HL Deb 04 May 1911 vol 8 cc172-6


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it is not necessary for me to detain you for more than a few minutes in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I may say that I offer no opposition whatever to the Bill of Lord Saye and Sele. The only real difference between the two Bills is that the object of the Bill which I am moving is to make it easier for children in agricultural districts to obtain exemption from school attendance. The exemption foreshadowed by the Bill of Lord Saye and Sele depends upon continuation classes and upon passing Standard VI. I propose to add to that the qualification of having made 350 attendances in not more than two schools during each of the five preceding years. This will mark some difference between urban and rural districts. The reason why I shall make a point in any future discussion of insisting as far as I am able on this provision as to attendances is that there may be, and are, boys in agricultural districts who are not able to pass even Standard VI, and whose detention at school is a pure waste of time and money. In my opinion they would be far better working on the land than absorbing public money by being kept at school for the purpose of eventually being examined in a standard in which there is no reasonable possibility of their passing. Provided that in future discussions this principle is accepted, I believe I am in accord with everything in the Bill which Lord Saye and Sele has moved. I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to my Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Willoughby de Broke.)


My Lords, I do not rise to prolong this discussion, because I think the agreement to read both Bills a second time and then postpone them in order to see the Government Bill is perhaps the most satisfactory solution we could come to. I hope we may look forward to the Government Bill being laid on the Table of the House of Commons within a reasonable time, and if any long period after Whitsuntide goes by without our seeing the text of the Government Bill we might then say that it is fair that this House should proceed with its own Bills. The difference between the two Bills before your Lordships this afternoon is so microscopic that practically they might be treated as one Bill and the points of difference made a matter of amendment. I confess I have a preference for the Bill of my noble friend Lord Saye and Sele, but I would gladly welcome the Bill of the noble Lord opposite.

As to what the noble Marquess on the Front Opposition Bench said with reference to the importance, if we prolong the school age to fourteen, of devoting the child's last year at school to instructing him in the details of the industry in which he would work in after life, I think if that could be well done it would be a very great improvement in the school curriculum. I have in my hand the last Report of the Board of Education, and any one who reads, on page 61, a paragraph headed "Practical Instruction in Rural Public Elementary Schools" will see that the Board of Education there say that they have continued to give close attention to the needs of country schools, more particularly as regards practical instruction. I think that in town and country alike boys should learn some form of handicraft and girls should learn cookery. The Report goes on to say that in a large number of rural schools a great deal is now being done to give a practical turn to the education of the older girls. Girls might be taught ordinary subjects in the morning and in the afternoon receive instruction in practical subjects, such as dressmaking, cookery, and home nursing. From the Report you will see that there has been a substantial expansion of this work in the case of girls, and I think noble Lords who are working on the education committees of their counties will know what an impulse has been given to that branch of education in rural districts. But the same Report shows that very much less is being done in the way of manual instruction for boys. Something, however, is being done both in the way of school gardens and by manual instruction. I should be glad to see those forms and other forms of practical instruction greatly developed in boys' schools. This, how ever, is a matter of curriculum and does not depend on any Act of Parliament.

Again, the possibility of doing this will depend entirely upon securing a sufficient number of competent and adequate teachers for giving instruction in these subjects. All that means money. I should be glad if the Board of Education would be a little more liberal in grants at the upper end of the school. The grants given to schools have been rather with a view to relieving the burden of the school managers than with a view to improving the education in the schools. In former days we used to have grants earmarked in a way which did encourage more advanced teaching. I do not wish to return to that, but we could do a great deal to improve the instruction in our village schools if we took a leaf out of the Scottish Code and secured in England what is now the law in Scotland, where in every village school, no matter how small, it is obligatory that the school shall have a supplementary class for children over twelve, in which the claim of those children to a wider education is recognised. Until you are willing in England to do something like Scotland is doing—and remember that the Scottish law will not allow in future any teacher in a school who is not a trained and certificated teacher—until you are prepared to work to that type of teacher in England you cannot expect to get that liberal, wide, and intelligent curriculum in our village schools that we all desire.


