HL Deb 29 April 1901 vol 93 cc19-28

My Lords, I rise to call attention to certain proposed alterations in the new Education Code. I am informed that the ordinary period during which the Code lies on the Table of the House has already elapsed. That being the case I have to thank the noble Duke the Lord President of the Council for his willingness to answer such questions as I desire to put to him with respect to some of the changes contemplated in the new Code. While there are a great many changes to which, having had some experience in school work, I feel considerable objection, I will confine my remarks to three or four of the clauses which deal with the subjects that seem to me to be the most important. Article 41 of the Code deals with the instruction of pupil teachers, who, as a rule, commence their period of training at the age of fourteen or fifteen. Their indentures generally run over three or four years, so that this clause deals with the instruction of these young people from the age, say, of fourteen till eighteen. The rule under the previous Code has been that these pupil teachers should be required to pass an annual examination, according to a schedule of subjects, and it seems to a great many of us that this rule was a very good one, and that it tended to give these pupil teachers a systematic instruction all through these important years of their training. The change which is to come into operation in April, 1902, is to this effect, that after admission as pupil teachers at the age of fourteen or fifteen these young persons are not to be subjected to any public or general examination until they come to the end of their period of training. Therefore, during the three or four years of their training they are practically left without one of the strongest motives for carrying on their continuous and systematic study, and doing their best for the development of their faculties. This change seems to me to give great encouragement to cramming for the examination at the last moment, and managers and teachers will slacken off their instruction year by year during this period, because the supervision of an inspector is not at all the same as a public examination. I cannot but fear that if this clause comes into operation it will tend to lower the standard of efficiency among our younger teachers, and I should not be at all surprised if it ends in largely increasing the number of failures when the examination comes.

According to Article 49 of the former Code any candidate who failed in the final examination was at liberty to offer himself again for examination at any time during the next two years. But a very curious alteration has been made in that article. The rule now, apparently, is to be as follows, that any candidate who fails in the final examination will be recognised as a provisional assistant teacher for the next two years. There fore, it would seem that the failure to qualify is to constitute a testimonial to teach! I pass to Article 51, which deals with the qualifications required from certificated assistant teachers. Hitherto no one has been certified as an assistant teacher without passing two qualifying examinations. These examinations are now to be reduced to one. This, again, seems to me to tend to the lowering of the standard of qualification for assistant teachers. It is not improve- ing our Code, but making it worse. If all these candidates for the office of assistant teacher were students in a training college I suppose it would matter very little, because in that case they would be under regular instruction and passing the examinations of their college, but the provision for the training of teachers in training colleges is so altogether insufficient at the present time that a very large proportion of our teachers are unable to obtain admission to these colleges. A very large proportion of the applicants for these certificates will therefore have to qualify themselves as best they can outside the colleges, and will have to depend on the chance of one examination. I venture to think this change is also a change for the worse. Article 99, which deals with the inspection and examination of infant schools, is to be cancelled. The clause as it stood hitherto, contained useful directions and instructions. All that is to be cancelled by a stroke of the pen, and the inspector who visits these schools is to be left at liberty to examine the children or not as be pleases. I can see no sufficient reason why that clause should be cancelled, except to make things easier for the inspector, and so to lessen the efficiency of the schools.

In connection with the cancelling of Clause 99 and the relieving of the inspector of the duty of examining, I would draw the attention of the House to article 18, which is the very first clause giving directions as to the duties of inspectors. Clause 18 as it stood hitherto was to this effect—that the inspectors were to visit the schools to examine whether the conditions of annual grants had been fulfilled. The new Code proposes to substitute for the word "examine" the vague word "inquire," so that henceforth the duty of an inspector will be to visit the schools to inquire whether the conditions of annual grants have been fulfilled. This is obviously a very different thing from imposing upon the inspector the duty of himself examining to ascertain this fact. The general drift of these changes is in the direction of slackening down, and making things easier, with the inevitable result, I venture to think, of lessening efficiency. Article 101 is of a different kind, and deals with the teach- ing of such subjects as cookery, cottage gardening, manual instruction, laundry work, and so on. The effect of the changes in this clause will be very largely to discourage this technical training, to which we were beginning rather late in the day to give a good deal more attention than hitherto. Take, first, the subject of cookery. The old rule has been that any child who has reached the fourth standard—a very reasonable requirement—may be admitted to the cookery class, but under the new rule no child is to be admitted unless she has reached the age of eleven years. I am informed from various quarters that so many children, especially in country districts, leave school at eleven years of age, that this will practically destroy a great many of our cookery classes. In my own city, Hereford, I have just persuaded the citizens for the first time to establish a very efficient system of cookery classes. With great difficulty we succeeded in raising subscriptions to cover the balance between what we expected to get from the Government Department and the cost of the classes. Under this clause our classes will, I am afraid, be diminished by fifty per cent. Our grant from the Government will be very largely reduced, and the result will be that a great many of these children will leave school without having had any opportunity of learning the rudiments of cookery. The same thing applies to such subjects as cottage gardening, and a great many of these classes up and down the country in the rural districts will be destroyed. The new clause will be very disastrous to all that type of education, which, as I have said, we were beginning to encourage, and from which we were hoping to see very useful results.

