HC Deb 01 July 1875 vol 225 cc799-813

, in rising to call attention to the case of Mrs. Marks, as reported in "The Times" of the 4th day of May, and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the cordial co-operation of School Boards and Boards of Guardians within their respective districts is essential to the just and beneficial exercise of the powers conferred upon School Boards of enforcing attendance at school upon children of the labouring poor, said, in bringing this subject before the House he had not come down to run a-muck against school boards, or to blame school-board officials; the circumstances of which he was about to complain arose out of the execution of the laws. He had to point out a distinct grievance which required a remedy at the hands of the House, and he should suggest a remedy which he thought at once simple, reasonable, and efficacious. The case of Mrs. Marks occurred in the City Division of the London School Board. Her husband had been in the employment of a respectable person at the East End of London for 12 years. At the end of that time he was seized with paralysis. For six months she maintained him and three children by her labour. In November last he got worse, became a hopeless lunatic, and was transferred to a lunatic asylum at Stoke. Mrs. Marks was soon afterwards confined of twins; one of them died, and the other required the greatest care to rear. The eldest of her children was a girl of about 11 years. Mrs. Marks got 5s. a-week and four loaves from the parish. The rent of her room was 3s. 3d. per week. Her baby was ordered a large allowance of milk as necessary to life, and it cost weekly 4s. 4½d. The school fee was 4d. per week. That made 8s. in outgoings from the small earnings of Mrs. Marks. To support herself and children she had to work hard all day from 8 in the morning till 8 o'clock at night, her eldest daughter remaining at home to attend to the delicate infant. In April last the school-board officer called at the house. Mrs. Marks was not at home; the officer said to the girl—"You little beggar, you are getting your matter into fine trouble. I have just seen the relieving officer. Your relief will be stopped, and you will all be turned over to the workhouse." This case was not an isolated one, but only a specimen of several cases. One of these cases he would mention. It was that of the widow of a Frenchman who was for years manager of a white lead manufactory, and resided at Lewisham. The man was for seven years before his death afflicted with a disease of the brain, and during that time his wife maintained the whole family, consisting of her husband, herself, and four children. Her sight failing somewhere about the time of her husband's death, the poor woman was driven to washing and in-door work in order to save her children and herself from the necessity of going into the workhouse. Her rent was 3s. per week, and the Guardians had been compelled to stop her weekly allowance of 4s. 6d., the law being imperative that no out-door relief should be granted to people who, having children of school age, failed to send them to school. Even zealous educationists would admit the hardship of this case, but would urge that it was one of the incidents of a compulsory system, and could not be avoided. To such people he would say that the imposition of compulsory education, though perfectly legal, was a difficult and delicate matter, and could not be successfully carried out, unless supported by public opinion. Further, he would say that public opinion, high and low, was deeply stirred by occurrences such as this; and if their occurrence had the effect of creating in the minds of the upper classes—between whom and the lowest classes there had always been a feeling of sympathy—a distrust of the compulsory system, how much more likely was that feeling to be deepened in the minds of the poorer classes, who were closely affected by the action of the law, and who, at the present moment, were sullenly and silently submissive to its provisions. He therefore asked the House seriously to consider whether it was not possible to provide a remedy for this state of things. The law provided as a condition of the granting of out-door relief to parents that all children between 5 and 13 should receive elementary education in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and it also provided that the Guardians should give such further relief, if any, as might be necessary for such purpose. What he would suggest, therefore, was that, if necessary, the law should be so altered as to enable the Guardians to make grants sufficient to free the parents' labour and to enable them to provide substitutes, in the performance of household and such-like duties, for the children whom the law carried away from their homes. The cost of doing this might seem to be large; but, as education was in time to extinguish pauperism, he could not help thinking it would be money well expended. The school boards themselves were in difficulty on this point. Mr. Francis Peek—a distinguished member of the London School Board, and a relative of an hon. Member of that House—had stated that, being elected to administer a law which said that attendance must be compulsory, the school boards felt themselves in great difficulty when cases such as the present arose. The law was frequently broken in such cases; but it was not a proper or satisfactory position for boards to be placed in. In the Act of 1870 certain exceptions were admitted—namely, where children were prevented by sickness or any other unavoidable cause of absence, that should be deemed a reasonable excuse for not attending school. Why should not a school board be invested with the discretion to say that the nursing of an infant sister or brother was an unavoidable cause? This would meet many cases; and an alternative suggestion which would meet others was, that the Guardians should have the power of giving in relief, in addition to the school pence, a sum sufficient to enable the parent to send an infant to a temporary home. That would be an investment bearing high and valuable interest. He implored the House to consider this matter for the sake of reconciling the working classes to compulsory education; for if these cases of hardship continued to occur, we should raise an opposition which it would be difficult to cope with. When the Act first came into operation such cases did not occur, but when the officers of the school boards began to sweep up the waifs and strays they arose in great numbers, and the longer a system of this kind continued the tendency increased on the part of the officers to perform their duty in a perfunctory manner, and sweep in those waifs and strays rather in a peremptory manner, thereby augmenting the popular indignation in the courts and alleys of our great cities. In reply to a Question put by him on the 6th of May, the Vice President of the Department (Viscount Sandon) said that all children between the ages of 10 and 13 were obliged to attend school 10 hours a-week; but the London by-law required their attendance for as many hours as school was open; and he would suggest, as an alternative, that only five attendances of two hours each in the week should be required in exceptional cases, and that, if necessary, at a "night school." The noble Lord concluded by moving his Resolution.


