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Mr Hugh BIRLEY, M.P. BEFORE an attempt is made to answer the question implied as the subject of the following paper, viz., The Relations of the Church to School Boards, it may be convenient to clear the ground by briefly considering the position now occupied by School Boards in the national system of administration, and the work that they have accomplished. The Elementary Education Act of 1870 was passed,- 1st, To provide a sufficient supply of school buildings; 2d, To separate the religious instruction from the secular instruction, and to withdraw the former from the inspection of the Education Department.
The formation of School Boards is an expedient adopted and incorporated into the Act to supply deficiencies in school accommodation, " to supplement but not supersede” voluntary agencies, to insure the regular methodical performance of the requirement of the Act throughout the country wherever indolence or poverty had occasioned neglect. (Section 6), and to facilitate compulsory byelaws.
Although in theory School Boards are not essential to the Act, the public school accommodation in 1870 was manifestly inadequate to existing needs, and in far greater proportion below the rigid standard prescribed by the Act; so that during the debates in Parliament it was always assumed that some School Boards must of necessity be constituted.
For the formation of School Boards four initiatory methods were provided :
1. In the metropolis a School Board is prescribed by the Act (Sect. 37); 2. In municipal boroughs on the application of the Town Council (12); 3. In other districts on the application of the ratepayers (12);
4. In districts having an insufficient supply of schools, a Board is compulsorily formed by directions from the Education Department (10).
As regards the metropolis, it seems to have been intended to remove all occasion of controversy whether a School Board should or should not be formed; as regards municipal boroughs and other districts that might apply for Boards, Mr Forster explained the views of the Government in the Committee on the Bill
“He was aware,” he said, “that it was a blot in the bill, that because a district had provided the means of education, therefore it was not to have the same power of compelling attendance as a district that had not provided the means of sufficient education. ... After carefully considering all the difficulties of the case, the Government were prepared to take this step. While they would not force a district to provide a School Board unless it was proved deficient in school provision, they were willing to allow such districts to do so; and he proposed to introduce words to enable a School Board to be formed at once on application being made by those who, if a School Board were necessary, would elect that Board. If in a borough a Town Council wished for a School Board they would only have to apply to the Education Department for it, and there would be the same power in the rural parishes.”
It will thus be seen that School Boards were a subordinate object in the Education Act, and only necessary to remedy the inadequate provision of school accommodation.
Let us now inquire what progress has been made since the Act became law in the supply of schools and the formation of School Boards.
1. The supply of elementary schools.
From the latest report of the Committee of Council the following paragraph (pp. 9, 10) is extracted. — “School supply.-We find that the schools in England and Wales visited by the inspectors, for the purpose of annual grants, which provided in 1869 for 1,765,944 scholars, or for 8.34 per cent. of the whole population, were in 1874 sufficient for 2,871,826 scholars, or 12.14 per cent of the estimated population.
"An addition of room in aided schools for 1,105,882 children in five years is satisfactory, and shows that accommodation in efficient schools is increasing in much more rapid ratio than the population of the country. But much remains to be done before the three millions and a quarter of children, who ought to be daily under instruction, can be provided for in schools whose efficiency is tested by the yearly visit of one of Her Majesty's inspectors.”
Note.—"In 1874 accommodation was provided by 838 Board Schools for 245,508 scholars, and 138,293 were in average attendance. The increase in the accommodation in voluntary schools since 1869 has therefore amounted to 860,374 places (or 48•7 per cent.), while the average attendance has increased by 477.467 (or 44.9 per cent).”
2. Formation of School Boards.
The next point is to ascertain what progress has been made in this branch of our inquiry.
The population of England and Wales in 1871 was—(1.) in the metropolitan district, 3,366,987 ; (2.) in 224 municipal boroughs, 6,531,892; (3.) in 14,082 civil parishes, 12,913,387 = 22,712,266.
1. The formation of a School Board for the metropolis was, as already stated, prescribed by the Act.
2. Boards have been established in 113 boroughs, with a population of 5,409,964 souls: “about one-half in number of boroughs, but five-sixths in number of souls."