I will not take up the time of the House by dwelling in detail on any of the other changes in the Code, but I have ventured to draw your Lordships' attention to the general drift of these changes. It is quite possible that in the past examination has been made too much of in our elementary school system, but I cannot but fear that we are now suffering from the swing of the pendulum in the other direction. The result must inevitably be that, instead of our education going forward, it will to a certain extent go backward. This is not only the drift of the changes which have been made in the Code this year; it was also to be traced in what occurred only a year ago, when a very sweeping change was introduced in regard to the conditions under which the principal grant was to be given to schools. Under the new block grant system the sum of 22s. or 21s. per child is given according to the merit of the school, without necessarily any examination at all of individual children. We have only to look at the new block grant and the attached conditions to feel that there are one or two very strong objections to it as it stands. For instance you give to an excellent school 22s. per child, but in the case of a bad school you cannot go below 21s., so that between the good school and the bad school there is only a difference of about five per cent. You destroy one of the greatest of all the incentives in ordinary cases to aim at excellence in the school when you thus wipe out the financial difference between a good school and a bad school. In Scotland, I am told, the inspector is at liberty to recommend a reduction of the grant from one-tenth to five-tenths where the instruction is not satisfactory. I think we ought to consider whether the Scottish system is not a great deal better than the English system in this respect. If we are going to carry on the system of the block grant, it ought to be supplemented by some kind of leaving or merit certificate, so that we may have a real guarantee that individual children are well educated. It is on these grounds that I have ventured to draw your Lordships' attention to this matter, and to express the strong hope that it may not be too late to reconsider the changes which I have indicated as likely to lower our standard of education.


My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is perfectly correct in stating that certain alterations which have been introduced into this year's Code are in the direction of reducing the number of examinations, and of substituting, generally speaking, inspections. The right rev. Prelate holds views as to the value of examinations which I am bound to say are not held by most of our advisers in the Education Department. The right rev. Prelate said he apprehended that the effect of the reduction of the number of examinations of pupil teachers to one at the conclusion of their period of service would be to encourage cramming. Exactly the opposite opinion is held by those whose advice we have taken in this matter. We have been led to believe that the system of endeavouring to ascertain the efficiency of the teaching of a school and the progress of the students by a series of repeated examinations is one which tends directly to cramming, and is not by any means a satisfactory test. I need hardly say that I do not profess to be an educational expert, or to set my opinion against that of the right rev. Prelate. All I can say is that the greater number of our expert advisers have deliberately come to the opinion that it is desirable, in the interest of educational efficiency, not to increase, but, as far as possible, to diminish, the number of examinations, and to rely more upon the reports of our inspectors, and on the results of their inspection, than on examinations, which lead, in their opinion, both to cramming and to an undesirable uniformity in the course of instruction. That is all I have to say on the subject of the two first alterations to which the right rev. Prelate called my attention. He was good enough to give me notice that he intended to call attention to those Articles. He has, however, referred to another—Article 49—of which he did not give me notice. I am not quite certain as to what the exact effect is of the alteration which has been made in Article 49, but I am informed that it is intended to give pupil teachers who have failed at the scholarship examination another chance of succeeding in a further examination, and, inasmuch as they cannot during the interval exist without some means, to give them a chance during that time of earning their living. However, I have not had time fully to enquire into the effect of the alteration which has been made in Article 49.

The next point to which the right rev. Prelate referred was the omission of Article 99, which provided certain rules to be observed by the inspectors in the annual inspection and examination of schools. But annual inspection and examination of schools at a fixed date no longer takes place, and the omission of this Article is one of the alterations which have been made in consequence of the gradual abandonment of the system of examinations. Instead of that, inspectors are now required to inspect the school twice a year, without notice; and the rules, therefore, which were necessary when there was an annual examination on a fixed date, are now entirely superfluous. As to Article 101, which deals with the minimum age of children attending classes in cookery, gardening, and manual instruction. I can only refer the right rev. Prelate to the answer which was given by the Vice-President of the Council in another place, in which he stated that the Board of Education were considering the many representations which had been made, and that no change was proposed in the present year. There is ample time for the consideration of this point.

