Now that the time of private Members has become so nearly extinct there are naturally many subjects that Members would like to raise on the Consolidated Fund Bill. There are two matters affecting the Board of Education which I wish to bring before the House. The first is the question of pensions for elementary school teachers. A few days ago I asked the President of the Board of Education whether he would be able to take steps to make the system for English teachers conform to the new system which is being brought out by the Scottish Department. He did not give me a very hopeful reply, simply stating that he would consider the matter and that any alteration would require a Bill. I suppose that so long as the Government insist upon taking up most of the time in altering the Constitution such a Bill is not likely to be brought forward very soon. English teachers labour under two or three serious grievances in this matter. In the first place, the pension itself is quite inadequate to the position which the teachers occupy. Secondly, I do not believe the system is financially sound. Thirdly, there is no provision, as far as I am aware, for the widows of teachers who die before reaching the pensionable age, or at any time during their period of service. That is a very serious blot on the English system, but the most serious I think is the difficulty a teacher finds in obtaining a break-down pension—that is, a pension enabling him to retire before the age of sixty-five on account of ill-health. The difficulty is so great that very few teachers even attempt to get it, and it is very seldom given unless a teacher can prove such serious illness as to make it quite clear that he ought to have retired long before. I know no more pitiable sight than that of a teacher struggling on in a miserable state of health in order to reach the age of sixty-five and qualify for a full pension. It is very painful to managers who feel that their school is suffering, and yet they do not like to dismiss the teacher a year or two before the pensionable age, knowing that he or she may be unable to get a break-down pension. If they take the view that the position of a teacher should appeal to them most, the children must suffer; whereas on the other hand, if they consider the children first the teacher must suffer. I think that our education would be vastly improved if we could have some system of pensions by which a teacher who wished on grounds of health to retire before the age of sixty-five would be able to do so on a pension diminished in proportion to the number of years between the age of retirement and sixty-five. I believe that these improvements are introduced in the Scottish system, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will use his best endeavours with the Prime Minister and the Treasury to secure that before long English teachers may be given the same advantages which we understand the Scottish teachers are shortly to enjoy.The second matter to which I wish to refer is a case of what appears to me to be the very grave oppression by the local authority and the Board of Education of the Towyn Church Schools in Wales. It may be said to be an isolated case, but it is important in itself and still more important if it is any indication of the policy animating the Board of Education in these matters. Let me recall the history of this school. There are two schools in Towyn, a church school and a council school. A short time ago the church school was in a flourishing condition, with eighty or so children on the roll. After the year 1906, owing to the appointment of a teacher who later on, for some reason or another, became very unpopular, the number in the school gradually diminished, and at the beginning of last year it had dwindled to an average attendance of nineteen. The managers were not in a position to dismiss the teacher, although they much wished to do so. There came a time, however, when the teacher actually resigned. His resignation was accepted by the managers, but refused by the local education authority on the very flimsy excuse that he wanted to leave at a month's notice. A subsequent episode in the history of that teacher was that a summons was taken out against him which in some mysterious way was afterwards withdrawn. It became quite clear to the managers that it was the fixed intention of the local education authority to keep that teacher at the school until he diminished the number of scholars sufficiently to allow them to claim that the school was unnecessary. However, on 17th April of last year the teacher absconded. On the following day the managers, who were very glad to have a chance of getting a new teacher, applied to the local education authority to have one in his place. The local education authority refused. I do not believe they had any legal right whatever to do this. It is merely an instance of the hostility with which they perpetually treated this school. When this request was refused, the clergy of the parish set to work to run the school themselves—the only thing they could do until they could find another teacher. They took the school in hand, did the teaching themselves, and raised the number of scholars. The number immediately began to rise as soon as the former teacher went, proving that the diminution in the number of scholars was due to the teacher. The school began to increase in numbers and to improve. No sooner did that occur than the Board of Education thought fit, on 20th June, to remove it from the grant list. I do not think there is any dispute about the history of the school up to this point. Just about this time we had a debate on the subject in this House. The right hon. Gentleman defended his action in refusing the grant to this school. We, the friends of the school, thought at that time his action was very arbitrary in not taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of the school. We also thought that he was either very badly informed of the facts, or that he had not chosen to make use of the information which was at his disposal. We were told at that time that some official of the Board had gone down to inquire into the matter, but that his report was informal; and the right hon. Gentleman absolutely refused to tell us what the report of this official was. To-day I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question which was not reached:—
The right hon. Gentleman gave me an answer which does not seem to me to be very ingenuous. He said that:—"If the action of the Board as to the removal of Towyn Church School from the Grant List last year, and the refusal of recognition of the same school this year, was taken upon the advice of any official of the Depart- ment who had visited the place; and, if so, how many visits were paid to Towyn by such official, and at what date?"
He will not say that he took his action on the advice of his own officials. Therefore we can only assume that the action he took was contrary to their advice, and that that is the reason why he would not lay their reports before us. We thought his action was arbitrary, and was due to bad information or to inattention to the information he had. He made use last year of a somewhat grandiloquent phrase such as occasionally adorns his eloquence in this House. He said to us:—"The decision of the Board in regard to the Towyn Church School has been taken with full regard to the circumstances of the case, and after full consultation with the officers of the Board, who made themselves familiar by personal visits with all the local circumstances."
