority, that they would be willing on certain conditions, although they might have little or nothing to gain by it themselves, to come under such a system of inspection. But some of the conditions which they very properly lay down are conditions which at present it would be very difficult adequately to satisfy. The headmasters indicate a great dread on their part of anything in the nature of bureaucratic interference, or any attempt to impose upon them uniformity of instruction or curriculum. They therefore attach great importance to the permanent existence of a Consultative Committee, in which they see a guarantee against any such attempt on the part of a Government Department. They also require that University inspection should be recognised as an alternative to State inspection. These are conditions which might be satisfied without great difficulty, but there are others which will be less easily met. They attach the greatest importance to the selection for this duty of inspectors whose competence for such responsible and difficult duties would be generally recognised. I need not say that such men do not exist in very great numbers, that such men cannot easily be found, and that, if they can be found, their services will have to be very highly remunerated. And they further generally express the opinion that, if inspection by the State were to be made compulsory, it ought also to be gratuitous. The form in which the inquiries have been made has, perhaps, led to some misapprehension as to the scope and intention of the Bill, and I fear that some disappointment may be felt when the extremely limited proposals of the Government on the subject are explained. It is very satisfactory to note the willingness with which the masters of the most important schools have welcomed the idea of inspection, not as required for themselves, but for the purpose of raising the character of schools which may be less efficient; but until the Department is far more organised than it is likely to be for some considerable period, it would be impossible, in my opinion, for it to undertake anything like what many of these gentlemen appear to have in their minds in the nature of a State inspection of the national provision for Secondary Education. Our present aim is limited to the better organisation of the provision for local Secondary Education on the lines indicated in the Report of the Royal Commission, and although the terms of the clause of the present Bill may be wider and may admit of something very much larger in extent in the future, all that we have at present in view is such an inspection of local schools as may assist the local authorities hereafter to be constituted, to bring the Endowed, Municipal, and Private Proprietary schools within their areas into Borne common local scheme. It would be impossible to draw an exact line of demarcation between those schools in which it would be desirable that inspection should be compulsory and those in which it should be optional, and therefore we propose that inspection in all cases should be optional, except in the case of those schools which are being conducted under schemes of the Endowed School Commissioners, in whose case the new Department will inherit the powers of inspection which are already possessed by the Charity Commissioners. But I believe that the advantages of recognition by the local authority will be a strong inducement to a greater number of the non-local schools to place themselves under inspection and thus to obtain a guarantee of efficiency which will enable them to be recognised as part of the local provision for education, and I trust that the assent which has been given by the higher educational authority to the principle of inspection will tend to remove any apprehension which up to the present time may have been felt by the smaller local schools. We recognise that the conditions which will be required for the higher and more important schools ought, in their due degree, to be applied to the case of the smaller local public schools, and that, in the first place, no attempt should be made to impose upon them anything like uniformity in their course of instruction; that the inspection should be conducted on the advice of, and in consultation with, the Consultative Committee to be formed under the Bill; that due care should be taken in the selection of the inspectors; that University or other competent organisations shall be admitted as equivalent to Government inspection; and, though we are unable to ask Parliament to devote funds to provide for the inspection of schools which are mainly for the benefit of the upper or middle classes, we recognise that in the case of the poorer schools the cost of inspection may properly form a charge upon funds placed at the disposal of the counties for educational purposes. The registration of teachers was provided for last year in a separate Measure. We now consider that this is unnecessary. We consider that the registers of both Elementary and Secondary teachers may be most properly kept by the Department itself, and we provide that the regulations under which these registers are formed shall be framed in consultation with and on the advice of the Consultative Committee. The composition of that Committee will not be stereotyped by the terms of the Bill further than it will be provided that it shall be as to two-thirds representative of the Universities or other teaching bodies; and endowed, as it will be, with the permanent functions to which I have referred, I hope that any doubt which has been felt as to the intention of the Government to make the Consultative Committee a permanent institution under the Board will be removed. Following the precedents of similar legislation, the Bill will provide that Parliament shall retain control over the proceedings under this Act, by a clause which will make it necessary that all Orders proposed to be made under the Act shall be laid upon the Tables of both Houses before they are submitted to the Queen in Council. Not the least important part of the policy of which this Bill is only a portion will be the reorganisation of the Departments of the Government themselves. I stated last year that certain changes might be necessary in the Educational Departments. The Science and Art Department has grown up, as I pointed out last year, almost imperceptibly, from very small beginnings, so that it is probable that in its case a very searching and complete examination will be necessary. The Department has a character distinct and differing from anything which exists in the State, and, I think, differing from anything which exists in any other country. Through its colleges of science and schools of art, it is itself a teaching institution. It distributes a large sum in aid of instruction in certain subjects, and, therefore, it exercises a considerable control over the course of study throughout the country. It is also an examining body, whose certificates possess a value of the same character as that of a University degree. It also directs great museums in South Kensington, Bethnal Green, Edinburgh, and Dublin. Its internal arrangements are also of a peculiar character, having, as it. has, directors of science and art who possess no executive authority, and whose functions and responsibilities I have always found it rather difficult to understand. The intention expressed in the Bill of making this Department a branch of a larger Educational Department, and also the pending vacancy in the Secretaryship of the Science and Art Department, will obviously make a thorough revision of this Department necessary. That revision will naturally be undertaken by a Departmental Committee, and as soon as the principle of amalgamation of the two Departments has been approved by Parliament that Committee will be appointed and the revision commenced. It will extend to both the science and art sides of the Department and also to the administration of the museums. It is an inquiry which must necessarily occupy a certain amount of time and entail a great deal of labour, and we therefore propose that the Bill shall not come into force until the 1st April next year, which will certainly not allow more than the necessary time for conducting this very difficult inquiry. I have now explained the principal provisions of the Bill, which I ask leave to introduce. It differs in some of its minor details from that which we brought in last year, but we have seen no reason to depart from the principle of that Measure, or to extend its limited scope. We fully admit that it is only a part of a more complete Measure, but we believe that it is a necessary and indispensable step towards a complete Measure. Our present proposals are limited, lot because we shrink through timidity from dealing with the subject in a larger spirit, but because we are deliberately of opinion that the procedure which we recommend is the soundest and the most, logical procedure, and in the end will be the most expeditious and the most efficient. I ask leave to introduce the Bill.


