Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

taining the schools in substantial repair. Even here at the last moment the House of Lords imposed on the public authorities the duty of making good so much of the wear and tear as was attributable to their use of the school building.

I pass over the obligation to make necessary structural alterations and improvements, for these ought long ago to have been demanded by the Board of Education, and even since the passing of the Act of 1902 the Board of Education has been singularly inert in condemning buildings, except where they were transferred to the public local authority. It has been too often said that legislation to amend the Act of 1902 was needed to meet the 'Nonconformist grievance.' There is, of course, a 'Nonconformist grievance,' but a far greater grievance is the citizen's grievance, the continuance of private management when the charge was transferred to the public funds. But, apart from this political grievance, there is the great educational objection, that our national system of popular education cannot make any great progress until it is frankly and completely put under public local management, and thus enlists the sympathy and appeals to the interest of the whole community.

There is no such vital force to promote and extend an efficient system of schools as giving responsibility and power to those who maintain them. In future the Board of Education itself will have to recede in the background, and while of course reserving its control over the Parliamentary grant and withholding the whole or a portion where the locality by its slackness fails to deserve it, will nevertheless have to leave much more freedom as to curricula, school organisation, &c., to the local authorities.

Thus, when the Act of 1902 placed the Voluntary schools on the rates and abolished every remnant of the conditions imposed in 1870 as necessary to their receiving public aid, it became clear that the nation would have as its next step to proceed frankly to the substitution of a municipal for an ecclesiastical basis for the public school system.

And when once the school system became municipal it was clear that ecclesiastical and theological tests on teachers must also disappear.

It might naturally seem to follow from this that the municipal system should be limited to secular teaching. The Bill did indeed provide that any distinctive or denominational teaching should be at the private cost of those who desired it, but it left the local authority free to give the general teaching commonly described by the name of Mr. Cowper-Temple.

This undoubtedly was a privilege conferred on general Bible teaching, and may be described as the permission to establish a municipal State Church in the elementary schools. It may also be argued that as the teachers are permitted to give this teaching and

the local authorities are permitted to pay for it, tests for teachers may be introduced indirectly in connection with this teaching.

At the earlier stages of this year's controversy there were some indications that the Anglican party intended to take up the line of logic and of religious equality. I have already referred elsewhere to the three sermons preached at St. Paul's by the Bishop of Stepney and reprinted in the Guardian and in the organ of the National Society, which advocated this course, and to the speeches of the Bishop of Manchester on the same lines. But reflection and contact with others apparently made the Church party realise the impolicy and unpopularity of this line of action, and, so far from attacking CowperTempleism, we have had an amendment put in the Bill, on the motion of Lord Heneage, providing (Clause I.) that no school shall be recognised as a public elementary school unless some portion of the school hours of every day is set apart for the purpose of religious instruction.

This amendment was adopted in preference to one from the Episcopal bench imposing the duty on the local authority of giving and inspecting this teaching, and it was advocated by some of the bishops on the ground that it did not pledge the House to CowperTemple teaching, but rather pointed to 'facilities.' But even if, as might be under the words of the clause, a free time were set apart with no public supply of religious teaching, even volunteers could in that time give nothing but Cowper-Temple teaching; and in fact the words, so far as they would be operative, could only in effect be a strong suggestion to local authorities to make universal what is now almost universal, some element of religious observances in a school. It must be borne in mind that the prohibition to the Board of Education to inspect any religious teaching would still remain in the unrepealed part of the Education Act, 1870. But the Bill still leaves every teacher free to give or not to give this religious instruction, and in Clause IX. (2) enacts that he shall not be required to subscribe to any religious creed or to attend or abstain from attending any Sunday school or place of religious worship. These words are certainly inadequate; they fall far short of the words of the Act of 1902, enacted by Mr. Balfour's Government: Teachers may be appointed without reference to religious creed or denomination.'

They fall far short of the provisions in our more modern universities. Thus the Manchester University charter provides : 'It shall not be lawful for the court by any Statute or otherwise to adopt or impose on any person any test whatever of religious belief or profession in order to entitle him or her to be admitted as a professor, teacher, student, or member of the University.'

When Lord Goschen was helping to free the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and their colleges from tests, he was not afraid of using effective words, and I hope in any future Bill effective words

а

[ocr errors]

will be used, and not words which, as Mr. Balfour has repeatedly and truly pointed out, are quite insufficient for their purpose. Closely coupled with the abolition of tests for teachers is the question of their employment to give distinctive religious teaching.

It is strongly felt that, with a local authority friendly to the old denominational system, teachers who let it be known that they were willing to volunteer to give this teaching would obtain a preference. The Government actually offered to give way on this point for assistants in town schools and in certain other large schools. But the demand has been pressed for heads as well as assistants, and for rural as well as town schools.

If this had been conceded we should have run a serious risk of seeing re-established by underhand methods what was nominally being abolished. Indeed, Mr. Birrell has more than once said in substance that he would not be sorry to see something of the sort done in Roman Catholic and Jewish schools.

Lord St. Aldwyn actually car ied an amendment on Clause IX. (3), which provides that, an schools enjoying extended facilities, the local authority shall consult the parents' committee, and shall satisfy themselves that the teachers appointed are qualified and willing to give the religious instruction for which the extended facilities are afforded. What is this but the imposition of a test on the teacher and the refusal of the liberty conferred by (2) of the same clause ?