[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Yes, but he was not asked to go outside the law. It would not have required any trespass of the law to have done what he was asked to do, which was to allow this school to continue on the Grant List in order to see if it could not revive or regain the position from which it had been driven by the action of the local authorities. If he had been better informed on the law which he has to administer he would have known that under Section 9 of the Act of 1902 there is no question of law. It says:— "That a school shall not be considered unnecessary if its numbers are more than thirty." But it does not say that it shall be considered unnecessary if its numbers are less. Therefore, there is no question of going outside the law in this matter. However, we did think the right hon. Gentleman had some ground for supposing that the sudden rise in the numbers attending the school after the teacher had gone were due to some peculiar circumstances, and might not be more than temporary, and we assumed that that was his reason for refusing the grant. I go so far as to say that that would not be other than a tenable position. He had made it tolerably clear to us that that was his view, and when he was asked, I think it was in reply to a question by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Denbigh Boroughs what the remedy was, he said: "To give notice of an application for 'recognition' as a new school," and he added:—"I decline to go outside the law for the Church School Managers of Towyn or anywhere else."
He referred the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University to that answer in the Debate which followed in this House. Acting upon that advice, and in the hope that if things remained the same, and the numbers in the school continued to increase to a reasonable figure, the result they desired would be achieved, the managers set to work with a vigour which everyone must commend to bring this school thoroughly up to date, and to do the best they could for it. They spent money on it, and took a great deal of trouble in order that they might be able to qualify for "recognition," as the right hon. Gentleman held out the hope they might do after a period of time. What did they do? They got a new head teacher, and a new assistant teacher. They spent £340 on buildings, and in making the school thoroughly efficient according to the requirements of the Board. They spent at the rate of £200 per annum on the upkeep of the school, and the latest figure we have of the numbers of the children on the roll are seventy-six—it was seventy-seven last year—and the average attendance is fifty-seven and fifty-nine. How is it, then, that now, when they have applied for recognition this year, the right hon. Gentleman has refused. There is not a single argument on his side which is different from what it was at the time when he first struck the school off the grant list. If he was not going to change his mind why did he lead us to suppose that there was a chance of the school being recognised? Why did he say-that the Board could not anticipate its decision? What could have been done that these managers have not done to make this school efficient and worthy of recognition? We were told last July that the reason these children were beginning to return to the church school was due to the very serious pressure on the part of, I suppose, the clergy? [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Yet the hon. Member opposite claims that there is such a very large preponderance of Nonconformists in Towyn! Is there not? What a brave lot they must be if they are intimidated by a minority! But was there no pressure, I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merionethshire (Mr. Haydn Jones), brought to bear on the other side in order to induce the children to remain at, the council school or to go back to the council school? Apart from the pressure which the hon. Member's friends did exercise in this matter, the very natural fact that the children going to this school were no longer eligible for county scholarships is in itself pressure in the opposite direction to which the hon. Gentleman objects. He is paying a very poor compliment to the people of Towyn if he thinks that pressure on one side or the other is going to make a difference to them in doing whatever they think best for the education and welfare of their children. The argument of pressure is nonsense from people who claim to be in a huge majority. I do not know what their majority is; but at any rate they claim to have a very large majority, and the argument of pressure is absolute drivel. What are the arguments and the reasons which the right hon. Gentleman advances for refusing the school this time? The only reasons he could have under Section 9 of the Act of 1902 are that the Board of Eucation, in considering whether a new school is necessary or not, have to consider the economy of the rates, and the wishes of the parents, and the secular education of the district." In respect to the wishes of the parents the matter stands exactly where it did a year ago. I will just take one question which I think is the basis of the right hon. Gentleman's refusal, more, perhaps, than any other, the economy of the rates. What has this economy been? The county council has spent £2,000 on enlargement. If he had not struck this church school off, the accommodation could have been easily found in it. Is there any economy in spending £2,000 that you can get other people out of their pockets to spend for necessary school accommodation? The hon. Gentleman the Member for Merionethshire last year, I remember, spoke as if it was a great economy in teachers. I think that was the argument he set up against the expense of building. I think I am right in interpreting what he said?"It is quite impossible for me to anticipate the decision of the Board on any such proposal."
But there have to be teachers in whichever school it is. Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is according to the code of educational morality in Merionethshire to put seventy-six more children into another school and not add a single teacher to the list? Either he must have a much too great staff in the other school, or else he is going to make the classes very much too big. The wishes of the parents I take to be the most important point in Section 9 of the Act. How has the right hon. Gentleman met that point? The wishes of the parents are obvious and perfectly clear. They would not send their children to this church school if they did not wish to do so owing to the disadvantages which it possesses at present. Their wishes are perfectly plain. Why are they ignored? What did the right hon. Gentleman say last year in the Debate?—
Does he not think that now? Does he not think that this is "the" very important point? Is not it perfectly clear that if the parents send their children to this school that it is better than any petition? And what did the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merionethshire say upon the subject. He said that the withdrawal by the parents of their children had proved to the local education authority that the schools are necessary. Does not the return of those children at the wishes of their parents prove that the school is necessary now. Hon. Gentlemen cannot have it both ways. They cannot use an argument one minute and repudiate it the next. The question is: Are the wishes of the parents to be considered? Apparently last year they were to be considered, but this year they are not. I for one hold the view that a variety of schools in any district is an advantage to secular education. I should like to refer the Government to their own action on the subject of single school areas. Members will remember the "McKenna Grants," as they were called, when a grant of £100,000 was made by the country out of the taxpayers' money to originate new schools in areas where there were only denominational schools, and where the parents of thirty children wished to have an undenominational school, as well as to have a fair share of the Grant for £30,000 which has been spent in Wales, and very properly I think. I think the single school areas create the great evils and difficulties we have in the education question, and I sympathise entirely with the desire that there should be the same opportunity for having denominational and undenominational education. But how can they apply that doctrine