HL Deb 06 March 1902 vol 104 cc545-53

EARL BEAUCHAMP rose, in accordance with a notice which he had put on the Paper, "To call the attention of the Lord President of the Council to the effects of the Education Act and Minute of 1901, and to move for Papers." He expressed his sense of the difficulty of addressing the House on this subject, because the noble Duke the Lord President of the Council had more than once declared that he was wholly unable to understand the speeches made on education, whether in that House or outside it. It was scarcely necessary to inquire whether the noble Duke, when he said that, was influenced by recurrent attacks of modesty or not; but at any rate it suggested that there was urgent need for the application of those principles of efficiency in the Education Office, and even in the higher ranks of that Office, which the last Premier desired to write upon his clean slate. If in the course of his speech he should prove somewhat prolix, he hoped it would be ascribed to his desire to make one speech in that House on education which should be intelligent to the noble Duke. The reason he asked for Papers on this subject was that the Government had promised in the King's Speech to deal with the question of education at an early opportunity, and as it was not unreasonable to suppose that this Bill would proceed on much the same lines as the Act of last year it was only natural that they should have same figures to tell how the Act and the Minute of last July had acted on the education of the country before they were asked to pass a measure the effect of which it was difficult to exaggerate.

Sir John Gorst, the Vice-President of the Council, had stated in another place that so far the number of evening schools seemed to be greater than in 1900, when there was a decrease. That statement was everywhere received with considerable astonishment, because from the very beginning of their history, with a single trifling exception, the career of these schools had been one of uninterrupted progress. According to the figures issued by the Board of Education, while in 1899 there were 2,083 schools open, in 1900 there were no less than 2,174, and while the scholars in 1899 numbered 201,855, the number in 1900 was 206,335. That showed an increase in schools in 1900 of 5 per cent. and in scholars of 2 per cent. In the absence of any official information on the effect of the Act and Minute, voluntary Returns had been asked for from a large number of School Boards; and these sufficed to prove that from every part of the country there was the same complaint—that the Act and Minute had had an injurious effect on the evening continuation schools of the various School Boards. In Belper the night schools had dropped in consequence of the difficulties created by the new regulations. In Blackburn certain subjects had been dropped. In Barry schools had been closed in consequence of the restrictions of the Minute. In Birkenhead two schools (three departments) had been closed, the publication of the Minute being an important factor in arriving at this decision. In Darwen a very successful Voluntary School had been dropped. In Crook all night schools had been given up in consequence of the age limit imposed by the Minute. In Rochester all night school work had been discontinued, and in West Ham the number of evening schools under the Board had been reduced from sixteen to two. The Walsall School Board, which had over 1,100 pupils in their night schools, had not applied to the municipal authority to continue the classes, but had allowed all the night schools to drop. Similar reports had been received from Willesden and Rhondda. In Bacup, while there had been a diminution in the number of pupils, the number enrolled in the technical instruction classes remained practically the same, which showed that the scholars who had been driven out of the evening continuation schools of the School Board had not been able to find accommodation in the other schools provided under the Act. The number of pupils in Birmingham had dropped from 8,236 to 4,882, due partly to the fact that an entrance fee was now charged. In Bolton two evening schools had been closed, and the Clerk of the Board had stated that he did not think the pupils had been accommodated by other agencies. In Oldham the number of pupils up to October had decreased by 1,100, as compared with the previous year, but the technical instruction classes had only increased by 100, which was the average normal yearly increase. In Portsmouth the number of pupils enrolled had fallen off to the extent of over 50 per cent., but they had not been accommodated by other agencies; and, although all the night schools in Rochester had been discontinued, only a few pupils had gone to the classes under the Technical Instruction Committees. In Sheffield the number of pupils had decreased by over 1,000, and the School Board had stated that they had no reason to suppose that their late pupils had been accommodated elsewhere. In Southampton the decrease in the number of pupils had been attributed to the delay of the Municipal Council in giving its decision; and the decrease in Southend-on-Sea had been declared to be principally due to the exclusion of day scholars. The report from Wolver-hampton was to the effect that the diminution in the number of students was doubtless due to the uncertainty which existed at the commencement of the Session as to the re-establishment of the evening schools. The School Board added that it was very improbable that the class of students who attended their evening schools would he at all likely to attend the technical school. He hoped these instances would suffice to show the injurious effect which the Act and Minute had had on the evening continuation schools of the various School Boards. The Return in regard to London showed that the number of departments had been reduced from 395 in 1900 to 386 in 1901, and the number on the books from 90,775 in October, 1900, to 82,677 in October, 1901.