I have, I think, dealt with all the alterations in the Code to which the right rev. Prelate called attention. He referred, however, to the alteration which was made last year in the substitution of the block grant for a grant based on the results of examination. That is a change which, I believe, has been received with the greatest satisfaction by the managers of schools in general, by schoolmasters, and by all educational experts. It is a change, as the right rev. Prelate stated, in the direction of substituting inspection for examination, but I am totally unable to agree with him that it will tend to lower the standard of the instruction given. On the contrary, we are fully convinced that the tendency will be to raise the character of the instruction, and, what we consider perhaps scarcely less important, to enable a variety and adaptability to be given to the instruction imparted in different schools to different classes of scholars by different teachers, which the old Regulations made entirely impossible. That is the direction in which these changes have been made, and I believe they are to a very great extent considered to be changes in the right direction by those who are best qualified to form an opinion on the subject.


My Lords, with regard to the point raised by the right rev. Prelate as to inspection and examination, it must be admitted that the introduction of the block grant and the substitution of inspection for examination has been of great advantage to the proper co-ordination of the subjects taught in a school on a comprehensive and well-conceived scheme, benefiting alike the children of varying degrees of intelligence. But the new system throws a great responsibility on the Department and the inspectors in seeing that the inspection is real, and that efficiency is not lowered. I endorse what has been said by the right rev. Prelate as to some of the changes in the Code having a tendency to lower the qualifications of the teaching staff. I also concur in the views expressed by the right rev. Prelate with regard to the age limits, especially of girls who are to obtain instruction in household management. The result of the change in this direction will be that this instruction will fail to obtain the full effect intended by the Code, because scholars unfortunately do not attend after having reached the age of twelve for a sufficiently long time to go through the whole course. The change is all the more remarkable because in the chapter on higher elementary schools the Board of Education prescribe that scientific instruction of a practical and theoretical character should be given to boys of ten years of age. I would rather have seen the age of boys raised, at all events for receiving practical scientific instruction, to twelve, and the age of girls for obtaining, instruction in household management left unaltered. These changes will not only create difficulties in rural schools, but also in London, and I hope the noble Duke will give them further consideration before they become operative.


May I be permitted one word of explanation with reference to what I said on the subject of the block grant? I am afraid, from the remarks of the noble Duke and the last speaker, that I did not make my meaning clear. My objections to the block grant as it has to be administered under this Article are two. In the first place, I think that the difference which is made in the grant between a good school and a bad school ought to be considerably enlarged, and that if the system under which the inspector works in Scotland in regard to the amount of the grant were introduced in England a great stimulus would be given to the work of education. My other objection is that the block grant, good in itself, needs to be supplemented if you are to make it a really good form of grant to work under, and if you are to avoid the danger of overlooking the interests of the individual child. I should like to see the grant supplemented by the establishment of merit or leaving certificates.


My Lords, I deny that the block system tends to diminish the education of the individual child. It is infinitely superior to the old system of payment by results. The alterations in the Code tend to raise and not to lower the standard of education. The views which the right rev. Prelate has expressed prove the mischief which the system of payment by results has bred in the minds of those interested in education; they calculate the value of every proposal by the amount of money it will get out of the Treasury, and not by its importance from an educational point of view. The right rev. Prelate objects to the alteration in Article 101, under which no child is to be admitted to the classes in which cookery, cottage gardening, laundry work, and manual instruction are taught until he or she has reached the age of eleven years. I would ask the right rev. Prelate, is it any use teaching little children under eleven cookery and cottage gardening technically? In my opinion, the change in the Code is an excellent one. With regard to the substitution of inspection for examination, I do not think there can be any doubt that a general inspection is the right thing. The inspector, if he is worth anything at all, ought to be able, coming unexpectedly into the school, to say not what the intelligence of each individual child was, but what was the general conduct and tone of the school. The more we keep secondary education apart in sequel from a liberal elementary education, the more we shall improve the elementary education given in our schools. The tendency to force secondary education into our system of elementary education has very much damaged both, and I am glad to hear that the School Board for London have dropped their appeal against what is known as the Cockerton judgment. I hope we shall not have to wait much longer for a complete system of secondary education conducted and supported in a department by itself.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six of the clock, till to-morrow half-past Ten of the clock.