when it refers to undenominational education, and not when it refers to denominational education. Suppose in a town there is only a church school now, and that the parents of thirty children demand an undenominational school, and that these parents have spent, not the taxpayers' money, but their own money and the money of their fellow denominationalists in improving their school and keeping it up without any assistance out of the rates and taxes, would not the Radical papers of Wales beat with chivalry, so characteristic of Wales, and with the admiration they felt for the gallant efforts to resist tyranny which was being imposed upon them. These thirty children and their parents would have a tower of marble erected to them, and every corner of Wales would ring with accounts of the oppression under which they were suffering, and the gallantry with which they were standing up against oppression and spending their time and money in the interests of their consciences. What is the position now. Not thirty children, but seventy-six children, want to have a denominational school. They paid for the building, which is now completely up to date, and they are paying for the teachers, yet they are not to be recognised by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education. I regard that as a case of the grossest unfairness. If the "McKenna Grants" were to encourage dual schools it is certainly in the interests of the tax-payers if you can get them built out of private money. But that is not the whole extent of the tyranny from which this school is suffering. There was up to the present time a charity called the Lewis Lloyd Charity, a portion of which amount of £17 went to the managers of this particular church school. What has happened now? I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that this was not originally an education charity at all. It was purely an eleemosynary charity, but under the scheme of the Board of Education it was administered as an educational endowment. The Board of Education at this very moment are complaining bitterly that they are unable to meet the great demands made upon them to make schemes for endowment all over the country. Yet, in spite of this heavy pressure supposed to be going on, and the congestion of work at the Board of Education, they manage to find time to introduce a new scheme this year which has only laid upon the Table to divert the one remaining endowment this unfortunate school has, and to give the proceeds of it to the other school. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman remembers the speech he made a day or two ago about the receivers of stolen goods. Perhaps he will explain whether there is any justice in taking away under the scheme of the Board of Education and using the judicial powers of the Board of Education, or political bias, as he is doing in taking away from this school the £17 left to it as an endowment. I have seen the scheme, and the scheme is to give it in scholarships to children under thirteen in elementary schools."Then there comes the very important point, the wishes of the parents. I Bay the parents will not send their children to this school." That is ten times better than to get petitions which can be signed anyhow."
I shall reply upon that a little later on, and will meet what the hon. Gentleman says upon the point.
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman thinks he can meet me. I shall be most grateful if he can show it is satisfactory, but he will not meet our opposition at all if he says these scholarships might be held by children in certified efficient schools. It goes a little way, but it does not do anything like justice. He is taking away money that was enjoyed hitherto by this school and giving it either to certified efficient schools or to elementary schools, which practically mean this school is not to be recognised, and that all the money will go to the council school and the local educational authorities. The only way he can really do justice in this matter, and the only way he can meet the case of the church school is to recognise it now as he ought to have done before. If he will not do that he is making it plain to the world that if thirty Nonconformist children demanded a school the taxpayers would have to build it for them, but if seventy-six Church of England children demand a school and pay for it themselves and built if they are not to be recognised by the Board of Education. If that is their policy I say our hopes of coming to a settlement of the education question will be long deferred.There are grievances, and I always admitted them on both sides, and I have always hoped for the time when these grievances could be redressed and justice done all round, but if political bias and animosity and vindictiveness are to be shown by the Education Department then I say good-bye for a long time to any fair hope of settlement. Let the right hon. Gentleman at once take up this question in a spirit of peace. We have heard a great deal about peace, and we are very glad to hear it, but let us have peace in the education world, and let us allow education to go along its way without political bias and platform oratory, and then I doubt not that with a conciliatory spirit and a desire for peace there will be very little difficulty in settling this question which is now treated not so much as a question of education as a political question.
The only occasion upon which I addressed the House before was in July last when we were discussing the very same question which is before us now. I congratulate the hon. Member opposite on the moderation with which he has presented his case. I find no fault whatever with the way he presented it, but I differ absolutely from the conclusion to which he came, and in order that the House may understand the question thoroughly I also will have to travel over some of the ground I covered in July last. Towyn is a small town of some 1,200 or 1,300 inhabitants. There are two elementary schools, the school in question, and the provided school to which the hon. Member referred. The Church of England school was established about 1717, and for many years it was the only school in the parish. In passing may I state that the hon. Gentleman opposite has fallen into an error quite unconsciously in stating that it enjoys only one charity. If he will refer to the Return of Charities he will find that it enjoys two others, both denominational in character, amounting to £16 12s., in consideration for which twenty-two poor children were educated free of cost. In spite of that endowment and in spite of this school being the only one in the parish, it did not afford the education which the inhabitants of the parish expected of it.
At what time was that?
I am coming to that now. In the Report of 1847 the following description is given of the school. The Report says:—
And this is a church school."It appears from the statement of the master of the school that no instruction is given in Holy Scripture cither by himself or any other person, the Bible being used only as a handbook for instruction in the art of reading, and the children are not assembled or dismissed with prayer."
The Report goes on to say:—"The Master is fifty-nine years of age, and was formerly a drum-major in the Militia."
The existing building was erected about 1861. There is no trust deed, but in 1879 the Charity Commissioners appointed the vicar and churchwardens and two others as trustees. The inhabitants of the parish were not satisfied with the education given in this church school, and in 1862 a British school was erected, which was transferred to the School Board in 1875. From 1862 there were side by side two competing schools in this small parish. Let us see how they fared. Hon. Members opposite did not see the connection between 1847 and the present day. Let us come a little nearer the present time. In 1900 there were sixty-nine children in average attendance in the Church of England school and 130 in attendance in the provided school. In 1901 there were fifty-eight in attendance in the Church of England and 144 in the provided school. I wish to correct a mistake made by the hon. Gentleman opposite who referred to the appointment of the head teacher in 1906."He has been thirty years a schoolmaster, but was never trained. He speaks English ungrammatically. He is labouring under a painful disorder which the Vicar informed the Commissioner was the reason why he was allowed to remain."