3. Boards have been established in 1479 parishes having a population of 2,971,047 souls, less than one-ninth in number of parishes, less than one-fourth in number of souls. There appear to be no returns showing precisely the number of parishes and population governed by School Boards compulsorily formed, but the Committee of Council report that “they have issued final notices in 2718 parishes, and that these notices have resulted in the compulsory election of 476 Boards for 296 single parishes and 180 united districts. In 765 cases, the time limited by the notices has not yet expired, and in 762 cases the required accommodation has been supplied by voluntary effort."
It may be assumed, therefore, that less than two-thirds of the civil parishes now under School Boards have voluntarily availed themselves of this privilege of the Act, not exceeding one in one hundred and fifty (1 in 150)
To sum up, we find that at the present time about one-half of the population of England and Wales is under the rule of School Boards. That the urban population is mainly under that authority, but among the suburban and rural population, the system has hitherto made little progress.
It should also be observed that the above-cited figures do not disclose the proportion of Boards formed under compulsion, and Boards voluntarily formed. At first sight, generalising hastily, we may be apt to conclude that School Boards are popular in urban, but unpopular in rural districts. On closer examination, it will be remembered that in the metropolis, neither the ratepayers nor the local authorities had any choice, and that the metropolis includes more than one-fourth of the School Board population.
In muncipal boroughs, the Boards have been formed on the application of the Town Councils, not on the vote of the ratepayers, and there is good reason to believe that in many boroughs the popular vote would have negatived the decision of the Councils.
This conclusion then may be drawn from the foregoing premises. School Boards are neither an essential nor a popular element in the educational system constituted by the Act of 1870.
Nevertheless, though not essential in theory, School Boards may be practically necessary to supply the admitted deficiencies in voluntary effort, and as constituted authorities exercising important national functions, it is the obvious duty of the National Church to maintain with these Boards amicable relations, and of school managers in particular to devise some modus vivendi to secure harmonious co-operation in the great work of elementary education.
Insisting firmly on this point, on the other hand, little sympathy need be felt with those managers of voluntary schools who, from indolence or faintheartedness, transfer their schools to the Boards.
Extreme cases may undoubtedly occur in which “the poverty but not the will consents,” but even these cases might receive timely and effectual aid from a central organisation, such as the National Society, or a Diocesan Board.
The embarrassment to which many managers are subjected in providing funds for the maintenance of their schools, is by no means confined to poor parishes; it is often the reproach of the wealthiest, and springs more frequently from apathy than from poverty.
It is, however, satisfactory to state that very few voluntary schools have been transferred to School Boards under the powers of the Act.
The monthly paper of the National Society for last September, gives the following quotation from a recent parliamentary return. Of schools transferred to School Boards, 375 schools have thus been transferred, 166 connected with the Church of England, 158 connected with the British and Foreign Society, Wesleyan, &c., and 51 insufficiently described, fand it significantly adds, “ To the honour of the Roman Catholics it ought to be stated, that not one of their schools has been handed over to a School Board.”
Excluding schools visited for inspection only, and Board Schools, the total number on the official register is 11,408. The number transferred therefore is between three and four
On the other hand, the voluntary annual contributions have increased from £397,035 in 1869 to £602,837 in 1874, an increase of more than fifty per cent., irresistible evidence of the determination of the country to maintain the voluntary system.
Having now completed this inquiry, we may proceed to consider the
vital question. Is it possible to modify the regulations of Board Schools so that they may effectively maintain religious as well as secular education?
To this question, a negative answer only can be given, so long as the ultimate decision depends neither upon fixed rules nor upon a central authority.
By statute the Boards act under great restrictions (I refer to the Cowper Temple Clause); and within their limited powers the good Resolutions of a majority to-day may be rescinded by an adverse majority to-morrow. The principal teacher may be of any creed, or of none, and the influence of his opinions, if he is indifferent or sceptical, will naturally be reflected upon the minds of the children entrusted to his care.