Lord Crewe, in his speech on the first consideration of the rejection by the House of Commons of the Lords' amendments, expressed the willingness of the Government to give a consultative voice to the parents' committee in Clause IV. Schools (schools entitled to special facilities for religious teaching), as to the selection of the teachers, but stated that the Government could not give a veto. Nevertheless, when the promises of the speech were translated into the drafts of amendments

, many were surprised to find that he had granted the veto which he had said the Government would not give. The words

of his amendment are :

purpose

In every public elementary school in which extended facilities are afforded under this Act the local education authority shall appoint persons acceptable to the parents' committee to be teachers in the school, and for that shall consult with the committee as to such appointment.

Thus the person suggested must be acceptable to the parents' committee

, and they may refuse every nomination until the local authority submits the name they desire. This is going much further than Lord St. Aldwyn's amendment, already quoted, which was resisted by the Government. In some Roman Catholic schools staffed by nuns the managers raise objection to a lay Roman Catholic teacher or to a nun of a different teaching order. The local authority would, under the Bill so amended, be forced to accept any such school, though

a

not generally needed to subsidise the order by accepting its members as teachers, and to keep in repair the building for general denominational

use.

[ocr errors]

Similarly in a Church of England school it would not be enough to appoint an Anglican teacher. The parents' committee might reject anyone who did not practise habitual confession, observe fast days, and generally conform to all the extreme practices which have been described before the late Ritual Commission.

That some recognition of the special character of Clause IV. schools may be necessary is probable, but Lord Crewe's amendment shows how terribly far the Government was prepared to go for the sake of a settlement-much farther than, let us hope, any Liberal Government will ever venture to go again.

Such proposals make the municipal school the vestibule to the church, and the proposal is the more intolerable since the local authority had not a free hand as to recognising or not recognising, accepting or not accepting, such schools.

The fact is that no consistent defence can be made for a scheme which, while recognising the municipal and neutral character of the public school, temporises with the ecclesiastical organisation which is passing away. Still, if the free municipal schools covered the whole country within reach of all, there might be some inconsistent indulgence shown for exceptional and clearly defined minorities. But unfortunately some of these minorities, so far from accepting gratefully what is offered, make the offer a pretext for demanding much more. We are told by the Tablet and by the Duke of Norfolk in the House of Lords that in Preston the Roman Catholic schools could not get the benefit of Clause IV. because there are no neutral schools accessible in the part of the town where they are situate. But clearly the Roman Catholics could quite easily cede one of their schools to the municipality and draft the non-Catholic children into them, and so fairly use the remainder.

The recent action of Sir Piers Mostyn at Talacre, as proved at the inquiry held by the Board of Education, the maintenance of a Roman Catholic school where ninety-five per cent. of the scholars are stated to be Protestant Nonconformists, the conversion of that school into a certified efficient chool taught by nuns, and the serving of notices to quit on Nonconformist tenants whose children went to the Board school and not to the Roman Catholic school, show that the spirit to be encountered is not necessarily one of anxiety for the faith of those who are already members of a Church, but the insolence of territorial domination quite regardless of the wishes or beliefs of parents.

I am strongly of opinion that no Clause IV. school should be tolerated as entitled to rate aid unless at least three-fourths of the scholars actively demand such a school, and unless within an equally convenient

a

distance from the school population there is another public school with surplus accommodation, and which can be enlarged if need be ; and it should also be the duty of the Board of Education, before sanctioning a Clause IV. school, to see that that margin of surplus accommodation is already in existence. It might well be that, while waiving the requirement of 5,000 population, a minimum population of 2,000 in the urban district or parish should be required. Another point has been much pressed on the Government in the House of Lords, namely, that when a local authority declines to take over a school, there should be some external authority, probably the Board of Education, which should be able to order the acceptance of the transfer.

This proposal was apparently half assented to in some modified form by the Government when Lord Crewe spoke of finding a halfway house between the right to refuse and the obligation to accept.

I can imagine no such halfway house, and in any case it seems to me a serious invasion of the rights of the Commons for the House of Lords to impose on the ratepayers, in any case, the obligation to take over a school which shall thereby become chargeable on the rates.

There are many reasons besides structural suitability and superfuity which may induce a local authority to refuse a school. The building may be one not absolutely unfit for occupation, and yet inconvenient, with little or no playground, and costly to keep up. There may

be three schools of 200 each in a town where one school of 600 would be better for education and cheaper to maintain. Moreover, the Bill enables the owners of a transferred school to bargain with the local authority for the permanent giving of some specified form of religious teaching legal in a Council school. Thus the managers of the Church schools of Dorsetshire might bargain once for all that so long as these schools were transferred to the county, the diocesan syllabus of Bible teaching as varied from time to time should be permanently in force. The Board of Education has never hitherto allowed a transfer of a Voluntary school to contain stipulations which would interfere with the right of a School Board to regulate its own scheme of instruction.

The Bill as the House of Lords fashioned it contained the possibility of a coercive transfer, and by implication the incorporation of this condition as a term of the transfer. It is vital to the improvement of education that local authorities should have a free hand in the matter.

The Duke of Devonshire, in his amendment to Clause XI., proposed and carried that, in considering the propriety of enforcing a transfer, the commissioners should have regard to the wishes of the parents as to the religious instruction of their children.

Thus the ratepayers are to have a more expensive and worse educational organisation in order that a building may be maintained

a

a

а

« VorigeDoorgaan »