What I said was that the head teacher became unpopular in 1906.
That teacher was appointed in 1902.
Yes, I know he was.
The average attendance in that year in the Church of England school was sixty-one, and in the council school 149. I do not want to go into details, but I can give the figures for every intervening year if necessary. In 1906 the average attendance in the Church of England school was forty-four and in the council school 206; in 1908 the attendance was thirty-one in the Church of England school and 236 in the provided school; in 1909 in the church school the attendance was twenty and in the council school 243. The House will observe that the average attendance in the non-provided school fell from sixty-nine in 1900 to twenty in 1909, and during the same period the average attendance in the council school rose from 130 to 243. The parents voluntarily withdrew their children from time to time and transferred them from the non-provided school to the council school. It was not a question of withdrawal all in one day, but they went from time to time. I wish to emphasise one other point. The parents did not withdraw their children on account of the unpopularity of the teacher at all, and I traverse that statement absolutely. They withdrew them simply because they knew that the education given in the council school, where there was a teacher for every standard throughout the school, was better. They knew perfectly well that the children would have a far better education in a school where there was a teacher to every standard than they would be likely to receive in a school where the standards had to be grouped, and where there were only two teachers for the lot.
Why did the local authority not staff the school properly?
They kept the same number of teachers as were there when the Church had the absolute control of their own school. Does the hon. Member opposite dispute that?
No, I do not dispute it; but you must compare the two dates.
The hon. Member must listen without interrupting.
The head teacher was appointed in 1902. He was no stranger to the managers, because he was the head teacher of a school within the county before he was appointed, and they knew all about him. I wish to observe here that the decrease in the average attendance of the children at this school had commenced before the head teacher was appointed, and it is unfair to that teacher to saddle him with the decrease in the number. The hon. Member referred to a charge of drunkenness against this head teacher, and said that this charge had been made in the year 1907. I was not able at the time to recall the circumstances of this case to mind, but subsequently I made inquiries into the whole business, and what do I find? I have here a letter which distinctly states that the head teacher on the 21st April, 1908, and not in 1907 as was stated, and when the school was closed, was in Dolgelly, in the company of a magistrate and a Noble Lord, the three having started from Towyn together. The two gentlemen accompanying the schoolmaster were members of the same church at Towyn, and were interested in the same school, and if there was drunkenness at all, you would naturally expect them to have informed their own managers of this charge. What do I find? That the chief constable, after making careful inquiries into the charge, found that the Noble Lord I have referred to and the magistrate were quite prepared to come forward and prove that this man was not in the least under the influence of drink.The hon. Member opposite charges me with having done something in this matter, but I should like to know what I did. Here is the letter from the chief constable. It was not a question of drunkenness, and it could not have affected the decrease in the numbers which began before 1908, and indeed long before this man was appointed at all. Strange to say, in a letter which the hon. Member for Denbigh Boroughs addressed to "The Times" he said that the managers themselves knew nothing of the charge of drunkenness, and that it was withdrawn. If it is true that the managers knew nothing at all about the charge, how could it affect the attendance of the school children? Another point was made in July last by the hon. Member representing the division. He said at that time that the decrease was largely due to the fact that the local authority had refused to appoint an additional teacher when the number in attendance at the school was forty-four. I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to be unfair; the teacher left on the 31st of December, 1907. The average attendance for that month was 26.3. I put it to the hon. Member, does he maintain that it was the duty of the local authority to appoint an additional teacher with only twenty-six children in the school? If so, where does the economy of the rates come in which the hon. Member and his friends are always preaching whenever an effort is made to provide accommodation for the children? Nearly £5 per head was being spent upon those children, and would the hon. Member like us to spend £6 per head? Would he call that economy? I have traced the reduction in attendance down to 1909, and now I come to 1910. On the 17th April the head teacher left without notice, not on account of any charge of drunkenness, but on account of domestic trouble. I daresay the hon. Member knows all about it. The average attendance for the eleven months prior to his departure was only fifteen of those scholars who had attained the age of five years. On the 18th April the representatives of the church called upon the parents of the church children attending the council school and asked them to withdraw their children. An account of this was reported in a church organ. As a result of this the number in the church school increased to fifty-one. On the 21st April the local authority appealed to the Board of Education, inviting them to declare the school unnecessary, and on the 16th June the Board of Education complied with their request and declared the school to be unnecessary. Let me say that before the appointed day the Board had requested the managers to erect a classroom. In the year 1904–5 the local education authority had also pressed the managers to erect this classroom. There were fifty in average attendance at the school at the time, and they had the necessary funds in hand. On the 7th February, 1905, the vicar of the parish wrote a letter to the local education authority as follows:
The hon. Baronet, the Member for Oxford University (Sir W. Anson) was then at the Board of Education, and he decided, after considering the appeal of the managers, that the classroom should be built. Notwithstanding that the class-room in July of last year remained unbuilt. It is true that it has been built now. In view of the failure of these managers to keep this school in a proper state of repair, in view of the fact that there were only fifteen children in attendance when the appeal was made to the Board of Education—there had only been fifteen in attendance up to the time when these children were withdrawn in one afternoon—could the Board of Education come to any other decision than to declare the school to be unnecessary? Let me turn to the other school for a moment. The Board of Education had for some years called upon the local authority to provide additional accommodation at the school. This demand was due to the increasing number, and a desire to regard this school as a practising school for teachers. The moment the local authority appealed to the Board of Education to declare the church school to be unnecessary, we find the managers of that school, as a reason for the continuation of their school on the grant list, urging the Board of Education to continue it because there was not sufficient accommodation at the council school. The moment it was struck off the list of publicly recognised schools they turn round and oppose the local authority when they endeavour to provide the additional school accommoda- tion which was required. There is not much consistency in that. Either the school accommodation was necessary or it was not. On the one hand they were opposing the provision of necessary accommodation, and on the other hand they expected their own school to be recognised. The additions to the school have now been completed, and the school will be occupied in a very short time. In order to help the managers to make a case against the additions being made to the council school on the 30th June last they issued a notice asking the Board of Education to agree to recognise their school. I do not think at that time the managers really believed that the Board of Education would sanction the additions to the council school. The additions were sanctioned, and the appeal of the managers for the re-recognition of the school was refused. To-day, I take it, hon. Members opposite are really questioning the propriety of the Board of Education in declining to re-recognise the church school, which has now accommodation for 120. The Board of Education, in the determination of a question of this kind, have to have regard to three things. First, the interests of secular education; secondly, the wishes of the parents; and, lastly, the economy of the rates. Let us look at the question of secular education. Does anybody deny that the children will receive far better education in the council school, where there is a teacher for every standard, than in a school where there are only two teachers, and where of necessity they have to group the standards together? I do not think anybody will deny that for one moment. Then, as to the question of the wishes of the parents, the hon. Member, in my opinion, is under a misapprehension as to the number thirty. According to my reading of the Act of 1902, the number thirty only applies to the determining of the question whether an existing school is necessary or not; and it has nothing to do with a new school. The Board of Education have an absolute right to refuse to recognise a new school, even if there are 500 children. I maintain that the only proper way of determining what the wishes of the parents really are is to look at what they did when they had absolute freedom to do just as they liked. They withdrew their children gradually. The hon. Member made reference to certain schools which were recognised and which had only thirty in them. There is all the difference in the world between those schools and this. In this case there are two schools in the district side by side, and church and nonconformist school-children have their choice. We find the church children leaving their own school and coming to the council school. That is quite different from the case of a school in a single-school area."In connection with the two suggestions—the proposed new classroom and the alteration of the present lighting—we have made an appeal to the Board of Education, considering the former unnecessary with our present small number of children."
They have come back.
How did they come back, and how are they kept there? I can say a good deal not only as to how they came back, but also as to how they are kept there. I maintain the wishes of the parents are to be interpreted by what they did when there was no pressure of any kind put upon them. The hon. Member must remember there are more denominations than one in Wales. It is not a question of Nonconformity and the Church of England. I take it he would say that, if the Calvinistic Methodists have thirty children they have a right to claim a school. The Congregationalists and the Wesleyans would have the same right. Let us go one step further. If the Roman Catholics withdrew thirty children they would have the right to claim a school, where would the ratepayers come in then? The hon. Member said there is an average attendance of about fifty, but they are not all Church of England children. He would not, I suppose, count poor Nonconformists who have been induced to withdraw their children from the council school and to send them there. He would not say, I presume, they sent them there in order to have them educated in the principles of the Church of England. There are at least thirteen of that class. There are one or two children who are not resident in the district, and there are, in addition, children whose fathers may be Nonconformist and whose mothers members of the Church of England, or whose mothers may be Nonconformist and whose fathers may be Church of England. Surely the hon. Member would not count those. It is not a question entirely of children of the Church of England being withdrawn.I now come to the question of the economy of the rates. The hon. Member has stated that the council school has been enlarged at the cost of about £2,000. I agree, and the charges may be £105 or £110 per annum on the ratepayers in consequence. Does the hon. Member think it would be more economical to carry on the Church of England school? At present they are paying £140 per annum in salaries, and, if the school were taken over by the local authority, the first demand would be for extra staff, and the cost of the school would be at least £200 per annum. The hon. Member, in dealing with the question of the Lewis Lloyd Charity forgot one very important point. Lewis Lloyd, in 1691, devised to the Overseers of the Parish of Towyn, and not to any church school—I am quoting the words of the actual will—certain lands
In 1855, there being not sufficient objects of the charity within the said Parcel of Isyr Afon, the trustees considered it desirable, in accordance with the recommendation of the Charity Commissioners, that the income of the charity should be applied in establishing or supporting schools in the parish of Towyn. The then existing schools were the British school at Pennal, the national or church school at Towyn, and a school raised by subscription, but now a church school, at Aberdovey. In 1862 the vicars and churchwardens were appointed trustees, and the income divided in equal parts between the three aforesaid schools,"to the use of the poor of that part of the parish of Towyn which is called Parcel Isyr Afon, the same to be distributed justly and conscientiously yearly for ever among the said poor without favour or partiality."
