Popular Science Monthly/Volume 63/August 1903/The Story of English Education II

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1414325Popular Science Monthly Volume 63 August 1903 — The Story of English Education II1903James Edward Geoffrey de Montmorency


By J. E. G. DE MONTMORENCY, B.A., LL.B. (Cantab.),


IT is not possible in the space allotted to such an article as this to deal in any detail with the mass of facts that fill the seventy years that have passed since this first government grant in aid of education. It is possible, however, to indicate the course of events. Previous to 1870, apart from unsatisfactory and more or less ineffective factory acts, and apart from revenue statutes providing yearly grants, there was no legislation. Educational work was undertaken for the most part by the education committee of the Privy Council, formed in 1839, and the great school societies. From 1833 to 1839 the annual grant of £30,000 was administered by the treasury through these societies. In 1839 Queen Victoria, on the occasion of the creation of the committee of council on education, expressed through Lord John Russell the wish 'that the youth of this kingdom should be religiously brought up, and that the rights of conscience should be respected.' Some statistics of a comparative character may here be noted with advantage. The population of England and Wales in 1833 was almost 14,000,000, and the number of day scholars of all classes nearly 1,300,000, a number that was about nine per cent, of the population. If one in every eleven of the population was at school, it did not prove that the working classes were in so favorable a case. In fact we may take it that under one million scholars belonged to the working class; in other words that not one in fourteen of the laboring population was at school, when in fact, one in six ought to have been at school. Thus a great many more than half of the children had no education at all. By the year 1851 matters had somewhat improved. The population was then about 18,000,000, and of this population some 1,600,000 of the children of the laboring poor were at school. In other words, about one in ten instead of one in six of the poorer part of the population were at school in 1851. At this date almost exactly half the children had no education at all. By the year 1870 the population had reached 22,000,000, of whom 19,000,000 constituted the manual-work class. About 1,700,000 children belonging to this class were at school, or say, one in eleven of the population. This looks like a decline on the position in 1851. This is, however, extremely improbable, and it is more likely that the available figures for 1851 are in error. The improvement between 1851 and 1870 was most marked in the methods of education employed and in the books used. The school-teaching was practically valueless in 1833, it was not of great value in 1851, and in 1870 it was only beginning (despite the great advance on 1851) to be of real value. In 1870, out of every 1,000 children qualified by age and attendance for the examination in the two higher standards, 319 ought to have been prepared to pass. In fact only 98 were presented for the examination. Slow as was the progress between 1833 and 1870, ceaseless efforts had been made to hasten that progress. Population and the congestion of soul-ruining unsanitary areas, however, progressed more rapidly than the education movement and 1870 found a million and a half of little children without the means of education. Yet philanthropists and statesmen had striven manfully enough to solve the awful problem, A select committee of the House of Commons in 1838 reported on the deplorable conditions of education in the great towns. This led to the institution of the education committee of the Privy Council. The inquiry made by the National Society in 1846-7 showed that the established church was striving with might and main to do its duty, for it was actually educating one million children in its day schools. A select committee of the House of Commons in 1853 reported on the Manchester district of England and showed a school attendance improvement of no less than 300 per cent. The Duke of Newcastle's commission appointed in 1858 recommended, after a lengthy examination of the education problem, grants out of rates as well as out of the imperial exchequer, advised the creation of local boards of education in every county area, advocated a more efficient system for the training of teachers, and an extension of evening schools. The grants out of the rates were to be paid in respect of individual scholars upon examination by examiners appointed by the local boards of education. The revised code introduced by Mr. Lowe—the code governing the conditions under which the education committee of the Privy Council made the grants to the schools—adopted the principle of individual examination and the payment of all grants direct to the managers of the schools that earned the grant. Mr. Lowe in a famous phrase promised that the system should be either cheap or efficient. When he made this promise it was dear and inefficient. Under the revised code the parliamentary annual grant fell from £813,441 in 1861 to £636,810 in 1865. The system, however, was not efficient and it was found necessary once more to strive after educational legislation. In 1843 an effort had been made to pass a factory act that would secure some measure of religious and useful education to all children in the factories. The bill, however, in consequence of nonconformist opposition, was withdrawn. In 1853 a bill was introduced enabling those borough councils that chose to adopt the act to appoint a school committee for the purpose of controlling the elementary education of the district. It was proposed in this measure that any elementary school should be admitted to this control and reap its manifold benefits on the application of the school managers for such admission. Admitted schools were to be inspected. Expenditure under the act was to be met out of the borough fund to the extent of sixpence on the pound. The bill was coldly received and withdrawn. About the same time were introduced education bills emanating from Manchester school societies. One advocated free secular rate-paid education; the other the assistance out of the rates of denominational schools. These two bills were referred to a select committee of the House of Commons on February 17, 1853. The bills were eventually dropped. In 1855 the denominational bill with a provision for the foundation of new schools was re-introduced by Sir John Pakington. In the same session Lord John Russell introduced another borough bill, with a full conscience clause; while the free schools bill again represented the views of the Manchester secular party. The three bills were all abandoned. Bills were once more, without effect, introduced by Lord John Russell in 1856 and Sir John Pakington in 1857. These were followed by the comparative unsuccess of Mr. Robert Lowe's revised code. In 1867 came the beginning of the end, or rather of the beginning. What was practically the Manchester denominational schools bill was introduced by Mr. Bruce, Mr. W. E. Forster and Mr. Algernon Egerton. It was a carefully prepared scheme, but unfortunately it was not compulsory in form. Each locality could adopt or refuse it. In the then state of education the worst districts would have refused to adopt the act. The bill was withdrawn, and in 1868 the Duke of Marlborough introduced into the House of Lords a bill that purported to solve the problem without the aid of rates. The bill merely proposed to put a modification of Mr. Lowe's administrative code into an act of Parliament. Such a bill could but fail. In the same year the bill of 1867 was again introduced, and on this occasion it offered the compulsory system. The feeling that this bill would involve compulsory rate-aid for denominational schools under private management, and the fact that it gave the proposed board of education power to enforce the act in any district exhibiting educational destitution, contrary to the will of the district, weighed against the bill and it was withdrawn on June 24, 1868. The final step came when the bill of 1870 was introduced on February 17. It received the Royal consent on August 9, 1870.

