§ Where there are two or more public elementary schools not provided by the local education 1629 authority of the same denominational character in the same locality, the local education authority, if they consider that it is expedient for the purpose of educational efficiency and economy, may, with the approval of the Board of Education, give directions for the distribution of the children in those schools according to age, sex, or attainments, and otherwise with respect to the organisation of the schools; and for the grouping of the schools under one body of managers constituted in the manner provided by Sub-section (2) of Section twelve of the Education Act, 1902:
§ Provided that, if the constitution of the body of managers falls to be determined by the Board of Education under that Section, the Board shall observe the principles and proportions prescribed by Sections six and eleven of that Act; and that, if the managers of a school affected by any directions given under this Section request a public inquiry, the Board shall hold a public inquiry before approving those directions.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. KING
I beg to move, after "1902," to insert the wordsand for closing any one or more of the grouped schools and the transfer of the scholars therein to other schools.This Clause deals with the grouping of schools, and I believe it is a very valuable and a very necessary power. A great number of very small schools are being carried on at great expense, and there is a very unfortunate provision in the Act of 1902 which gives a sort of permanent right to live to schools with very small numbers. There are many schools where there are only about twenty or thirty children where, if you provide one good teacher, the cost is very high, but if you have, say, thirty children varying from three or four, certainly from five up to thirteen, it wants really two or three teachers to teach the children adequately. I look upon the grouping of schools as most essential if you are to carry on education in sparse country or in some of our smaller towns where a number of very small denominational schools have been established. In Torquay, for instance, you have a very large number of very small schools. They are very costly indeed. They are very poorly staffed and equipped, and if you were to combine them and group them together and close several of them you would have much better schools at much less expense and you would be able to treat the teachers much 1630 better and give the children a very much better opportunity. The whole of the future of our elementary schools in certain places depends upon the grouping of schools. Fortunately this is a matter where we need not talk about denominational or vested interests. All we can direct our attention to is the efficiency of education, and I believe by this Amendment we shall be strengthening the Clause, making it simpler and more cogent, and we shall be assisting the President of the Board of Education.
While I realise that there may quite possibly be educational advantages in certain cases in the Amendment, I feel that it raises very contentious issues and that it would be regarded, with some degree of justice, as a departure from the basis on which we are working in this Bill. The grouping of schools would very often mean the closing of small schools, and I feel that the champions of voluntaryism would look with very great suspicion on any use of Clause 27, which might lead to the extinction, as distinguished from the grouping, of any such small schools. The object of the Clause is to facilitate grouping, but not to permit the extinction of schools, and because the Amendment would, I think, lead to the extinction of schools I feel bound in the interests of the party truce to refuse it.
§ Captain Sir C. BATHURST
Of course, if any contentious question arose I should be the last to press for the acceptance of the Amendment, but I fail to see, if the local education authorities do their duty in regard to the susceptibilities and the best educational interests of those under their administration, why any such difficulty should arise. When first reading the Clause I rather assumed that, without these words which the hon. Member seeks to introduce, it was intended to mean not merely that the grouping might take place under one body of managers, but, if thought desirable, in one building. No doubt in such a county as that which I represent in an educational sense we have very great difficulties as to the efficiency of education owing to the scattered nature of the schools in some of the rural districts, where, of course, a large number of standards are very often taken together under a single teacher, and there is no doubt that in those schools educational progress is comparatively slow. Moreover, the amount of money expended in 1631 their upkeep is unduly large. The present system in such areas does not conduce, I am sure, either to educational efficiency or to financial economy. I had hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to fell us that powers already exist, either in the local education authority, or, failing that, in the Board, to enable such grouping to take place so as to bring the children together from several schools into one school, as well as under one board of managers, in order to increase the efficiency of such schools. This is a direction in which the Gloucester Education Committee have been pressing for improvement for some time past, and, subject only to the difficulty which I think can be overcome of providing proper means of transportation for the children from their homes to the central school, it seems to be quite within the bounds of practicability, and will tend to increase educational efficiency. I am at issue with the right hon. Gentleman when he thinks there is likely to be any contoversy as to the grouping in any single building. There is likely to be as much controversy in grouping under one competent board of managers. I should not think that the element of controversy would enter more into one case than the other. Purely from the point of view of efficiency, the grouping advocated by the hon. Member for North Somerset is one which ought to receive the favourable consideration of the Board of Education.
§ Sir P. MAGNUS
I should have thought the night hon. Gentleman might have been willing to accept one part of the Amendment—namely, "and for closing any one or more of the grouped schools." If that were done with the consent of the managers I think it would be desirable, and it would tend to efficiency and economy. It-would seem feasible if there is a number of small schools not giving adequate or sufficient education not only to group these schools, but to close one or more of the schools if they are found to be unnecessary in a particular neighbourhood. But I should be very sorry to see that done, except with the consent of the managers. I should have thought that part of the Amendment might have been accepted.
§ Mr. RENDALL
I very much hope that the President of the Board of Education will reconsider the attitude he has adopted. The hon. Member for North Somerset proposes many Amendments 1632 with which we cannot agree; but when he proposes one which meets with the acceptance of Members of all parties, as this Amendment does, I think he ought to be encouraged, and I hope the President of the Board of Education will encourage him. The hon. Member for Wiltshire (Sir C. Bathurst), who knows a great deal about the education system in Gloucestershire, has spoken of the need for something of this kind being done. All of us who live in the West of England and have to deal with large scattered areas feel the need of some power of this kind, and we think it might be given to the local education authority so long as the Board are able to make proper inquiries before any Order is made. I think the President of the Board of Education is unduly sensitive as to denominational feeling in this matter. I think it has been shown that there is a great desire for equity and fairness with regard to education among all parties, and I think we might safely give this power which the hon. Member for North Somerset asked for in his Amendment.
§ Mr. KING
I have had at least two eminent educationists on my side, one of whom can speak for more than one county. I have not had a single Member opposing the Amendment. The only opposition comes from the President of the Board of Education, who really is with me at heart. His only objection is that he suspects someone will raise the denominational issue. We have heard from the hon. Member for Wilton that it is not likely to be raised in this connection, and I do think the right hon. Gentleman might accept the Amendment or give me an assurance that he will consider it very carefully and make inquiries about it before the Report stage. He ought to do one or the other. If not, I shall find it necessary to go to a Division.
I have considered this matter very carefully, and in view of all the interests involved. The object of this Clause is to provide for a better grouping in schools of the same denomination. We do not propose under the operations of this Clause to close schools against the wishes of the managers. Of course, if the managers of any one school affected by the grouping desire or consent to the closing of the school, then the school can be closed. The question which the Committee has to consider is whether we are prepared to say that we will, in pursuance of this policy of grouping, confer 1633 upon the local education authority the power of closing a voluntary school without the consent of the managers of that voluntary school. That is the issue, and I contend that that is an issue which raises the denominational question. Therefore, I hope the Committee will support me in opposing this Amendment.
§ Sir W. ESSEX
Has the right hon. Gentleman power, or does he take power in this Bill, to effect the closure of these schools experimentally, or when it is once done do the managers know that it is done once and for all? You might induce a great many persons to permit such a closure if they felt that they could withdraw if on experience the closure proved to be undesirable. Is there that power?
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.