How can the children "of all classes of the said two parishes "get what they are entitled to if children of the Church of England only are educated at this school? What right has any denominational school to a charity left for the benefit of the parish as a whole? What does the new scheme which the hon. Member charged the Board of Education with being in such a hurry to issue propose? The Board of Education, as a matter of fact, issued this scheme some months ago, long before there was any talk of asking them to declare this school unnecessary. It is not at all a question of trying to hit the school when it is down. The scheme simply proposes that the money left for the poor of Isyr Afon, and which by an order of the Charity Commissioners was to be given to the poor children of the parish indiscriminately and not for any sectarian purposes, should be used for the benefit of the children themselves. There is no hardship inflicted upon anybody, not the slightest. That scheme was drafted by the joint Education Committee of the county of Merioneth and not by the Board of Education. When it was drafted by the joint committee it was not intended to deprive the national school of its benefits, and I believe the Education Committee was doing a genuine service to these children in asking the Board of Education to publish a scheme. I am all for educational peace, but not peace at any price. That is the great difference between us. These two schools, which have existed side by side in one small parish, have had equal chances, and children have been withdrawn from the church school and sent to the provided school managed by the local education authority. The hon. Member practically blames the children for going. They went themselves of their own accord, and they came back under pressure and remain under pressure to-day. The hon. Member shakes his head, but I know the parents, I know the children, I know the managers, and I know the whole history of the case, and hon. Gentlemen opposite know nothing at all about it. The only thing they say is that it ought to be run for Church purposes. I am not for Church purposes, and I am not for Nonconformist purposes, I am entirely for educational purposes. I have fought a rather strenuous fight on behalf of education in the county of Merioneth, and I am not ashamed. I hold strong views, but I respect the views of the hon. Member, and I hope he will respect mine. I have always fought for education quite apart from denomination, and I am as conscientious in stating that it is in the interests of the children that this church school should not be recognised as I have been in any public duty I have performed. Has anybody ever found fault with the Biblical syllabus of the council school? If the master was unpopular, why did not the managers make representations to the education authorities. If there was any unpopularity, I believe it was brought about in connection with the church and not in connection with education. I say that in view of the whole facts as I have stated them, and in view of the facts already within the knowledge of the Board of Education, the Board could not have come to any other decision. It would be absolutely unfair to expect the Board, under the circumstances, and having regard to the fact that these children were all on one afternoon brought down from the other school, to reopen this question and to declare this school to be necessary. I am glad the matter has been brought forward a second time to be ventilated, as I am never afraid of discussing a question of this kind in public."for the education of children of all classes of the said two parishes."
I cannot think the hon. Member has established his case as completely and as satisfactorily as in his own estimation he thinks he has done. He took us back to the year 1847, when the school was in a deplorable state, and he seems to have connected that in some way with incapacity on the part of the management of the school. I would rather get nearer to the time when undoubtedly the attendance at the church school had declined. I can perfectly well understand that with a population largely Nonconformist, the tendency was for the council school to grow and for the church school to diminish, but it does not follow that because the attendance at the church school dropped from sixty-nine in 1900 to forty-four in 1906 therefore the wishes of the parents of those forty-four children are to be ignored and the school is to be treated as a decadent school with the local authority awaiting an opportunity to close it. In 1908 a teacher was appointed, and his conduct seems to have brought about the entire collapse of the school.
He was appointed in 1902.
I think this particular teacher was appointed in 1908.
No; in 1902.
At any rate, there was a steady decline in the school which dated from the appointment of that teacher.
From before that.
The school appears to have had sixty-one children in regular attendance in 1902. In 1909 the attendance had dropped to twenty. The teacher absconded in 1910, and the numbers immediately rose. The school at the present time contains seventy-six children. One must connect the circumstances one with another, and must see that the local authority neglected its plain duty in failing to dismiss a teacher so incompetent to conduct the education of the children. They neglected their plain duty in that respect, and that, no doubt, completely explains why the attendance at the church school dropped to the figure of twenty. Now it has risen to seventy-six, and what pretence can there be for saying that the Board of Education should not recognise, that school? The hon. Gentleman said that in 1905 the Board of Education directed that the buildings should be enlarged, and that that direction was not carried out. I quite admit that the managers did not carry out the instructions which were given when I was at the Board of Education, and that they did not carry them out for five years. But I think there was a very good reason why building operations in church schools all over the country were at a standstill, because for several years after the right hon. Gentleman and his friends came into office every year saw a new Education Bill, by which, in one form or another, the property of the church school was affected, and in these circumstances it was only reasonable that managers of church schools should have been somewhat chary in laying out money on building. I am aware that local authorities in many parts all over the country were generous in their treatment of voluntary schools under these exceptional circumstances. I do not think it can be laid to the charge of these schools, under these uncertain circumstances and in view of the difficulties occasioned by this incompetent teacher and by his disappearance in 1910, that they did not put up the buildings necessary for the school. But in 1910 they were put up. The buildings are now adequate, the attendance is more than adequate, and what reason is there for saying that the school is unnecessary?The hon. Member suggests that a certain number of Nonconformist children are driven to this school under pressure. I should like to know what is the nature of the pressure brought to bear on children in a district where the population is predominantly Nonconformist which would induce the parents to transfer their children from the council school to the Church of England school. It seems to me that it is ridiculous to talk about the oppression of Nonconformist children in a population where Nonconformity is predominant, and to tell us that that explains the increase in the attendance at the council school, and gives the Board of Education an adequate reason for declining to recognise the church school. I shall be anxious, when the President of the Board of Education comes to deal with the treatment of this school by the Board, to know how he can explain when you have this school with a large number of children in attendance, fulfilling the demands of the Board of Education by the erection of the necessary buildings and other conditions justifying its recognition, how it is that the Board of