The education act of 1870 divided England into school districts for the purposes of elementary education, and enacted that in every district a sufficient amount of accommodation must be provided in public elementary schools for all children resident in the district, for whose elementary education sufficient and suitable provision was not otherwise made. The meaning of 'elementary education' was not defined by the act, but in the famous Cockerton case, decided in 1901, it was settled that the phrase was an elastic term 'which may shift with the growth of general instruction and attainment.' The schools were bound by a conscience clause and had to be open to government inspectors, who could report whether the conditions laid down by the central authority as precedent to a grant had been complied with. This new system comprised two kinds of schools—the schools supported by voluntary subscriptions, which were in existence at the date of the passing of the act, and board schools. These latter schools came into existence in districts where there was Insufficient voluntary school accommodation and where in consequence the rate payers had elected a school board. This board erected, at the expense of the rate payers, schools sufficient to supply the wants of the district, and these schools were maintained out of the rates, central grants and school fees. In the board schools, in addition to the conscience clause in use in voluntary schools, the Cowper-Temple clause of the act of 1870 enforced the rule that 'no religious catechism or religious formulary which is distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught in the school.' Thus the effect of the act of 1870 was to place side by side two great school systems—a denominational system, the schools of which had for the most part been built and were maintained by voluntary subscriptions, to some extent supplemented by grants—and an undenominational rate-supported system independent of voluntary subscriptions. The passage of years saw the rapid increase and development of both systems. The act of 1870 gave the various school boards power to compel parents by by-laws to send children to school between the ages of five and thirteen years, but it was not until 1876 that the legislature created the universal parental duty of causing all children to 'receive sufficient elementary instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic' This was followed in 1891 by an act granting to practically all the public elementary schools a fee-grant in lieu of the fees hitherto paid by the parents. This important step of creating free elementary education was an almost necessary corollary of the institution of compulsory education, and it was essential for the reason that those children who most needed school life were the offspring of the most needy parents. The result of these various acts was to create vast school board systems in London and the great towns which in certain areas crushed the voluntary schools out of existence. The standard imposed by the Education Department rapidly rose, and the number of subjects taught greatly increased. Gradually the great school boards endeavored, by the creation of what were known as higher elementary schools, to bring secondary education within their control and to supply this education out of the rates in competition with the newly-efficient endowed secondary schools of their districts. In 1901, in the famous case of Cockerton, it was held that this was illegal, and it became necessary at once to create by statute a national system that should control and develop both primary and secondary education. The school board system, while it had been successful in imparting in the great towns a considerable measure of elementary education to the mass of the poorer children, had had a bad influence in lowering the standard of secondary education by compelling the strictly secondary schools to come down to the standard of the higher elementary schools. Higher elementary education at its best gave the child some smattering of culture but it ended there and was in no sense a step in the ladder of education. In the rural and urban districts, moreover, the voluntary schools had more than held their own. The board schools of these districts were often badly managed and were less efficient in many cases than the voluntary denominational schools, which, despite financial difficulties, increased in number and efficiency. The fine work done by these schools was considered to justify in 1897 the creation of a special aid-grant to voluntary schools. But even with such help the position of the voluntary system had become precarious. The high standard of elementary education, of accommodation and of teachers imposed by the Board of Education could only with great difficulty be attained with the means at the disposal of the managers of voluntary schools. The subscribers increased their subscriptions, but since as rate payers these subscribers had frequently also to pay a school board for schools competing with their own schools, it was plain that the limit of subscriptions had been nearly reached. It was clearly inequitable that a person should pay to support both a voluntary and a compulsory system, and it was also evident that both systems suffered in efficiency in consequence.

