HL Deb 12 July 1904 vol 137 cc1339-42

who had a Question on the Paper to the following effect: "To ask the President of the Board of Education whether the Board of Education are aware that by the proposed change in the system of grants as announced in Article 31 of the Code for 1904, that on fourteen typical schools, six being town schools of sixteen departments, and eight country schools under the Gloucestershire Education Authority, having 5,049 children on their books, the loss in grant on that number will be £125 19s., or 5.98d. per scholar, and that, if, as it seems reasonable to expect, this result will follow throughout the county, the loss on an average attendance of 48,000 will be £1,196 per annum,"—said: My Lords, I feel that I owe some apology to your Lordships for the length of time this Question has appeared on the Paper in my name. Although it has lain there almost dormant I think it has had a very good effect, for I have been informed that the new Code of grants has already been entirely withdrawn. This Question, therefore, comes before your Lordships rather late in the day. It was my intention, in asking it, to bring to your Lordships' notice the loss that would be entailed on local education authorities by this new scheme, and to ask the Board of Education whether they would postpone its coming into effect for a year, or at least until such time as the local education authorities had been able to consult with one another and with the Board of Education, so that a thoroughly satisfactory Code might be drawn up with full knowledge of what its effect would be. As the Code is now withdrawn, it will be unnecessary for me to enter into any of the figures, of which I have a good many with me, the object of my Question having been achieved. I have, however, brought this subject to your Lordships' notice today, as the noble Marquess the President of the Board of Education very courteously said he was willing to make a statement on the question which, no doubt, will interest many of your Lordships who take an active part in the work of county councils. I beg, in conclusion, to thank the noble Marquess for the consideration he has shown me in making the desired inquiries, and also for withdrawing the Code.


My Lords, my noble friend has been kind enough to thank me for what he calls the courtesy shown to him. I feel, if I may say so, that the boot is on the other leg. It is I who owe him a debt of gratitude for the considerate manner in which from time to time he has postponed this Question, which, as he has told your Lordships, has been on the Paper for some time. I was very anxious to go fully into this question of the scale of grants before giving my noble friend what I hoped would be an answer of a satisfatory character. As my noble friend has told your Lordships, the scale of grants which we inserted in the Code has now been withdrawn, and I do not, therefore, think it necessary to go at any length into the question of what might or might not have been the result of that scale had it been continued.

While I do not propose to give your Lordships a long dissertation on the reasons why we inserted this scale of grants in the Code, it may not be out of place if, in a very few words, I place before you our object in introducing it and our reason for withdrawing it. The Board of Education introduced the scale of grants in question in order to complete those changes in the methods of distributing the grant to public elementary schools which were initiated by the block grant established in 1900, which has been operative since 31st March, 1901. We proposed that the scale of grants should be—15s. average attendance for children under five years of age; 20s. average attendance from five to twelve years of age; and 25s. average attendance over twelve years of age; as against what had been the previous giant of 17s. for infants and 22s. for older scholars.

We considered that in framing this scale we were assisting the classification of children for instruction, and producing, to a certain extent, greater independence of financial considerations. We also considered that with this change it would be possible for inspectors the better to advise us as to improvements. We certainly thought that a higher rate should be paid for scholars who remained at school a year after twelve than should be paid in respect of a year before five. I think your Lordships will acknowledge that the reason for that is a sound one, inasmuch as it is possible for children over twelve years of age to obtain the practical advantages of education to a greater extent in proportion than children under the age of five. We had hoped that this alteration in the scale of grants, this increase in that direction, would have proved an attraction which would have been taken advantage of.

I do not for a moment controvert what my noble friend stated with regard to there being losses in Some districts and gains in others. In the Question on the Paper the noble Earl goes very closely into the figures and the manner in which his own native county, Gloucestershire, would be affected. Not being prepared to argue this point, inasmuch as the scale has now been withdrawn, I have not gone very carefully into the figures submitted, but I cannot help thinking that if we had gone very closely into those figures we might have found that the state of affairs was not quite so black as my noble friend has painted them. We fully recognised that there would have been losses in some districts, but we had hoped that the gains in others might have been the means of counterbalancing the losses, and that the authorities in those districts would have seen their way for a time to endure the small losses in order to gain the greater benefits which we believed would accrue. But experience has shown that this was not the case, and as we fully recognised that there was considerable opposition in certain districts we did not think we were justified in retaining those clauses in the Code. I do not for one moment admit that we were wrong in inserting them in the first instance. Although we felt bound to withdraw the scale in view of the hardship some districts believed that they would suffer, we still firmly believe in its principle, and I hope that those districts will, in course of time, come to see the advantages of the system.