seconded the Resolution, and mentioned that the Board of Guardians of Maldon had been applied to in several instances by able-bodied men for relief, in consequence of some of their children being deprived of employment through the operation of the Act of 1872. When the Local Government Board were communicated with on the subject, they replied that they considered that out-door relief when given while a man continued in employment would be relief in aid of wages, and that the proper course for Guardians to adopt in such cases would be to offer admission into the workhouse for the man and his family. He should like to know whether the moral and social progress of the population would be best promoted by having a few children less at school, or having the whole of the remainder of the family in a workhouse? A recent Return of the expenditure of the Metropolitan Board abundantly established the charges of extravagance that were made against it. Architects on the staff were paid both by fees and commissions; pupil-teachers were paid almost double what they used to receive; the salaries of teachers were better than those of curates; and there was a large staff of "visitors," who ought to be designated spies and informers. The character of the education given to pauper children by these school boards, which, as he understood, were appointed only to supplement the education of the country, would surprise many hon. Gentlemen. They were to be taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, the history of England, geography, elementary drawing, music, domestic economy, algebra, and geometry. He did not think it was ever intended by the Legislature that pauper children should receive such a high-class education. He had heard of a school in Mayfair where a girl had been taken from her needlework to attend to a drawing class. Of what possible use could a knowledge of drawing be to young women intended for domestic service—except to enable them to caricature their mistresses—especially as it appeared that needlework was a branch of education in which these girls were particularly deficient, and which it was especially desirable they should be taught? Our Colonies were calling upon us to give them labourers and not clerks, and he protested against the miserable gentility inculcated upon those who were taught that it was disgraceful to work with their hands, and who were ashamed of the horny hands of manual industry. It was the sure sign of the decay of a country when its people looked down upon useful manual labour, and the sort of education he had described was certainly not that which ought to be carried out by compulsion. As to the compulsory part of the measure, it appeared to be carried to excess. Last week a poor woman named Turner was summoned by an officer of the Board for not sending her children to school. She pleaded that she had a child suffering from fever, and that the other child was kept at home to mind it. She was fined 3s., with the option of going to prison for three days. She had to go to prison. This woman was a widow, and in great distress, and what would have been her condition if the people of the house had not during her absence looked after her children? In his humble opinion, the forms of the notices given by the School Board were absolutely illegal. These notices were to the following effect:— Take notice that you have been guilty of a breach of the law in that you have neglected to send your child to an efficient school, whereby you have rendered yourself liable to be apprehended and brought before a magistrate. A child might be receiving efficient instruction at home from its parents, in which case the latter would certainly not be liable to proceedings. During the last year the parents of not less than 78,000 had been harassed by these notices, of whom 6,016 had been summoned and 4,000 fined. Some of the persons summoned before a police magistrate had declared that it was their intention to expatriate themselves, and to seek a country in which such laws did not exist. He sympathized with such views; for, if they searched the statute book they would find no legislation couched in a spirit so offensive and un-English as this Education Act. Of all the despotisms and tyrannies with which men could be afflicted, there was no tyranny so oppressive, and no despotism so intolerable, as the despotism of the pedant and the tyranny of the prig.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the cordial cooperation of School Boards and Boards of Guardians within their respective districts is essential to the just and beneficial exercise of the powers conferred upon School Boards of enforcing attendance at school upon children of the labouring poor,"—(Lord Eslington,)

—instead thereof.