The time, therefore, had been reached when all forms of education required coordination and increased state help. The absence of continuity between the various grades and kinds of education had, by the year 1902, become a serious national danger. I have noticed already some aspects of this discontinuity. It is necessary here to refer to certain other sides of the question. For nearly fifty years the Science and Art Department of South Kensington had distributed under the direction of the Education Department—now the Board of Education—to schools of all kinds a large parliamentary grant in aid of an elaborate scheme of education set forth by the South Kensington officials. The school boards for a considerable period used the rates, quite illegally, for the purpose of teaching science and art in accordance with the South Kensington scheme in order to earn the grants. This scheme provided the elementary schools with a kind of secondary system and thus increased an undesirable competition with the endowed secondary schools. On the other hand these true secondary schools from the year 1890 have received in many instances parliamentary help of another character. By an act of that year the residue of certain customs and excise duties—a very large annual sum[1]—was directed to be distributed to the County Councils throughout the country for the purpose of encouraging technical education. This money was and is awarded to the secondary schools by way of grants in recognition of successful results achieved by the school in technical education. These grants have proved so necessary to the various secondary schools that such schools have been compelled to start an efficient system of technical education in order to earn them. In this respect competition with the primary schools has done good. It has forced the secondary schools to find a new source of income beyond endowment and fees and has thus brought the ancient secondary or grammar school system of England into relationship with the state. The state has not been slow to recognize the relationship. In addition to. the technical education grants it now makes special grants to all secondary schools that are prepared to attain a certain standard of efficiency in certain subjects—scientific and literary—named by the Board of Education. It is not, however, difficult to see how confused and conflicting was the whole system. It was in fact gradually becoming impossible to differentiate between primary, higher elementary and secondary education. The Cockerton case at last, by restricting the board schools to strictly elementary education, made it necessary for the legislature to review the whole position. It was evident that the Cockerton case could not be allowed to lower the standard of national education; it was equally evident that a glorified school board system meant the ultimate ruin of all forms of tertiary or university education so far as the masses were concerned. These aspects of the problem were obvious to all who were not blinded by hatred to the established church into refusing aid to the voluntary schools, or who were not members of school boards and believers in the eternal fitness of a higher elementary cul de sac training.

In order to place national education upon a sound basis it was necessary that every possible grade of education from the infant classes of elementary schools to the post-graduate classes of the universities should form one continuous system, and that there should be no competitive overlapping between its various parts. It was also necessary that the system should in no way run contrary to the almost universal national belief that christian religious teaching in some form or another, denominational or undenominational, must take a definite place in the education of children. The Board of Education act, 1899, to some extent paved the way for the elaborate national system that is now, under the act of 1902, in a fair way to become effective. The act of 1899 established a board of education to take the place both of the education committee of the Privy Council (known as the Education Department) and the South Kensington Department of Science and Art. It gave to this new board the power to inspect all secondary schools that desired to be inspected and gave to the county councils the power to pay for such inspection, thus bringing the councils into closer connection with the secondary system. The act also provided for the creation of a consultative committee (consisting as to two thirds of persons representing the views of universities and other bodies interested in education) for the purpose of framing a register of teachers throughout the country of all grades and for the general purpose of advising the Board of Education on technical educational matters. This committee is proving a most effective body, and it will soon be difficult for any school of repute to reject official inspection and for any schoolmaster of standing to withhold his name from the official register. The act also gave the Board of Education the capacity to take over and exercise any powers of the charity commissioners or of the board of agriculture relating to education. The vast powers exercised by the charity commissioners over the secondary endowed schools of the country under the endowed schools act of 1869 and the amending acts, were vested last August, by virtue of this provision, in the Board of Education. The result of this step was to make the Board of Education the supreme authority over both primary and secondary education and to bring it into touch with the county councils in relation to all secondary matters. The next obvious step was to replace the school boards by the county councils (and county borough councils) and thus make the local administrative authority an intermediary in the cases of all grades of education between the schools and the Board of Education. This is the great accomplishment, from the educational point of view, of the act of 1902. The school boards in their vain efforts to supply something of the nature of a secondary education were rapidly making confusion worse confounded. By the simple expedient of placing the local secondary authority—the county council—in the place of the school board, the principle of order and development was at once introduced into the national educational system. The supporters of the school boards—men who realized the admirable work that had been done by these boards, but who were unable to grasp the fact that that work could be more efficiently continued by bodies that had the interests of secondary as well as primary education at heart as part of a civic system—opposed the bill with fierce energy, and they were aided by all those who believed that the new bill was unduly helping the elementary denominational or voluntary schools. The government with respect to those schools was in a difficult position. The owners and managers of the schools claimed as of right assistance out of local rates on the ground that they were doing work which if they did not exist would have to be done by new schools built by a school board at great cost. They, however, refused to alter the denominational character of these schools. They declared that the conscience clause, protecting the religious beliefs of children of other denominations attending the schools, was sufficient. The government had, therefore, the alternative of helping these voluntary schools on terms and thus knitting them forever into the national system, or of building at a cost of £130,000,000 schools to compete with these schools, or of buying them compulsorily at a cost of over £50,000,000 and starting them as undenominational schools. Obviously, the only businesslike course was to make terms with the voluntary schools. The bill was fought in the legislature for a period of nine months, but eventually passed, retaining the principles contended for by all economists and educationalists of weight in the country.

