HL Deb 23 March 1900 vol 81 cc156-65

My Lords, I rise to call attention to the conditions of annual grants as laid down by the fourth chapter of the Code of Regulations for Day Schools in England, and to the increased powers conferred upon Her Majesty's inspectors. There is one feature in the new Code on which I beg to sincerely congratulate the noble Duke, the Lord President of the Council. I refer to Article 15, which introduces an entirely new principle in our education, and it does it in a manner with which, so far as the subjects are concerned which are put in the course of instruction for elementary schools, I am in hearty sympathy. In fact, Article 15 gives all I asked for in the statement I made in October to the London School Board. It gives as compulsory subjects English composition, and grammar, and history, and geography, which hitherto have only been included in the optional list. Furthermore, the Article sweeps away the distinction between class subjects and specific subjects, and gives greater latitude of selection in the arrangement of the curriculum for schools. It is quite evident that this Article has been included in the English Code in order to bring it more into harmony with the Scotch Code, and I think I am justified in stating that, having assimilated the Codes in this respect, it would have been wiser to have added the guarantees which the Scotch Code, gives, and which are not found in the English Code. In the first place, I regret not to find in the Code the inclusion of the merit certificate. The merit certificate is a guarantee that these courses of instruction when introduced will lead up to a certain goal, and, in addition, gives this further advantage, as was pointed out by my noble friend the Secretary for Scotland in his speech on Friday last, that you can substitute the merit certificate for the labour certificate. I do not see in this Code any course of instruction for advanced departments, and that is a very suspicious circumstance when I look at Article 13, which has been altered in a way which will make it much more difficult for schools—and what I am saying applies as well to Board schools as to Voluntary schools—to earn a grant in the advanced departments. Article 13 now precludes the recognition of attendance of those who are upwards of 14 years of age and have been under instruction for more than one year in Standard VII. Hitherto the article has left much greater latitude for the recognition of higher work. The limit of age in the Free Education Act is 15; in Scotland it is 18. Another very serious feature of the new Code is the increased power which has been given to inspectors. First of all, the inspector, under Article 15, b. ii., will have it in his power to prescribe which of the subjects included in the list, except two, may or may not be taken, and, in addition, he is given, under Article 101, a. ii., the power to disapprove of any portion of the syllabus which he considers unsuitable. This is a very important innovation, for not only will the inspector have the power to check the time-table and the scheme of instruction, but also the syllabus. Therefore, he will control not only the choice of subjects, but the methods of instruction. Everyone is aware that inspectors have very different ideas both as regards the subjects which ought to be included in the time-table, and as regards the methods of teaching. It is quite conceiveable, therefore, that a child migrating from one district of London to another might find the syllabus in the school to which he migrates, imposed by the inspector of the district, so entirely different from that prescribed for the school which he had left that he would find it difficult to follow the instruction there given. Hitherto the powers of inspectors have been by no means so wide as they are under the new Code, and unless the Education Department exercises a very strict control over the manner in which these powers are used, and gives very definite instructions to the inspectors, I fear there will be considerable friction in the future between the inspectors and the managers of schools. The new financial arrangements affect very seriously the most efficient schools. I think I can state the case most clearly in this way. A really efficient school hitherto could earn 22s. 3d. per boy, and, in addition, 5s. for specific subjects in the higher standards. In future, the 5s. cannot be earned at all, and the maximum amount that can be earned in that school will be 22s. Now take the case of an inferior school. In an inferior school hitherto the minimum that could be earned was 15s. The new minimum is 21s., a difference of 6s. This alteration is all to the advantage of the inferior school, and to the disadvantage of the higher school. There can be no objection if the new grant is to be given to these inferior schools on the understanding that they will improve their course of instruction and their teaching staff; but I admit that I do not find in the Code any guarantees for such a sanguine expectation, and the wording of a clause in Article 101 seems rather to point to the wish of the Department that the inspector should propose the higher grant in all except the worst cases. Here, again, I wish the provisions of the Scotch Code had been adopted. The system is much more logical in Scotland, where there is a normal grant, with an increase for a school of special excellence and a reduction for a school which is below the average efficiency. But, in any case, it is deplorable, and I cannot express too strongly my regret, that the loss should accrue to schools on which the managers have spent the greatest care, and which have given the best results. If I take the return of last year I find that the grant for infant and senior departments amounted to £1,385,460. The grant, based on the attendance of last year and taking 22s. as the figure, with a maximum for infants of 17s., would amount to £4,677,808—an increase of close upon £300,000. I strongly suspect that when the results of this Code are given in the next Report we shall find that very little of this additional sum has been distributed among the most efficient schools, and that the bulk of it will go to the schools which represent the least educational effort. A comparison with the grants under the Scotch Code is still more damaging. There infants can receive 18s. 6d. as against 17s. 6d. in England, and scholars from ten till the merit certificate 24s. 6d., as against 22s. in England. In Scotland you give to the advanced departments—to scholars having the merit certificate—a maximum grant of 55s. and 12s. 6d. for experimental science, as against 22s. in England; and in Scotland this grant can be earned up to the age of eighteen. There is another alteration in the grant which will affect the efficiency of the schools Hitherto the maximum grant to pupil teachers has been £12. In future it will be £6, and no account is taken of the qualifications of the pupil teacher. In Scotland the grant is retained at £12. I regret not finding in the Code any provision for securing a