HL Deb 21 May 1897 vol 49 cc1017-20

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he hoped to be able to introduce a Bill on Secondary Education this Session, or, if not, early next year? He pointed out that two small stopgap Measures had passed this Session on the subject of education, but, so far from satisfying the requirements of the subject, they called aloud for a better adjustment of secondary education in our national system. Advanced secondary education had not been so much added to as confused with primary education, and this confusion had damaged both primary and secondary education. Primary education was overlaid with many wholly irrelevant subjects; there was no clue to the subjects of instruction which properly belonged to it. The Elementary Code was simply a heap of confusion, and by the system of annual addition it was becoming worse confounded every year. Secondary education was equally damaged by this confusion; it was treated simply as a department of elementary instruction, or, if not, it was confused with a great variety of perfectly disconnected institutions which had the result of preventing systematic action and continuity of education. A million annually shovelled out of the Treasury into the laps of County Councils to be spent as they pleased, was an unworthy national provision for secondary education. So large a sum spent anyhow honestly for education must do some good somewhere, but as a whole this causes mischief, besides waste, as preventing better things. The idea of national education as a public undertaking to teach everybody everything is entirely new, and a wandering from former and better ideas. There is now a State ambition to undertake the whole nation's education. Only aristocratic sensitiveness shrinks from accepting it in common. It has already absorbed many small private and endowed schools, and its programme in pretension outbids Eton and Harrow. But our public provision for secondary education is properly meant for the artisan classes. As our primary provision is for a general training from infancy so our secondary should carry that general culture onwards, with special apprenticeship to various industries. Our public purse should not discharge rich manufacturers from parental responsibilities, though it may provide, by free scholarships, for clever children of the poor. In point of administration, also, he urged that, so far as the education question was to be undertaken by the State, there must be a central department instead of the half-dozen departments which were now overlapping each other in their action and competing with each other, thereby hindering anything like systematic continuity. Local authorities, too, are wanted of wider area than School Boards for secondary local requirements. He had the most perfect confidence, however, in the sound sense and judgment of the noble Duke, and in the Vice President, who, he thought, showed in his attempt at legislation last year a sense of how large the scope of the subject was; and his plans, if they had been fairly treated by the House of Commons, though they were on a scale for which the country was hardly prepared, had the materials in them to meet the requirements of the country.


I cannot agree with my noble Friend in the opinion that the large sum which was devoted a few years ago to the purposes of technical instruction, and which is being expended through the agency of the County Councils and the Borough Councils, is in any degree being wasted. On the contrary, I believe that, on the whole, the money is being very usefully applied. However, I may say that we are perfectly aware of the importance and urgency of the question to which my noble Friend has called the attention of the House, and we propose to ask Parliament to legislate upon it at the earliest possible opportunity. He has referred to the Measure which was introduced last year, and which was of much wider scope than that which was brought in this year, and I think he has referred in terms of some approval to the proposals contained in the Measure of last year, so far as they related to secondary education. Considering the time that has been devoted by Parliament already to educational questions this year, I do not entertain any hope that we shall be able to ask Parliament to deal seriously with the subject in the course of the present Session. However, I think it will probably be desirable that proposals which the Government are prepared to make on the subject of secondary education should be as long as possible before the country, and that they should receive full consideration and be discussed by those who are interested in the question. I hope, therefore, in the course of the present Session, either in this or the other House, that we shall be able to lay before Parliament in the shape of a Bill, the main proposals which were contained in the Bill of last year so far as they related to secondary education, with some amendments and additions, in order that the general views of the Government may be once more placed before the country, and that the country may be in a position to consider them during the vacation. ["Hear, hear!"]