I must briefly note the provisions of the act. The first section enacts that every county council and county borough council and the borough council of every non-county borough with a population over 10,000 and the district council of every urban district with a population over 20,000 shall be the local educational authority for elementary education, while the county council and the county borough council are the authorities for higher education. In the case of all non-county boroughs and urban districts the borough or district council may supplement the work of the county council by supplying or aiding the supply of, within their financial limits, higher education. In the non-county boroughs with a population of 10,000 and under, and urban districts with a population of 30,000 and under, the county council, in addition to its authority over higher education, controls elementary education. The act goes on to provide that the local educational authority shall 'take such steps as seem to them desirable, after consultation with the Board of Education, to supply or aid the supply of education other than elementary, and to promote the general coordination of all forms of education.' In order to fulfil this laudable purpose the local educational authority is invested with a rating power for secondary education to enable it to supplement the funds above referred to as ear-marked for secondary education. County borough councils can make any necessary rate for secondary education, but county councils can only make (apart from the consent of the Local Government Board to a higher rate) a rate of twopence in the pound (threepence in certain exceptional cases) while the councils of non-county boroughs and urban districts are able only to make a rate of one penny in the pound for this purpose. The religious aspect of higher education is made the subject of special provisions, and a carefully drafted conscience clause protects all classes of pupils.

Part III. of the act (sections 5-17) deals with elementary education. It abolishes school boards and substitutes the local education authority. This authority, in addition to the power of the old school boards over schools provided out of the rates, is responsible for and has the control of all secular education in these denominational schools that have not been provided out of the rates and have hitherto been known as 'voluntary schools.' In future the rate-provided schools will be supplied with a body of managers, four of whom will be appointed by the local education authority and two by the minor local authority (such as the parish council), in whose area the school is situated. On the other hand, in the case of the non-provided or 'voluntary schools,' the managing body will consist of four managers, appointed as heretofore by the denomination to which the school belongs and of two managers appointed, as to one by the local educational authority and as to another by the 'minor local authority,' such as the parish council of the parish in which the school is situated. Thus, while for the first time publicly elected persons are included in the managing bodies of the voluntary schools, yet the private and original or foundation managers still retain the controlling voice in all matters of religion, so that there can be no possibility of a change in the denominational character of the school. This was mere justice, since many of these schools have been Church of England, or Wesleyan, or Roman Catholic, or Jewish, as the case may be, for nearly a century. The local education authority has, however, complete control over secular education in these schools. The managers must carry out all its directions as to secular instruction, including any directions with respect to the number and educational qualifications of the teachers to be employed for such instruction, and for the dismissal of any teacher on educational grounds. The local education authority has power to inspect the school, and its consent is required, in relation to the appointment and dismissal of teachers; but an appointment by the managers can only be objected to on educational grounds, while a teacher can be dismissed without the consent of the local educational authority, on grounds connected with the giving of religious instruction in the school. The managers of the voluntary school must provide the schoolhouse free of any charge and keep it in good repair subject to fair wear and tear in the course of its use as a public elementary school. Such wear and tear has to be made good by the local educational authority. The religious instruction given in a voluntary school shall be in accordance with the provisions (if any) of the trust-deed on the subject and shall be under the control of the managers with an appeal to the superior denominational authority if such appeal is provided for by the trust deed. Subject as above the local education authority has to maintain and keep efficient all public elementary schools within their area which are necessary (whether 'voluntary schools' or rate-provided schools) and has the control of all expenditure required for that purpose. The provision of new schools, a different system of government grants—paid, not to the managers, but to the local education authority—and the constitution of education committees of councils having powers under the act are various further salient characteristics of this measure to which it is necessary to draw attention. In the case of the education committees it is to be noticed that the whole educational administrative work will be done by these committees which will possess all the educational powers of the council except that of raising a rate or borrowing money for education purposes. It is perhaps impossible to exaggerate the importance of this act of Parliament. Doubtless it has certain defects, but they are defects inherent in any act that endeavors to reconcile interests that are apparently in conflict. The political dissenters declared themselves wronged because rate-aid was given to the voluntary schools without a corresponding control by the representatives of the rate payers. Only one third of the managers represent the rate payers in the managing body of a voluntary school, and the fact that the majority of the managers are still private persons is a source of grievance to a certain class of liberals. On the other hand the owners of voluntary schools think themselves aggrieved in the fact that managers, who may not represent the denomination to which the school belongs, should have any word as to the religious teaching. These owners think that the public have the best of the bargain; the public have gained complete control, through the local education authority, over the secular teaching in these schools, while the views of the owners and managers are continually kept before the public by the representatives of the rate payers or the managing body. All the old privacy is lost.