said, that in the days of Dr. Johnson, whom the hon. Member who had just sat down might probably regard as a pedant, the fears which he held as to the spread of education were much more common. When it was said in Dr. Johnson's presence that if children were taught they would become unfit for the duties of common life, Dr. Johnson replied that if a very few were educated they would be vain of their accomplishments. If a very few persons, he said, were laced waistcoats, they would be vain of the distinction, but if everybody were laced waistcoats a person ceased to be proud of it; and he argued that, in the same way, if all were educated, none would be ashamed of being engaged in menial occupations. Having been chairman of a school board for more than four years, he could bear testimony to the fact that cases like those referred to by the noble Lord (Lord Eslington) were among the most painful that came before them. It was not a question of school fees, because the school board had the power to deal with that, but it was a question affecting the earnings of the children. A woman might be left a widow, or might be deserted by her husband. If she had a family she found it convenient to keep one at home, or a child might be earning wages, and if they were stopped the whole family might have to go into the workhouse. He should be most thankful if some plan could be found by which these cases might be met. There was no doubt that the Boards of Guardians knew more of the real circumstances of the poor than the school boards, and it was very desirable that their should be a good understanding, if not some co-operation between them and the school boards. It was most desirable that these cases of hardships should not be multiplied. Among the poorest class of the population the sending of their children to school, especially on compulsion, was very distasteful, and every case of this kind tended to increase the opposition which unfortunately existed. If these cases could be met a great benefit would be conferred upon the country, and the cause of education, which everybody wished to see promoted, except perhaps the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford), would be greatly benefited.


agreed with the hon. Member who had just spoken in the advantage of the fullest co-operation between school boards and Boards of Guardians. It was said that a medical officer of the Poor Law would not without a fee give a certificate that a child was unable to attend school. He thought the medical officer of the Poor Law ought to be instructed to give certificates of that sort, or that the school boards should pay medical officers to do so. With regard to the harshness which had been imputed to the London School Board in connection with this matter, he thought account had not been taken of the great difficulties which the Board experienced in carrying out compulsory by-laws. He believed that gross injustice would be done by enforcing the by-laws in the case, for instance, of a child who was kept at home to "mind baby," and whoso parent could not afford to pay a person to do that work. In some cases the difficulty as to attendance at school was got over by an employer making arrangements by which a child in his employment could attend school in the evening. He (Mr. A. Mills) believed he had acted rightly in sanctioning such arrangements. With some persons it was necessary to deal gently, and with others firmly. A woman who had a large number of children, and allowed them to run about the streets instead of sending them to school, was called before the Board, and asked to account for her conduct. She said, in a very impudent tone—"I don't look to you for sympathy; I look to a higher power." While we were not to deal harshly, if the compulsory power were withdrawn, it would be impossible to carry out the system. He believed the Earl of Shaftesbury was mistaken in saying that the members of school boards were quite indifferent to the hardships which a too strict administration of the law would inflict on parents.