However much we may regret the defects of many voluntary schools in regard to religious instruction, these defects are likely to be intensified in Board Schools.
A valuable return has been laid before Parliament by the Education Department, showing the provisions made by each School Board in England and
Wales for religious teaching and religious observances in Board Schools.
From this return it appears that the Board have usually issued regulations, directing instruction to be given in the Holy Scriptures. Frequently the schools are opened or closed with prayer, and sometimes also with hymns, and as regards the numerous exceptions in which no such regulations have been made, it is probable that in most instances this neglect may be attributed to the recent formation of the Boards.
It may be useful to contrast the provisions for religious instruction and observance furnished by the School Boards of Manchester and Birmingham respectively.
They may be accepted as representing the two most influential currents of public opinion on this question.
The Manchester provisions are as follows :— The School Management and Organisation Committee having carefully considered the best way of inparting religious instruction to the children under the care of the Board, in accordance with the principles of the Education Act, and of the scheme already agreed upon, beg to submit the following recommendations :
1. That the scheme be not confined to the reading of a passage of Scripture before the whole school, with instruction thereon by the principal Schoolmaster or schoolmistress, but consist of a graduated course of teaching to be carried on by means of oral instruction, passages of Scripture committed to memory, and by suitable exercises in reading or writing.
2. That the words“ by the principal teacher" be therefore omitted from sub-sec. 4. of the scheme of education, so that the assistant teachers and pupil-teachers may be able for their own sake, as well as for the children's sake, to take part in the instruction given.
3. That' instruction be given to the children during each year in accordance with schedule A.
4. That having regard to the importance of religious knowledge on the part of the pupil-teachers, both for their own guidance in life, and for the sake of the scholars taught by them, as well as in respect of their future prospects in entering training-colleges, and obtaining the charge of schools, they shall receive from the principal teachers instruction in the Holy Scriptures during one and a half hours weekly in accordance with schedule B. 5. That in order to secure and encourage the religious instruction to be given in accordance with the above recommendations, an annual examination of scholars and pupil-teachers in every Board School shall be held.
6. That such examination shall take place in each school about the middle of the school year, as defined in Article 13 of the New Code.
7. That the exanıination shall be conducted by one or more examiners appointed by, but not being members of the Board.
8. That the examination be conducted on a day specially appointed for the purpose, should this be found to be in accordance with the Education Act.
That otherwise, the examination be conducted in the time set apart for religious instruction, during one or more days.
9. That the prayers in schedule D be adopted for use in Board Schools.
Birmingham.—The School Board makes no provision either for religious instruction or for any form of religious worship.
In buildings erected by the Board opportunity is given to voluntary teachers to give religious instruction, and to conduct any form of religious service they please.
The teachers pay rent to the Board for the use of the building. The regulations under which the voluntary teachers have access to the schools are appended.
The Board teachers are not allowed to aid in voluntary teaching.
In school buildings held by the Board for a nominal rent, the original managers of the schools reserve in some cases the right of giving religious instruction.
Regulations for the giving of voluntary religious teaching in Board Schools.
Resolved.- That facilities should be afforded for the giving of religious instruction by voluntary agency in the school buildings belonging to the Board to children attending the Board Schools.
That in every case the wish of the parents or guardians should determine whether a child shall receive religious instruction, and whether a child shall receive any specific religious instruction that may be provided.
That any persons proposing to give religious instruction shall be required to pay to the Board a rent for the use of the buildings proportionate to the number of children to whom the religious instruction is given, and the time occupied in giving the instruction.
That the opportunity for giving the religious instruction shall be given on Tuesday morning and Friday morning in every week.
That on Tuesday and Friday mornings the schools shall be open under the management of the Board three quarters of an hour later than on other days.
That the application of the Religious Education Society, as representing a considerable number of religious communities in the town, be complied with, on the terms prescribed by these resolutions, and that the Education and School Management Committee be authorised to complete the arrangements, and report to the Board.
That any further application for the use of the school building for the giving of religious instruction in accordance with these regulations, be referred to the Education and School Management Committee for them to report to the Board, with the understanding that these applications