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Elementary School Monitors

Volume 40: debated on Wednesday 23 June 1920

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rose to ask the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health whether, in face of Section 28 (1) (b) of the National Insurance Act, 1918, which specifically provides that the employment of a monitor in a public elementary school is included among the excepted employments specified in Part II. of the First Schedule to the National Insurance Act, 1911, the Ministry of Health is pressing local education authorities to insure such monitors in schools under their control, and if so, what is its statutory or other authority for so doing; and whether, if the Government deem such course desirable, they will consider the propriety of introducing into Parliament an amending Bill to this effect.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in putting this Question to the noble Lord who represents in this House the Ministry of Health, I may perhaps be allowed quite shortly to mention the circumstances in which it arises. Subsection (1) of Section (28) of the National Health Insurance Act, 1918, provides as follows—

"The following employments shall be taken to be included amongst the excepted employments specified in Part II of the First Schedule of the principal Act—"

That, I need hardly remind your Lordships, means that these are employments which require no national health insurance what ever—and in the list which follows there appears "employment as a pupil or student teacher, junior student, or monitor in a public elementary school." On June 29, 1918, the National Health Insurance Commissioners issued a circular letter in which they invited the attention of all local education authorities to this section, which came into force on July 1, 1918; pointed out that pupil teachers and student teachers—I may mention in passing that they make no reference to monitors—

would be excepted from the compulsory provisions of the Insurance Acts; and stated that local education authorities would not, therefore, be required thereafter to pay contributions in respect of any such persons employed by them.

On July 1 of the same year the Secretary of the Gloucestershire Education Committee wrote to the Commissioners pointing out that, in addition to pupil teachers and student teachers, it was provided by this section that employment as a junior student or monitor in a public elementary school was included among the specified excepted employments, and that, in the circumstances, the local education authority did not propose to pay contributions in respect of those persons on or after July 1 of that year. No reply whatever was sent to that letter. Of course, that may have been an oversight. The local education authority have not, in fact, stamped cards in respect of pupil teachers, student teachers or monitors.

Following on that, in the early part of this year, the District Inspector of the Ministry of Health Insurance Department called at the education office—as, indeed, I understand he has called at the education offices in several different counties—and stated that he had been informed that the local education authority were not stamping contribution cards in respect of the monitors employed in their school, and that, in the opinion of the Ministry, they were failing to carry out the requirements of the National Health Insurance Acts— rather a startling proposition in view of the fact that monitors were specifically excepted from insurance in the Act to which I have referred. He went on to explain that the Ministry regarded the word "monitor" in that section as applying only to young persons so employed in Ireland. Why, it is hard to say, because there is no specific reference to Ireland, in that connection at any rate, in that section. He was, of course, reminded that the section did not make any such limitation. He was also informed that if the Insurance Commissioners or the Ministry of Health really held that view they would naturally have stated it in writing upon receipt of the letter from the education authority in July, 1918.

Since then correspondence has passed between the Gloucestershire Education Authority and the Ministry of Health in which the only contention put forward by the Ministry of Health that would appear to have any sort of force is to the effect that a monitor is not a person who is recognised in any way under the Code of the Board of Education. If I may say so, that is a rather strange contention in view of the fact that the Act actually refers to monitors (assuming that they are recognised persons) and says that they are not to be insured for the purposes of national health insurance. I do not want to go into further detail in connection with this matter, except to say that the Gloucestershire Education Authority have taken the trouble to find out how many education authorities throughout the country are, in fact, acting according to the strict provisions of the Act of 1918, and how many are acting in accordance with the instructions of the Ministry of Health which appear to run counter to the Act. They find that there are sixteen authorities which are complying with the section and are not insuring their monitors, and there are sixteen which, under compulsion or pressure from the inspector of the Ministry of Health, are insuring those persons. What the Gloucestershire Education Authority submit is, that if it is desirable that monitors should be insured—and in our opinion they should be—it is equally desirable that exception should not be made in the case of other young people such as pupil teachers and student teachers who are not in any way protected in respect of illness or disablement. There is no logical ground of distinction between these three classes of juvenile apprentices in our elementary schools.

The School Teachers Superannuation Act of 1918 does not provide any benefits in the case of illness, and therefore the contention of the inspector of the Ministry of Health that the Legislature had made other suitable provision for pupil teachers appears to be wholly unfounded. The local education authority feel that when an Act of Parliament has expressly excepted certain classes of persons from its compulsory provisions it is not proper for a Government Department to endeavour to bring such classes under the provisions of the Act and give instructions with that object in view to their officials.

I have no doubt that the noble Lord will be able to give a more or less satisfactory answer, but I would suggest that whatever the answer may be the law is not clear on the point, and it is most desirable, in the interests of the monitors as well as other young persons employed in our schools, that the Act of 1918 should be amended so as to bring the whole of them specifically within the range of mational health insurance.

My Lords, I have nothing to complain of as to the way in which the noble Lord has dealt with this question. He has explained so lucidly the provisions of the 1918 Act that I need not go over that ground again. There is undoubtedly a slight difference of opinion as to the interpretation of the Act as now drafted, and I am sure that when the time comes for the amendment of the Insurance Act this particular point will be cleared up. As the noble Lord explained, teachers and pupil teachers are excluded from insurance. There are a certain number of young persons in England, Scotland, and Ireland who are qualifying to become certificated teachers. In England they are called pupil or student teachers—they are prospective teachers. In Scotland they are called junior students, and in Ireland monitors. The circular which the noble Lord read neither mentions "monitors" nor "junior students"; in fact, it merely dealt with prospective teachers under the designation which we use for them in England. It did not refer to the words in the Act, namely, monitors, which is used in Ireland, and junior students, which is the designation used in Scotland.

I am aware that in England there are a certain number of young girls in schools who are called monitors. I am told that in a large number of cases these girls are not prospective teachers, they do not propose to become teachers, and are not counted as part of the teaching staff. It is unfortunate that they should be called monitors, which means something definite. A large number of local authorities have insured these young persons, monitors so-called, realising that they are not prospective teachers, that they are not pupil or student teachers as defined by the Act, but realising also that, unless they are insured, when they leave school and become insured persons they will be at a disadvantage because they will have to go through a waiting period and get reduced benefits. There is no question of the Ministry attempting to compel local authorities to insure these young persons, but we hope that in the interests of these young persons all local authorities will be willing to do so. That is the position. There is no intention, owing to the ambiguity of the Act, to try and apply any compulsion. It is quite possible that in a letter an individual may have put forward his views rather too emphatically. We earnestly hope for the sake of these young persons that local authorities will consent to insure them, although we do not propose to compel them to do so.

As the noble Viscount, on behalf of his Department, has admitted that there is a serious ambiguity in the Act of Parliament, I hope that an early opportunity—perhaps by a one-clause Bill—will be taken to remove that ambiguity.