, having introduced the two Acts which had been referred to, wished to state what was his meaning and the meaning of the late Government in pressing those measures upon the House. Before he did so he would make a remark upon an observation of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. The House must not suppose that in proposing an Education Bill giving a power to compel the attendance of children at school the late Government were not thoroughly conscious of the difficulty and danger of that undertaking. It would have been more difficult and more dangerous if they had not felt confident that that measure would be administered in the country with wisdom and justice. He believed that generally throughout the country the school boards had shown remarkable discretion, great industry, and sympathy with the poor in the way in which they had put into operation the two Acts in question. He was convinced that the school boards had acted with care and judgment; for if they had not done so, we should have a state of things very different from what existed. When cases of individual hardship were examined it was found that they did not always bear out the impression which was at first formed. For example, in the case of Mrs. Marks it was at first believed that she was forced to become a pauper in consequence of her child going to school, but it turned out that she had previously been in receipt of relief; and he should be very glad if hon. Members, before they took for granted that a great hardship had been inflicted, would thoroughly satisfy themselves of all the particulars of the case. It might have been expected to be a most unpopular act to interfere between the parent and his child; but, as a matter of fact, public opinion in every town in which there were compulsory by-laws was in favour of maintaining these laws. And that proved that there were not many cases of injustice and oppression in the carrying out of these Acts. He was not afraid of stating that fact, and of challenging any one in that House to contradict it. In reply to the remarks of his noble Friend, who thought that the Act of 1873 limited the power of the Guardians to give such relief as would enable a parent to send a child to school, he might state that when he framed that Act he was informed on the best authority that the Guardians were bound by the present law to give relief when there was a real want; and, consequently, if the parents were put in a position of losing in such a way that they ought to have relief the Guardians were bound to give it. It was because he was thoroughly satisfied on this point that he did not think it necessary to insert any provision in the Bill in regard to it. Cases might, indeed, arise in which a man was not a pauper, but who just managed to get on, and who would be compelled to apply for relief if he lost the wages of one or two of his children. Here, however, the question raised was not merely between the education of the child and the relief of the parent, but it was the other very important question between in-door and out-door relief; and there was a strong feeling that it was very dangerous to encourage out-door relief to able-bodied men. If he were disposed to offer any advice to the Government, it would be that they ought to deal in these cases as leniently as possible, and stretch a point in favour of out-door relief. In any event it was desirable that the children should be educated and not be left without any chance in life at all; but the parent ought not to suffer in consequence by being sent to the workhouse; and therefore he should be glad if such cases could be settled without too strict an attention to the arguments in favour of in-door as against out-door relief. He did not think that there was much objection to the terms of the noble Lord's Resolution; but he hoped that it would not be pressed on the attention of the Government, as it implied a censure on the Department. He thought that more intimate communication was required between the Education Department and the Local Government Board, with a view to their more harmonious action. His noble Friend was wrong in supposing that school boards did not already possess the power of abstaining from prosecuting when they knew the absence of a child from school was due to illness or other unavoidable cause. There was one point on which he thought the Local Government Board went too far. A letter had been sent to them asking whether they would consider that the temporary severe illness of a parent was such a case as might excuse a child from attending school. He thought it was rather a hasty reply on the part of the Board, when they answered that they did not think so. In the case of a permanent illness it would of course be different, for there they had to choose between the whole future of the child and the parents' need. He regretted the tone of the remarks of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford). As to the complaint about the salaries given to teachers, he might observe that any a them pt to lower them must result in inefficient education and the waste of the public money. For his own part, he rejoiced to find that the salaries of the teachers were rising throughout the country. There never was any expenditure more likely to benefit the working classes than that which would procure an abler and better paid body of teachers for their children. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think the head masters of our largest schools only had the salaries of curates; but he might have compared them to the income of Bishops. At the close of his speech the hon. Gentleman sympathized with those who said they would expatriate themselves rather than submit to a law which compelled parents to educate their children. He thought, on the other hand, that a great many persons would be glad to banish themselves from the country some years hence if in the meantime the children were not properly educated.