He urged the desirability of making the Returns furnished by the Education Department a little more intelligible and practical. In the average attendance returns the total number of hours attended by the scholars was divided by the total number of hours that the school was open, with ridiculous results. No consideration was given under such figures to the subjects taught or the number of times that scholars were expected to attend. One result of the Act and Minute was that there was a kind of neutral zone which the School Boards were forbidden to enter, while the other bodies, such as the Technical Instruction Committees of the counties and county boroughs, were unable and unprepared to enter it. Possibly it was some satisfaction to the cynics on the other side to reflect that by one Act the Government were able to make two popularly elected bodies neutralise each other in regard to their work. What was the Government prepared to do in the future? They had promised legislation before, and nothing had happened. He urged the noble Duke to make some official statement in order that work might be started as soon as possible. The noble Duke, he noticed, very carefully avoided saying what would be the policy of the Education Department. The noble Duke had only twice been in a building connected with a School Board—at Sheffield and at Manchester—and when he did go he devoted the first half of his speech to the expression of his surprise at finding himself, as Lord President of the Council, in charge of education, of his incapacity, owing to his previous training, to undertake the duties, and of his incapacity to understand the speeches made on the subject. Naturally very little time was then left for dealing with the policy of the Government.

They tried to repair the noble Duke's omissions by studying what was said by Sir John Gorst, and they found that at one time, speaking of some of the classes of the School Board, he said that the education they were spreading among the people was cheap and shoddy, while at another time he said it would be a most unfortunate thing if the work of the School Boards in connection with their schools and classes was in any way interfered with. With which of those sentiments was the noble Duke in harmony? It was impossible for him to be in harmony with both. He thought the country owed a debt of gratitude to the county councils and borough councils, to whom the supervision of so much of the work of evening continuation schools was confided by the noble Duke, because they had left the matter severely alone. They had realised that they were incompetent for this work, that they were elected for quite other purposes, that they had other business to do, and that it was far better to leave it in the hands of the School Boards, who had carried it out with so much success in the past. He ventured to suggest to the noble Duke that, this being so, his legislation of last session could scarcely be described as a brilliant success, or as indicating the lines on which the future development of the educational organisations of the country should be allowed to continue. He thought he was justified in asking that Papers might be presented to the House showing how the work had proceeded during the past session, and that this should be done before the Education Bill was brought in, so that they might have some time to consider the way in which the Act had been administered.

Moved. "That there be laid before the House, Papers relating to the Education Act and Minute of 1901."—(The Earl Beauchamp.)


The noble Earl at the beginning of his observations expressed the hope that he would be able to address to me at least one speech upon the subject of education which I should be able to understand. I am not quite certain, although I think I was able to follow a considerable portion of his arguments, that he has entirely succeeded in that ambitious attempt. The noble Earl can scarcely expect that I should follow him into a detailed examination of the great number of cases he referred to, and in regard to which I understood him to allege that the evening continuation schools had been prejudicially affected by the Act of last year and by the Minute of July last. The noble Earl, has been, I think, somewhat premature in drawing attention to this subject, because it is impossible to appreciate what the result has been until the close of the session of 1901–02, and until we have much clearer information than is at present in our possession as to the working of the evening schools during that session. I understood the general allegation of the noble Earl to be that the action taken by the Government last year in consequence of the decision of the Courts had been of a disastrous character to many evening schools. That, at all events, is an assertion which it is impossible at present to prove. It is perfectly true, as the noble Earl has stated, that up to a certain period—up to two years ago—there had been a considerable increase all over the country in the number of evening schools. That increase, however, was not necessarily entirely an increase in the evening schools managed by School Boards. All schools which are held in School Board buildings are classed in the returns presented by the Board of Education as Board schools, but that is not by any means the fact. A large number of evening schools held in Board schools are managed and financed by Technical Education Committees, and have nothing to do with School Boards at all. It is impossible, therefore, for any one to assert with confidence that the increase which had taken place during a long series of years up to the year 1899–1900 had necessarily been an increase of schools conducted by School Boards. Whatever it was, that increase had reached its limit in the year 1899–1900. In the following year—the returns are not yet before Parliament, but they are in the possession of the Education Department—a small decrease had already taken place. But that decrease could not in any way be due to the Minute, as it had, apparently, begun before the Minute came into effect. Therefore, even if it were the case that a further decrease in the evening schools had taken place in the present session of 1901–02, it does not by any means follow that it was due to the action of the Minute, because the decrease had commenced before the time when the Minute could have had any effect upon them. But, so far as we can ascertain, no such decrease has taken place in the present session. So far from that being the case, the total number of evening schools is, we believe, considerably in excess of that of the two previous years, and that increase, we have also reason to believe, has taken place where it was most desirable it should take place—namely, in the counties where the evening schools are the only means for continuative education of this kind.