On the whole, however, a fair bargain has been struck. The owners of the schools have a guarantee given them that the denominational character of each school shall be preserved, and they in return have for most purposes (other than religious) handed over the school to a body representing the public—the local education authority, i. e., the education committee of a publicly elected body. An effort all through the act is made to do justice to denominational bodies on the one hand and to secure absolutely efficient and coordinated education on the other, and on the whole the measure may be regarded as the great starting point of a new and beneficent educational system. London does not come within this scheme, but the metropolis is now being dealt with on the same lines by a bill 'to extend and adapt the Education Act, 1902, to London.' The educational authority for London will be the London County Council represented by an education committee composed of members of the council and representatives of the various London borough councils and of various metropolitan educational interests. This central educational body will exercise control over the metropolitan borough councils in their new capacity as managers of all public elementary schools provided by the County Council. It is proposed that the borough councils shall have the power of appointing and dismissing teachers (though not of fixing their number, qualifications and salary) and of selecting the sites for any new elementary schools that the County Council decide to provide. The bill in these respects may perhaps be altered, and it is possible that members of the council will form a majority (as they do not in the unamended bill) on the education committee. In most other respects it is proposed to bring London within the act of last year and therefore under the final control, for all forms of education, of the Board of Education. However, little is certain yet except that the London school board will pass away and with it that competition between primary and secondary schools which has been the result of one of the less desirable aspects of the work of a board which has done much good and earnest work in London since 1870. Of course, none of the London board schools will cease to exist, nor will one single form of educational activity disappear. Only the name will be changed and the particular characteristics of certain schools will be altered. Schools that ought to be strictly secondary in character will be made secondary, while schools of a primary type will be compelled to keep to that type, but will also be dove-tailed into the nearest strictly secondary school. London will gain immensely by this, though admirers of the London school board system will feel keenly any reversal of the old and ruinous policy of forcing higher grade elementary education into competition with pure secondary education. Gain in efficiency is, however, the only thing to be considered, and there can be no doubt that the London school board has outgrown its functional usefulness and may well be replaced by a body capable of coordinating metropolitan education of all grades.

When the London bill is passed English education, whether primary, secondary, technical or tertiary, will be in a highly satisfactory state as far as machinery is concerned. The putting of this machinery into smooth motion will then be merely a question of time. When this is done the future of England may be regarded without pessimism or distrust. The widest meaning of education itself will gradually enter into the knowledge of the nation and it will be within the power of the poorest to reap harvests of incalculable wealth in hidden lands yet unknown to the masses of the people. Far away lie these lands, beyond the passionate, the stormy, the fretful, the cruel ocean of ignorance. All glory and honor will be to the generation that shall devise fit means of transit across this fearful region. The sea of ignorance imprisons the human race in a narrow land. Across its waters the few pass fitfully, fearfully now; but surely the day is not far distant when the many shall claim in pride and gladness their birthright of passage.

  1. Say £1,200,000. The Science and Art grants and these duties amount to more than £1,500,000, so that it can hardly be said that secondary education has, since 1890, been neglected in England.