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Akt. XL—1. A Bill to make further provision with respect to Education in England and Wales.
2. Report of the Board of Education, 1900-1901.
A N Education Bill should be a matter of interest to the .**. whole community. We have an accumulated experience, unsatisfactory no doubt, but none the less instructive, of our own haphazard methods, and the Board of Education has brought within our reach, in its special reports, a knowledge of the methods of other countries. We have, therefore, a topic on which all might combine to work for the common good, and abundant material to assist our judgement.
Yet it may be safely said that nothing is more distasteful than educational legislation, alike to the average man who takes part in public affairs and to the man who is specially concerned with education. This does not arise solely from the difficulties of principle which have to be met, or the mass of detail which needs to be worked out. The attempt to solve difficulties and to arrange details is part of every day's work; but an Education Bill, if it is a large constructive measure, is not only encompassed with difficulties of principle and filled with contentious minutiae of local and educational government: it is haunted by the contrast of lofty motives and great ideals with small ambitions and untoward prejudices. To one man the subject presents itself as one of pedagogy, to another of local self-government, to another of religious freedom, to another of local or imperial finance. The teacher, the minister of religion, the ratepayer, the taxpayer, all have something to say: there are not wanting those who would sooner the whole country was left untaught than that the machinery of local control or the conditions of religious teaching were not arranged to their liking. Amid these cross-currents of opinion and purpose an Education Bill labours slowly on its way.
What are the defects which most urgently call for treatment? First and foremost, there is the religious difficulty, which dislocates our system of elementary education. Next, there is the debateable ground of higher elementary and lower secondary education—the teaching of boys and girls with a view, more or less immediate, to the practice of a trade or profession. Perhaps of all educational problems this is the most important to the future of the country. Thirdly, we need fuller provision for the training of teachers, and last, though not least, we need the adjustment of our secondary education, not only to that kind which may be described as higher elementary, but to the requirements of the Universities and the professions.
With these problems in our minds it would seem when we look at an Education Bill that it contains very little about education. This, no doubt, is right and necessary. A statute can do no more than create authorities on whom it imposes duties and confers powers; it must leave its machinery to work on the lines laid down. Remote as this may seem from the practical business of education, it is important enough. For want of some such provisions as we find in this Bill, we have seen competition of authorities, duplication of institutions, waste of resources. We want, above all things, simplicity and definition, broad outlines unencumbered by detail, but drawn upon a sound plan. We must, therefore, study the machinery which the Bill creates.
The Bill commences (clause 1) by creating a local authority for education, the council of a county or county borough. The council is, for educational purposes, to act through a committee, the constitution of which may be considered later, but is to retain financial authority and rating power in its hands (clause 12). This authority may deal with elementary as well as secondary education, but subject to two important provisoes, one of which has been received with partial and qualified approval, the other with very general condemnation. By the first of these, noncounty boroughs with a population of over 10,000, and urban districts with a population of over 20,000, are cut out of their respective counties, and are to be independent authorities for elementary education (clause 1), with certain limited powers as to higher education (clause 3), and with the right, by agreement with the County Council, to relinquish their independence and merge themselves in the county (clause 15, b). The other proviso (clause 5) leaves it optional to any of these authorities to adopt the provisions and assume the powers relating to elementary education.
This strange adoptive clause gives an air of half-heartedness, almost of levity, to the entire measure. It is inconceivable that provisions of a highly contentious character, approved by Parliament as important to the educational future of the country, should be left to the option of local authorities; and it would be disastrous if county and municipal elections were embittered for years to come by the question whether the solution of the religious difficulty in elementary education which had been accepted by Parliament, should or should not be accepted by the locality. This brings us to the religious difficulty and the mode in which the Bill treats it. But to estimate the treatment we must ascertain the nature of the difficulty, which may be said to have been formulated in 1870.
The Education Act of that year was designed to bring elementary education within the reach of all. Voluntary effort, supplemented by Government aid, had failed to supply the requisite school accommodation. New methods were needed, whereby present and future deficiencies might be met. It was but natural that the Church of England should desire to keep the hold which it had maintained for so long, and by such worthy efforts, upon the education of the people. It was equally natural that the opponents of the teaching of the Church of England saw with satisfaction the opportunity which now offered itself of diminishing, if not extinguishing, the influence of the Church in this department of national life.
The Bill went through some strange vicissitudes in its progress through the House of Commons. As originally introduced it provided that School Boards, chosen by various local authorities, were to have the power to assist schools of all denominations, subject to a conscience clause, out of the rates. In the form in which it became law, voluntary or denominational schools were excluded from rate aid, while school boards, directly elected, with the cumulative vote, were given unlimited power to draw upon the rates, but were restricted, as regards religious instruction given in schools under their control, to teaching without formularies.