My Lords, I should like to express my satisfaction at the laudable rivalry which has been shown by the House on either side, even to anticipating the action of His Majesty's Government in bringing about a change which I think every educationist feels to be a desirable one. I confess to some little apprehension when I listened to the rather reticent phrases in which the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, referred to the production of the Government Bill. I should have liked to hear something a little firmer as to the prospect of the appearance of that Bill at a really early date. I am afraid that the passing of these two Bills to-night may serve as a narcotic rather than a stimulus, and that it is not inconceivable that some little time may be allowed to elapse before we see the Government measure. Therefore I should like to say that in the event of the Government Bill not being forthcoming I hope there will be no scruple whatever on the part of either or both of the noble Lords in going forward with these Bills. It does not seem to me, notwithstanding what the noble Earl said as to the labours of the Board of Education of late, that the task ought to have been an impossible one of producing a Bill of not a very complicated character on this particular matter, and I do hope that we may expect before long to see the Government measure.

Reference has been wisely and appropriately made to-night to the great advantage of the final school year being used where possible for the preparation for the actual work which will be immediately begun outside. But we have to note one caution in that matter. It is only by prolonging the period of school attendance that we can justify the abstraction of a portion of the school hours for the other work which is to be taken up. I should in no sense regard it as an improvement in our educational plan if what I regard as the too early age at which children now cease their educational work were to be further curtailed by preparation for the work which is to follow. With that caution I am entirely in favour of the suggestion as to the better use that might be made of the further year, and I look forward with eager expectancy to the production of the Government Bill at no distant date.


My Lords, I am rather handicapped by not having heard the speech of Lord Saye and Sele in moving the Second Reading of his Bill. I do not quite know, therefore, what his arguments were in favour of it. But my own view, after comparing the two Bills, is very much in favour of Bill No. 2. In the first place it is much plainer and simpler than that of Lord Saye and Sele, which appears to me to be rather involved. Lord Saye and Sele's Bill begins by saying that the earliest age for exemption should be thirteen, but it is not clear in the second paragraph whether the age is to be thirteen or fourteen.

I do not like the provision that "no child shall be entitled to obtain partial exemption from school attendance under the age of fourteen." Partial exemption is most completely condemned by the Departmental Committee, whose Report devoted pages to the harm which partial exemption does. It shows how children who are allowed to go from school to factories for a certain time return to school tired and unable to give the necessary attention to their studies. The Report supplies various reasons why partial exemption should be abolished. The reference in Lord Saye and Sele's Bill to attendance at continuation classes would absolutely bar rural children. The main object of No. 2 Bill is to assist children in rural districts to work on farms when they are thirteen. Children who make the best agriculturists are not always the cleverest, and therefore it would be useless to keep them at school until they were fourteen when they might be learning their business and doing good work on a farm. There are no such things as continuation schools in most villages, and therefore the provision of Lord Saye and Sele's Bill with regard to continuation schools would be absolutely useless to the agricultural child.

Lord Willoughby de Broke's Bill is clear and expresses the whole case so well that it is very much the better of the two, and I think with a very slight amendment, by incorporating a few lines of Lord Saye and Sele's Bill, it could be made a very good Bill. I know that the objection that people will take to this is that it makes a differentiation between rural and urban children. If you can accomplish that it will be a very good thing. It is ridiculous to have a hard and fast rule for children living in towns, and that that rule should apply also to children who live in the country and attend village schools. I hope your Lordships will give Lord Willoughby's Bill a Second Reading and make provision for including within its scope children in urban districts under fourteen years of age on condition that they attend continuation classes, thus incorporating a few lines of Lord Saye and Sele's Bill. Amended in that way the Bill would be a great stride towards perfecting the education of children.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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