Perhaps I may venture to make one or two remarks with reference to this Bill, which deals with a subject to which I have devoted the greater part of my life. I desire to express my gratitude to the noble Duke, the Lord President of the Council, for having so earnestly and thoroughly grappled with the important part of the subject to which this Bill refers—namely, the concentration and organisation of the numerous central Departments which deal with education. This reform will, I am sure, obviate the great waste and expense which now takes place by a multiplicity of offices. At first one feels confused as to what the objects of this Bill are. We have all looked for a Bill dealing with Secondary Education, but this Bill is no such thing. There is nothing in it specially referring to Secondary Education. The phrase does not occur in the Bill, which is for the purpose of consolidating the authorities which deal with both Elementary and Secondary Education and Technical Instruction in this country. Secondary Education will merely be a branch of the general subject to be dealt with by a Board of Education. I know that there can be no distinct line drawn between Elementary and Secondary Education. One is the foundation and the other the continuation of education, but at the same time it was admitted by the noble Duke, in the speech he made last year, that the Board will deal with each in a different way and by different officials, and I hope they will do so in many ways in a totally different manner. It is, in my opinion, a misfortune that Elementary Education was made free, be-cause what costs nothing is regarded a worthless, but that the Secondary Education of the sons of rich manufacturers should be supported by the public would have a most injurious effect. There is not the slightest doubt that the making of Elementary instruction gratuitous has lowered it in the estimation of the country. I know at this moment that the municipal institutions for Secondary and Technical Education in our great towns are used not so much by the children of artisans as by those of tradesmen and manufacturers. I think that is a misfortune, and I hope the higher work of the Board of Education will be self-supported as by scholarships for the poor. The constitution of this Board strikes me as rather questionable. It is a similar constitution to that of the Board of Trade and the Board of Agriculture. I have had to serve in two Departments under a Board constituted in the same way, and I can only say that I remember but one single instance in which the Board was called together or consulted in any way. It is a mere sham. The Board of Education will be merely nominal, and the Minister, with a Consultative Committee, will really conduct the business. The Consultative Committee also seems to me to be rather questionable. I hardly like to express an opinion on this subject. I have no doubt the noble Duke has more material to form an opinion upon than I have, but he cannot deny that there is some danger in making a Consultative Committee independent of the Minister. Surely it relieves the Minister of a sense of responsibility to a great extent, and it hampers and impedes his free action. It seems to me it would be much wiser, if the assistance of experts is required, that they should be inside the Board, and not outside. What is the use of a Parliamentary Secretary but to give the Minister all he wants to carry on the business of the office? Surely the Minister himself is the man who should have full responsibility! The proposal seems to me a dangerous one. I was very glad to hear that the headmasters of our great Public Schools had attached conditions to their willingness to receive inspection from this Board, which, if I understand the noble Duke correctly, would be, at all events for the present, insuperable. I do not wish, in any degree whatever, that our great Public Schools should be under this Board of Education or connected through it with the Government. This Bill is formed avowedly upon the Report of the Royal Commission of 1895. That Report was largely drawn up, I believe, by the Chairman, Mr. Bryce. It abjures altogether any idea of a State system of education, and says that nothing they recommend shall be intended to introduce a control of the State over the education of the country, but merely supervision. The Commissioners said that, I think, very wisely, but their recommendations do not quite carry out their proposition. I hope the noble Duke intends the provisions of this Bill to be for the benefit of the industrial classes, and not for the upper classes, who go to our great Public Schools. This is a very important question. A little book was published in Paris recently ably maintaining that the education of England was so infinitely superior to that of France that it fully accounted for the more prominent posi- tion England had taken in the affairs of the world. I really feel that I have been almost presumptuous in venturing to make these remarks, but I hope the noble Duke will consider them as the remarks of one who is very fully interested in his work. I desire to express my gratitude, which I believe will be widely shared in the country, to the noble Duke for having so earnestly undertaken this great improvement.

Question put.

Bill read a first time, and to be printed. (No. 25.)

House adjourned at half-past Five of the clock.