said, he wished, with reference to the pensions, to express his great satisfaction at the way in which Her Majesty's Government had been treated. They felt decidedly that the teachers had no positive claim to pensions; but after the debates of 1846, when the Leaders of the different parties spoke strongly on the subject, and considering the language that was held afterwards, it was felt that the teachers had a moral claim which it would be unwise for any Government to disregard. He would briefly explain why the Government adopted the scale of pensions—£6,500 a-year—laid down in 1851. The circumstance had hitter to been overlooked that the noble Lord who was President of the Council in 1851 was the late Lord Lansdowne, who in that year put the interpretation on the Minute he had himself issued in 1846. The teachers might, therefore, regard that interpretation as the proper one. The points raised by his hon. Friend them ember for Kendal (Mr. Whitwell) would be treated with very respectful consideration by the Government, although at present he was unable to give any pledge on the subject. He might claim for the Government a desire to do what they could to promote physical education in schools. He had every reason to believe that the substitution of military drill in place of the ordinary school drill would be attended with very advantageous results. He declined to give any pledge as to any further steps at present, as the few hours in which the children could be instructed must be spent to their best advantage. He had been asked to discourage the large sites which the London School Board were buying; but he held it was a wise expenditure of public money in a densely-crowded City to provide sufficient playgrounds for the children of the poorer classes. In those playgrounds a good deal of physical education would go on, though, perhaps, not in a cut-and-dried form. As to the remarks of the noble Lord them ember for South Northumberland (Lord Eslington), his own feelings and those of the Government were very much in unison with them respecting the very great difficulty and delicacy of the question of overhauling the poor of London and dragging their children to school. It was, no doubt, a very painful process to drag children from the arms of unwilling parents to school. It was painful also to have to pay these domiciliary visits; and nothing but the gravest necessity—a necessity acknowledged by the people themselves—would justify the placing of such powers in the hands of the school boards. He was convinced, however, that some such powers were necessary in dealing with the population of our large cities and in grappling with the ignorance and the misery of the lowest classes their. Every other means had been tried and every other means had failed. Had his noble Friend (Lord Eslington), who drew so dark a picture, ever thought of the other side of the picture? Had he remembered that in London there was a population something like equal to that of Scotland, that 77,000 notices and 6,000 summonses had been issued, and that 200 visiting officers were at work; and had he reflected how very few complaints comparatively had been made? It was a perfect marvel that there were so few, and the fact spoke volumes for the judgment and discretion of the School Board and its officers in dealing with so varied a population and one so touchy of any interference. He could hardly imagine a more difficult task than that of visiting in all the courts and alleys of London, not backed by any policeman, even in the most horrible of these places; and yet the School Board officers discharged their duties in the most noble manner and with general discretion. As to the remedy proposed, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) had thrown great light on this question, showing that the Guardians had full licence to pay the parent the loss of the child's wages, and he had no doubt that the School Board would give a liberal interpretation to the general law on this subject. It was difficult to say whether the workhouse should be offered as an alternative in such cases; but this was a point more within the province of the President of the Local Government Board than of his own. As to the Resolution of his noble Friend, he hoped it would not be pressed, because the Government would not be justified in accepting a Resolution which seemed to cast a slur upon the action of the school boards and the Boards of Guardians. The Government felt that nothing could be more desirable than that these two bodies should co-operate well together. But the cases showing the want of such co-operation were not yet sufficient to warrant such a censure as his noble Friend proposed. His hon. Friend them ember for Maldon (Mr. Sandford) had taken too strong a view of what was going on in London, and he would ask him to qualify, upon reflection, the somewhat invidious epithets of "spies" and "informers" which he had used towards the officers of the school boards. Then when the hon. Gentleman asked whether the instruction given was suitable for pauper children, he (Viscount Sandon) would point out that the schools were not intended only for pauper children, but for any class of children who were not able or willing to go to other schools. He thought it a very wise expenditure of public money to set up these great buildings, to get as good teachers as possible, and to give the most thorough education they could both in the interests of the children and of the country. This seemed to be a period when public opinion was oscillating rather rapidly in a direction contrary to that from which it had started. Five years ago the Report of the Duke of Newcastle's Commission had stirred up a strong feeling in favour of education, especially the education of the out-door pauper class. Now, if we did not take care, these children would slip out of our fingers. He hoped Parliament would not, through tenderness for a few exceptional cases of hardship, forget the great object of getting rid of the taint of the pauper class in all our large towns. He was not indifferent to the sufferings of the poor in these oases; but Parliament was bound to hold the balance fairly between the school boards, who had very arduous duties to discharge, and the people with whom they had to deal.


said, that, as one who had always opposed compulsory education, he was rather satisfied with the tone of the debate. He still retained his objections to compulsion, and believed this system was introduced in order to prove that the people who had advocated such an enormous amount of school accommodation should not be false prophets. There were two facts bearing upon this point taken from the last Report of the Committee of Council. School accommodation was provided for 2,861,319 children, while the average attendance was 1,678,759, so that there was an excess of school accommodation for 1,200,000 children above the number actually attending. Another fact was worth remembering. The present Government were pledged, on entering office, to take into consideration the local burdens which had been imposed upon the ratepayers; but not one word upon this point had yet been heard to-night. The course they were now pursuing was calculated to increase those burdens, which were them ore severely felt as they were borne by one class of property alone. He once more warned the Government and the House against estranging those who had been the best friends of education. From 1839 to 1874 a sum of above £6,000,000 had been spent on elementary education in this country, of which no less than £4,160,000 had been voluntary contributions. Was it wise, the n, to estrange persons who had acted with so much generosity? And as for the Government grants, what were they but grants out of the taxation of the country to which those very persons had contributed? In fact, the country was divided into two classes—those who paid all the expenses, and those who thought they advanced education by making speeches. That put him in mind of the nigger who said—"Preachee or floggee, but don't do both." So the persons who made speeches buttoned up their pockets and left it to others to pay the money.


understood the right hon. Member for Bradford to say that it was better that a family should go into the workhouse than that a child should go without education, and the right hon. Gentleman challenged the House to dispute the assertion. He accepted the challenge, and maintained that it was a much greater evil that a family should be removed to the workhouse than that a child at an early ago should go without education. There were numbers of persons who had gone without education at an early age, and who had been able to obtain it later in life. The principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman was, he believed, an altogether mistaken one, and one against which he ventured to protest.


said, the hon. Member had hardly represented him fairly. What he had said was that he thought it the duty of the Local Government Board to encourage Guardians to stretch the amount of out-door relief in favour of the parents in such cases. As to a whole family being taken into the workhouse in order that one child should receive compulsory education, he thought that such a thing would be perfectly impossible.


said, that after the discussion which had taken place, and the assurance on the part of the Government that the subject would receive attention, he would not press his Motion.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.