larger supply of competent qualified teachers. I know that the Department are quite aware of the necessity of making some such provision, but this occasion has not been taken to make it. I need hardly say that when I compare England with Scotland, I have no desire to complain of the predilection of the Treasury in this respect for Scotland, but I am bound to resent it on behalf of the educational interests of England; and if I am told that the conditions of Scotland and the history of education in Scotland are quite different from those in England then I must be allowed to remind the House of a passage which occurs in the Report of the Education Commission, over which the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal presided. The unfair treatment of England in the matter of elementary education, as compared with Scotland, was censured by the majority Report of Lord Cross's Commission (Part IV., cap. 5, p. 169) as follows— In Scotland liberal grants are now made to the managers of elementary schools for advanced instruction to scholars who have passed the highest standard, and we see no reason why English children should not be afforded like assistance for continuing their education. This arrangement would facilitate the provision of such higher instruction in the smaller and less populous school districts, and, for reasons already suggested, might be preferred by the authorities of some even of the larger districts to the establishment of separate schools. The larger districts have done their duty, and in many parts of England there are excellent higher grade schools which, by this Code, will undoubtedly be hit in the matter of finance. In the Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations the Commissioners say (Part VII., p. 219, No. 152)— That in certain cases the object of higher elementary schools might be secured by attaching to an ordinary elementary school a class or section in which higher instruction was provided for scholars who had passed the Seventh Standard; and that liberal grants made as in Scotland to the managers of elementary schools for advanced instruction to scholars who have passed the highest standard would facilitate the provision of such higher instruction in the smaller and less populous school district. That was the opinion expressed by a Royal Commission as far back as 1888, and, twelve years later, instead of taking a step in advance, the new Code is undoubtedly, so far as the higher departments are concerned, a retrograde measure. I hope the noble Duke will give every consideration to the complaints which are sure to reach him as to the disastrous effect which the Code will have in that respect.


My Lords, my noble friend has referred several times in the course of his observations to the case of the Scotch Code, and compared it to the disadvantage of the English Code in several particulars. It is scarcely necessary for me to point out that the cases of England and Scotland are very far from being analogous. In Scotland the School Boards have undoubtedly authority to give secondary education, whereas in this country, as we are advised, we have no such power. No doubt we have no such power, and, as my noble friend is aware, the Government have under consideration, and hope to propose before very long, the measures which may be necessary to constitute an authority which shall have legal authority to give secondary education, which no local authority can give at present. When that time comes it may be necessary to attempt to draw a distinct line between upper primary and secondary education which may involve the inclusion in upper primary education of something higher than the seventh standard, and it is possible we may be in a position to make some further advance in the direction of assimilating the English and the Scotch Codes. My noble friend also referred, in a tone of some complaint, to the additional powers which were given to the inspectors under the new Code. I need scarcely say that the proposed powers will be exercised under the control of and subject, if necessary, to appeal to the Education Department; and, although I believe that Her Majesty's inspectors are a body of men to whom very great responsibility in this matter may very safely be entrusted, I do not conceive that there has been the smallest intention to absolve the Department itself from any responsibility which properly rests upon it. The remainder of the observations of my noble friend were, I think, devoted to the substitution of the block grant for the elaborate and rather complicated system of variable grants which have hitherto been given to the elementary schools. I do not think that my noble friend will desire that I should enter into this question, in respect of its details, at any great length. The Code has very recently been published, and has not up to the present been very much discussed. The substitution of block grants for variable grants will not come into operation until the year 1901–1902, and although I feel tolerably confident that the principles that are laid down in this Code will commend themselves generally as educationally expedient, I should not like, until I have heard further discussion on the subject, to commit myself absolutely to the proposals which are contained in the Code. The provisions of the Code to which my noble friend has referred are going to be challenged in the other House next week, and it is probable that there the subject will be more fully discussed, and the experience and knowledge of managers and school teachers will be more fully brought to bear upon the question than could be the case in this House as at present constituted. And I am almost disposed to regret that my noble friend did not think it expedient to postpone his observations upon the Code until we have had an opportunity of hearing those fuller discussions that undoubtedly will take place before long in the other House and in the country. The question of this change in the system of making grants to elementary schools has, as the noble Lord is no doubt aware, been for a very long time under the consideration of the Department, and the officials of the Department who have had it under their consideration have come, I believe, almost unanimously to the conclusions which have now been embodied in the Code. A very considerable stimulus has, no doubt, lately been given in the direction of this change by the movement which has taken place on the part of Members for agricultural and rural constituencies and others, who have expressed a strong desire and instituted a kind of agitation for changes in the curriculum and system of our rural schools which would adapt the course of instruction given in them more fully to the wants of the class of children that attend those schools. In the course of this discussion it has been found that an almost indispensable preliminary was the substitution of something in the nature of a block grant for the variable grants which have prevailed, and when this question was under consideration in connection with rural schools it was found that