Education, relying on the action of the local authorities, are oppressing and doing injustice to a Church of England school. I admit that I have no special knowledge on this subject. My hon. Friends the Members for Oswestry (Mr. Bridgeman), and Denbigh Boroughs (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), are able to say more upon it. I should like to refer to the discussion which took place on Tuesday last on the circular which was brought to the notice of the President of the Board of Education. The right hon. Gentleman repudiated the action of his inspector. I think the House was somewhat under the impression that this action was only taken when the inspector had retired, and that it was merely a passing thing which did not come to the notice of the President, and which he was entitled to disapprove and repudiate. Looking at the extract from the circular quoted last Tuesday, I should say it was not a passing thing in the matter of policy; it was a circular which was sent out in consequence of a return made to inquiries dating as far back as June, 1908. These were questions addressed to the inspectors, and the inquiries are set out in the appendix to the circular. They show clearly a desire on the part of the Chief Inspector—and I do not blame him for it—to ascertain what was the quality of the inspectors of the local education authorities. The whole tendency of the questions was clearly of a critical character, and it seemed there was an expectation that the inspectors of the local education authorities would not be found to be entirely adequate to the labours they were called upon to discharge. The circular was an expression on the part of the Chief Inspector of his opinion that his anticipations had been fully realised, and that the local authority inspectors were not adequate—at any rate that some were not, although some were. I quite admit that the terms of that circular, having regard to the relations which must prevail between the Board of Education and the local authority, and between the inspectors to the Board and the inspectors to the local authorities, were injudicious in a high degree. But I should like to get rid of an impression entertained by many on both sides of this House that we do not think that a liberal education developed to the extent of obtaining a university degree is not a very desirable qualification for an inspector, whether a local authority inspector or a Government inspector. There was a good deal of talk about the democratic character of education. But, after all, democracy and education do not seem to stand in very close relationship to one another. The thing is to get the best education you can and to get it from the people best qualified to impart it. I do not know why the Government and the local authorities are at great pains not merely to support old universities, but to create new universities if the possession of a university degree does not carry with it the stamp of a more liberal education than that which is obtained by a person who may have gone through some portion of secondary school education. I should like to say at once I cannot think that a man who has qualified as a teacher in an elementary school is therefore qualified to be an inspector. A person whose education is limited in that way, and who then devotes the rest of his life to the teaching of others is often unconscious of his own limitations, and he is apt to suppose that what he does not know is not knowledge. The university man has always been brought in contact with a wider range of knowledge and is, therefore, more conscious of his own limitations He is aware that he, as well as others, has something to learn. I admit others may have more to learn, but, on the whole, the principle on which the statements in the circular were based commend themselves to any one who is earnestly desirous of seeing the education of the country properly conducted and the inspection of the schools carried out in the best possible manner I do not say anything as to the contemptuous tone taken as to the local authorities and their inspectors. This circular was issued by a gentleman who has served the Board of Education for a great many years. He served it with success, distinction, and zeal. I do not think he deserved that complete repudiation which he appears to have had at the hands of the President of the Board he had so long and so loyally served. I do not believe that the service of this country can be successfully conducted if those who carry it on and get apparently little credit for it are liable to be thrown over in the almost contemptuous tone in which the President of the Board of Education threw over the Chief Inspector on Tuesday evening. It would be, to my mind, a bad day for the service of the country if the political chiefs cannot depend on the loyal and zealous services of their subordinates, and if those subordinates cannot in turn trust their political chiefs to stand up for them in the place where they have no opportunity of replying—that is, the House of Commons.
I regret that the hon. Baronet who has just sat down should have suggested that I referred to Mr. Holmes in the Debate in this House on Tuesday in a contemptuous tone. I am not an authority on tones, but certainly I know what I said, and I have carefully read what I said at the time, and what I repudiated then I have no intention of altering now. I repudiated the expressions in the circular which I said did not convey a fair impression of the true policy of the Board, but I did that without casting aspersions on the character of Mr. Holmes. Mr. Holmes used in that circular language which, I think, was most unfortunate, and I do greatly regret that the publication of that single circular should have given the impression outside, and very largely to hon. Members, that Mr. Holmes had not served the Board and his country faithfully during the time that he was chief inspector and before. As the hon. Baronet well knows, his services have been of the greatest value to the public elementary teachers of this country who are described in such unfortunate terms in that memorandum, and his services to the public elementary teachers were so well acknowledged by them that on his retirement last year strong phrases of praise were used in regard to Mr. Holmes. I have known Mr. Holmes for some time, and I can say that a man more free from personal snobbishness or swagger I do not know. I think it is true to say he has always been a true friend of the elementary school teachers, and I think it is unjust to him to set against his great services some expressions of opinion in the memorandum which certainly are not a fair crown to a record of which the Board of Education and the Board's staff have been proud. But that is quite a different matter to saying that" the expressions of that memorandum are expressions which I adopted. I never adopted them. I did not see them at the time that they were published, and as I explained they did not and do not express the policy of the Board. On Tuesday I said so and I said so emphatically, and it might be as well that I should explain again that what appeared in this memorandum was an expression of Mr. Holmes' views. I would like to point out that it will be an evil day for education when we prevent the inspectors of the Board from expressing their own views freely, and in discussing their opinions among themselves. Let them express their own views freely. If they did not it would tend to a wooden type of official. What I object to is the expression of their personal views as deciding the policy of the Board. The policy of the Board is arrived at after hearing all of their views thrashed out from time to time. It has been the practice of the Board's inspectors for some years past to meet regularly and in their gatherings to discuss with great freedom the opinions which are held by various officials. The chief inspectors have been the subject of severe criticism at some of those gatherings by their juniors and the juniors have come freely under the castigation of their chiefs. I know of more than one inspector who thoroughly enjoyed an intellectual