It is urged that although there may have been an increase in the number of evening schools, there has been a considerable decrease in the number of students. Until the close of the present session, and until accurate statistics are obtained, it is impossible to make any accurate statement on that subject. The noble Earl has referred to certain Returns of a voluntary character obtained in answer to a circular which was issued, I believe, with the avowed intention of getting up an agitation against the Minute. The circular was addressed to School Boards, and it made no reference whatever to the very large number of schools which are not conducted by School Boards at all, but are conducted either by voluntary agencies or by county committees. Out of 400 School Boards which, I believe, were addressed, 132 answers only were received. The Return, therefore. covers only a fractional part of the country, and any general conclusions which are attempted to be produced from it are absolutely misleading and fallacious. For instance, in the use which has been made of this Return, it is attempted to show that, where a diminution of schools or of enrolments has taken place, that diminution was due to the Minute of last year. But, if the Return is carefully examined, it will be seen that that is by no means the case, but that, in many instances where evening schools had been closed, it was not in consequence of the Minute, but in pursuance Of a decision which had been arrived at in the previous year in consequence of the unsatisfactory character of the attendance in those schools. The Board of Education are of opinion that it is far more desirable that a smaller number of scholars should attend these schools and go through methodically a useful and efficient course of instruction, than that a larger number should be enrolled and not stay long enough to obtain the benefit of such instruction.

Whatever may he the nature of the proposals to be made this year, the new arrangements cannot possibly come into operation before the end of March, 1903. Therefore it is evident that the work of the winter session must go forward under the previously existing conditions. The Board of Education will take an early opportunity of giving to those engaged in this work the necessary assurances that for the ensuing session their position and their powers will remain substantially unaltered. It is also our intention to issue, at a very early date, not a new Minute, but a Paper which will embody the Minute of last year and those provisions of the Board of Education Directory which are applicable to the case of School Boards. There is no reason to suppose that any diminution has taken place in the actual work of the evening schools throughout the country. But even if it were the fact that there had been a diminution, either in the schools or in the number on the rolls, that does not seem to me to be the real question. The question is whether the regulations issued last year were, or were not, educationally sound. Those regulations were intended to give effect to the principle which the Courts of Law asserted to be the principle of the Education Act—that the continuative education given in these schools belonged to the sphere of secondary education, and therefore ought not to be provided or controlled by bodies elected for the management of elementary education, and that the cost of it ought not to be defrayed out of the rates. We believe that the intentions of the Government in issuing this Minute are being satisfactorily fulfilled. Careful inquiries have been made in a large number of the administrative counties, and, so far as the information at present available can be judged, the results have been found most satisfactory. As regards London and the county boroughs, where the evening schools have very largely been under the control of and managed by School Boards, the Board of Education feel confident that, whatever may be the-effect of the Minute upon the mere number of students on the rolls, as compared with those of the previous year, this is no criterion to go upon. The object of the Minute was to encourage as far as possible solid and continuous educational work by the students, and to discourage the practice of making a large number of irregular attendances in a great number of ill-assorted and unconnected subjects. What the Government have had in view in their reorganisation of evening classes is the prevention of waste and overlapping, and the recognition of quality rather than quantity in all their educational output. It would be premature altogether to estimate the whole educational effect of the changes of last year, or to present any useful Return until the Government have much more information respecting the work now being done than we possess at the present moment.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.