no valid reason could be given why this system of block grants could be applied to rural districts only which did not apply to its adoption in connection with schools generally. The noble Lord has not challenged the expediency of this substitution, and therefore I do not think it necessary at the present moment to go into the reasons which have induced the Department, after a great deal of consideration, to adopt this course. It is undoubtedly the case that by the substitution of block grants for the present variable grants a certain number of schools that have hitherto been considered most efficient will be the losers, and those less efficient will become considerable gainers. That is a consequence necessarily inseparable from the substitution of a block grant for the variable grants, unless the Treasury could have been induced to assent—and we did not think we had a right to ask them to assent—to the fixing of the block grant at such a figure as would, while improving the position of the less efficient schools, have left the more efficient schools unaffected. This question depends very much on the point of view from which we look at the grant which is given by the State in aid of elementary education. If we look at that grant as a fund by moans of which certain localities, especially favoured by wealth, perhaps by energy and intelligence, are able by a large expenditure of their own to extract from the State the largest amount of aid for the instruction of a certain class of children in a certain class of subjects, then undoubtedly there are certain schools in certain localities which under the present Code will appear to suffer some injustice. If, on the other hand, as I think we ought rather to do, we look upon the Government grant in aid of elementary education as a fund out of which elementary instruction to the children of the nation as a whole is to be raised to the highest point of average efficiency, then I think it will be found that this substitution is not only expedient but also just. At all events, my Lords, it is a measure which has not been adopted without very careful consideration, and it is a measure which also has, so far as we are able at present to see, received no very inconsiderable amount of support. We have already received resolutions from the Agricultural Education Committee, and also from the National Union of Teachers, warmly approving of the step we have taken, and although no doubt there may be certain most admirably managed School Boards whose constituents will suffer to a certain extent pecuniarily from the change, I believe that when this question comes to be discussed, it will be found that, in the opinion of those who have the greatest opportunity of gaining experience and knowledge, the gain to the efficiency of education generally will be so great as to reconcile them to any temporary pecuniary sacrifice they may be called upon to make. I feel very little doubt that this matter will receive in the course of the present session both in this and the other House, and in the country generally, more attention than it has yet received. I can only thank my noble friend opposite for having given to your Lordships' House at this early stage, the benefit of his experience, and I can assure him that, so far as the questions have not been finally decided by the present Code, the suggestions he has made will receive most careful attention.


My Lords, I entirely agree with the opening observations of the noble Duke to the effect that it would not be desirable, until the whole matter has been more fully considered out of doors and in the other House, to attempt to enter upon the very important questions which are raised by the now code; and 1 welcome the very fair manner in which the noble Duke has treated the particular questions brought before the House by my noble friend behind me. I do not feel that I am sufficiently an expert to give any very decisive opinion as to what may be the effect of so important a change as that of making a block grant, but I do feel a certain amount of jealousy at the introduction of a system which, as the noble Duke admits, will be disadvantageous to the higher class of elementary schools. I do not think that, because those who support these elementary schools have got ample funds, and therefore have in that respect an advantage over other schools, they should be discouraged in the efforts which they make to raise to the highest point the standard of elementary schools, and to set thereby an example to the whole country of what may be done in that respect. I cannot help fearing that the new system may to some extent bolster up unsatisfactory and imperfect schools, where there is little zeal for education, and discourage schools which are supported by people possessed of much greater zeal for this important task. It seems to me that the system will have to be tried in this way. If it has the effect of really raising the standard of efficiency in the schools of the country generally, that will, in itself, be a very signal advantage to be gained; but, unless a stronger pressure is put upon a very large number of schools—particularly voluntary schools and smaller Board schools—to attain a greater efficiency, I shall be very much afraid that there will be no gain as regards general education in the country. One of the greatest difficulties still is the existence of a considerable number of schools where the education is far below the desired standard, and I fully admit the difficulty of putting stronger pressure on many of them. I had some experience of the difficulties when I was Lord President of the Council. There is very serious danger that many of these small schools will remain far below what they ought to be, and that is especially the case in rural schools. I sincerely hope that the whole question will be discussed from every point of view, and if it should be found that the new system will work well, I, for my part, should congratulate the Educational Department on the step that has been taken. I know that there is a not unnatural jealousy of the certain amount of higher education which is given in some of the superior Board schools, and I admit that, when we have an admirable system of secondary education, such as it is hoped we may have some day, placed within the reach of the whole population of the country, there will be no necessity for that kind of higher education which is being given in those schools. But however we may welcome the step which has been taken to improve secondary education, with the best intentions and the greatest energy, it must be a very long time before a really efficient system of secondary education can be established in this country, and I should lament very much if, during the interval, this quasi- secondary education which is given in some of the best of the Board schools was discouraged or dimini-hed. That would be a very severe blow to the general interests of the education of the country.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before Six of the Clock, to Monday next, Two of the Clock.