Thus was the ground marked out for future conflict. The school board becomes the representative of the two principles of undenominational teaching and popular control, as against the voluntary school with its formularies and its ex-officio or nominated or co-opted managers. From the first the combatants were unequally matched, for, apart from the Parliamentary grant, the resources of the board school were measured only by the capacity of the ratepayer, those of the voluntary school were limited by the willingness of the subscriber.
The antagonism was prompt and keen, as two instances will show.
Although the machinery of the school board could be called into play to enforce attendance at school, a board school might not be introduced into any school district in which the provision of school places was sufficient for the children. The supporters of voluntary schools therefore realised at once the urgent necessity for occupying the ground. Between 1839 and 1876 13,000,000Z. was contributed from voluntary sources to the building of schools, and of this sum no less than 5,000,0002. was raised in the period between the passing of the Act of 1870 and the spring of 1876.
The other illustration may be taken from the debates on the Education Bill of 1876. Up to that time school boards alone possessed the power to make byelaws compelling attendance at school. Districts which desired that attendance should be compulsory found it necessary to form a school board, though there might be no board school. In 1876 a new authority was created. The school attendance committee, appointed, if the school district was a borough, by the council of the borough, if it was a parish, by the guardians of the union, received power to make byelaws to compel attendance. The existence of a school board where there was no board school was thenceforth unnecessary, and a clause was introduced at a late stage in the progress of the Bill empowering the ratepayers, under certain conditions, to dissolve a school board which had been created for this purpose. Long and acrimonious debates ensued. The fact that the board had become useless for the purpose for which it had been created was not allowed by the opposition to weigh against the consideration that the school board was an outpost against voluntaryism, and that its existence, necessary or unnecessary, was a good in itself which should not be lost.
As time went on it became more clearly manifest that voluntary effort could not, in the long run, compete successfully with institutions which had an unlimited control of the rates. Free education, established in 1891, was not a universal boon to voluntary schools. The uniform fee grant of ten shillings was helpful to rural schools where fees had been low, but was a poor compensation to schools in large towns where parents had been able and willing to pay substantial fees. The higher standard of accommodation set during the last ten years was no great hardship to the school board, for it could borrow for building, on the security of the rates ; but the voluntary school, which had to beg for the funds needed to pay for the required improvements, was in a very different case. The ambitious and abortive Bill of 1896 was designed at one and the same time to assist voluntary schools; to provide machinery for the extinction of school boards; and to create local authorities for secondary education who might ultimately manage education of all kinds within their respective areas. The Bill stirred up all the elements of jealousy lurking among the various local authorities which compete for educational functions, and its failure left the voluntary schools where they were. The Act of 1897 gave an aid grant of five shillings per scholar to voluntary schools, but this and the abolition of the limit of 17s. 6d. to the Parliamentary grant * have not redressed the balance. Financial inequality must necessarily mean unequal efficiency. It is idle to try to build a great educational system upon these jarring elements; such a system must begin from below and work up from the sure foundation of sound training in the rudiments of knowledge.
Thus we have to face a combined financial and religious difficulty. Let us take the financial difficulty first. There are more than 14,000 voluntary schools, educating more than 3,000,000 children. Voluntary contributions for the maintenance of these amounted, in 1900, to the sum of 800,602Z. But whereas the average cost of each child in a voluntary school was 21. 6s. A\d.t the board school child cost on an average 21. 17s. 7\d. To the cost of the board school child the rates contributed lZ. 58. 6±d. in each case, and to each voluntary school child subscriptions contributed 6s. 4fd. The average of the board school charge is raised by the inclusion of London, where every child in a board school cost SI. 15s. 9±d., towards which sum rates contributed 21. 3s. 7£<i. If we exclude London we get a cost per child of 21. 12s. 7hl. in board schools, and of 21. 5s. 9d. in voluntary schools, leaving a difference in cost, roughly speaking, of seven shillings a child.
This difference in cost may, and doubtless does in some cases, mean extravagance on the part of the school boards. It is not easy to practise strict economy when you have full
* This means that from 1876-1897, if the contributions from voluntary contributions, rates, fees, endowments, or other sources did not amount to more than 17s. 6d. per child, the Parliamentary grant did not exceed that sum, although a larger grant might have been earned. The abolition of fees had reduced the power of the voluntary schools to meet the Parliamentary grant by a corresponding contribution, and the removal of the limit restored the power to obtain the full grant earned.