trouncing he got from his junior in regard to the views he held.All that is for the efficiency of the inspectorial staff and for organisation that is not wooden. This circular or memorandum has been declared to give the policy of the Board and to give advice; but it does not give advice. It merely expresses a personal view. Had it not been made public no harm would be done, but I must recognise that now that it has been given the utmost publicity, both in this House and outside, a new situation has been created. I agree with the hon. Baronet that once these expressions have been given wide publicity they must create a certain amount of ill-feeling among elementary school teachers and among officials of local authorities which must lead to misunderstanding and friction. In view of the misunderstandings to which this document may give rise and owing to the fact that the wide publicity which has been given to it is calculated to hurt the feelings of teachers and also the feelings of the officials of the local education authorities, with all of whom the Board are most anxious to work on friendly and most harmonious terms, and as some Members of Parliament here and people outside quite erroneously suppose it conveys an expression of the policy of the Board, I have directed that all copies of the circular which may be in existence shall be called in and they shall be returned by such of the inspectors who have received copies if they are in existence. I cannot do more than that, and in dismissing this subject I must say I do regret that first of all a late Secretary of State and then the Leader of the Opposition should have treated so lightly the publication of official documents which are marked "strictly confidential." It is suggested by the Leader of the Opposition that the first publication was not made by the hon. Member for Chelsea, but I have looked up all the newspapers which mention the subject and I find the first mention made in the public Press was a question put by the hon. Member for Chelsea. That is the first time that a reference was made to it in the public Press, and I think anybody who has been at the head of a great office must know that serious harm would be done if an impression should go abroad that a prominent Member of this House sanctioned the view that no harm was done by Civil servants and others in not respecting the confidential nature of "strictly confidential" documents of State Departments. It is a necessity of administration that there must be many communications which are not intended for the full light of day, and I would ask the hon. Baronet himself, who said some strong things on this subject on Tuesday, whether he is not of opinion that there are a large number of documents circulating in the Department over which I preside which are not intended for public discussion, and which would lose their value if they were made public, and if he does not recognise that any laxity on the part of the staff in a great Department in respect to the privacy of these documents might lead to very serious harm in so far as it tends to menace freedom of discussion. I have a serious view in regard to the disclosure of official secrets, if this can be called one, and in so far as there is any disclosure in the future of any document the blame will not lie with me but with those who hold laxer views. I pass from that topic, which has caused a certain amount of unnecessary heat, but which I hope will cause no unnecessary harm. I will do my best to make the teachers and the local authorities concerned feel that on the part of the political heads of the Department there is no desire to place them at an unfair disadvantage. If they read an answer that I gave to the hon. Gentleman the junior Member for Sunderland, which they will find in the Votes, they will find a true demonstration of the policy which I have adopted with regard to the appointment of inspectors under the Board, and they will see that the proportion of these appointments from amongst elementary teachers has risen every year since I have had control of the Board. That is the best explanation of my policy I can offer. Now I turn to the question of the Towyn school. The Towyn school was taken off the Grant List last year. At that time it was a dwindling school, with a very small school population, and now the proposal is made that the school should come under the Board as a new school. The hon. Member for Merionethshire pointed out quite rightly that the Act of 1902 treats the starting of a new school on an entirely different basis to the taking of a school off the Grant List. For instance, the average attendance of thirty refers purely to schools which are taken off the Grant List. When one is considering a new school and considering its necessities one has to take into account, not an average attendance of twenty or thirty or, indeed, any number, but one has to consider three things which are laid down by Section 9 of the Act of 1902. In that case I have to have regard to the necessities of secular instruction in the district, to the wishes of the parents as to the education of their children, and then to the economy of the rates. Not any one of those are excluded in favour of the other two, but all three have to be considered, and that is actually what has happened on the part of the Board of Education with respect to Towyn School. We have considered the wishes of the parents, and I am bound to confess that there appear to be more desire on their part this year than there was last year. The increase has not been much, but there has been an increase. But when I turn to the other two questions I find that the council school has an excellent equipment: it is one of the best in Merionethshire, and it is used for training in respect of the training college at Aberyst-with. Then I understand that very large sums of money have been spent by the local authorities in improving the building, and if that is to be thrown away and one-half or one-third of the school places are empty, it must mean a great loss of money, and these improvements were embarked upon before the Towyn school was taken off the list. They have made this school a thoroughly efficient one, and, as I say, it is a practising school for Aberyst-with University. I turn to the question of education. It is not only the best staffed school and the best constructed in the district, but it must always be a better school than a little school with a very small staff. Having considered these three points, I came to the conclusion that the Towyn Church school was an unnecessary school, and I treated it as a new proposal, and declined to recognise it as a necessary school. To that decision I must adhere. Now I come to the question of the Lewis Lloyd Charity. The scheme was published in November, 1909, and the old Church of England school was not removed from the annual grant list till June, 1910, and this was assisted by the charity-I have asked that a scheme should be published, and it has been published. We are prepared to hear objections, and many have been made to it, and any I receive will be considered before any decision is arrived at. The objection as to a certified efficient school has not yet reached me, but I am prepared to consider that point. I in no way wish that any school entitled should be deprived of the benefits of the scheme, and if these steps are taken I shall certainly do all that I can to meet the wishes of the hon. Gentleman and to get over the feeling of hardship which is at present experienced in regard to the Towyn Church of England school. As to any new proposal it was necessary it should be put forward on the merits, and, judging of it in accordance with the Act of 1902, it is impossible for me to say that the school is a necessary school.
I regret very much that the President of the Board of Education had to reply at this early hour of the evening before we have had time to put quite fully the appeal which we had to make to them on the matter of Towyn Church school.And it being a Quarter-past Eight, and there being private business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.