« PreviousContinue »
MANCHESTER AND SALFORD EDUCATION BILL, The provisions of the plan embodied in the Manchester and Salford Education Bill, may eventually have so extensive a bearing upon our national education, that an abstract of the proposed Bill, as recently circulated by its friends and promoters, must be regarded as no unimportant document, although the separate clauses of the Bill will probably receive considerable modification, before they are actually submitted to Parliament. The measure would be entitled to attention, if it were only on account of the united support which it has received from the bishop and leading clergy, as well as from the ministers of various denominations and from the laity of Manchester. But its principal claim to notice is, that the plan contained in it is one which it is proposed, first, to apply by way of experiment to the populous district where it has been devised, and then, if successful there, to extend it to similar districts, if not to the country at large. Under this view, whether it be actually carried into effect or not, or whether, if carried into effect, it prove successful or not, it can hardly fail of producing consequences of considerable moment. This will sufficiently appear from a general outline of the plan proposed.
The following is the abstract which has been published as an appendix to the report of a conversazione of friends and promoters, held in the Town Hall
, Manchester, on the 28th of August last, the Bishop of Manchester in the chair :
1. The Manchester and Salford Education Bill proposes to authorize a rate, not exceeding sixpence in the pound, upon all property within the two boroughs, for the purpose of placing the means of education within the reach of every inhabitant.
2. The education so secured will be absolutely free from expense to all who desire to avail themselves of it.
3. This bill provides for the maintenance and effectual support of all existing schools connected with religious bodies whose claim to participate in the parliamentary grant of education has been recognised by the legislature.
4. This bill provides for the admission of all schools similarly qualified, whether actually so participating or not.
5. Schools not subject to government inspection will not be required to become so by this bill.
6. No interference with the ownership, discipline, or management of existing schools is allowed by this bill, which is expressly designed to stimulate and extend the system produced by voluntary effort, to a degree commensurate with the wants of the community.
7. Proper security is taken by this bill for the religious character of the education to be so offered, but attendance on the teaching of distinctive religious doctrine is in no cases made compulsory.
8. No schools will be excluded from the benefit of the rate on account of their connection with any religious community, but all will be admitted on equal terms.
9. Every parent will be at perfect liberty to select for his child such school as may be in his opinion at once the most convenient, the best conducted, and the inost in accordance with his own religious opinions.
10. No part of the rate required can be applied to the erection or establishment of any schools (except as mentioned in No. 12); but the whole amount raised will be applied directly in payment for instruction actually received by the children within the two boroughs.
VOL. IX, NO. XII.
11. Such payments will be in all cases exactly proportionate to the number of children actually attending school, and will therefore cease whenever the services which they are intended to remunerate, cease to be available.
12. In districts where school accommodation shall be found insufficient, and shall so continue after due notice, provision is made for the establishment of schools out of the rates, so that an adequate supply of school accommodation is fully guaranteed by this bill.
13. The administration of the funds raised from the rates is effectually secured to the representatives of the ratepayers, periodically elected.
14. The principle of local self-government has been maintained throughout this bill, reference being made to a central authority only in cases required for the protection of ratepayers, parents, or children.
15. Ample security is taken by this bill for the efficient inspection of all schools admitted into union,-for the employment of properly qualified masters, and for raising the general standard of education.
In order to render this very brief abstract of the Bill more intelligible, it
proper to state more fully what is intended under some of the heads of it, as may be gathered from the speeches at the conversazione. The distinguishing characteristic of the scheme is the imposition of an educational rate, to be collected under the authority of an Act of Parliament. One important condition to be required of those who would partake of the benefits of this rate, though not distinctly stated in the above abstract, is, that schools assisted out of the rate shall use the Holy Scriptures in the teaching of the children. Another main feature of the plan is, that existing schools, of whatever religious denomination, are to be supported out of the proceeds of the rate, in proportion to the number of children actually attending them. The conditions of inspection are to remain nearly the same as those now imposed by the Privy Council. Under head 7, is contained a regulation by which any children may be exempted, if it be formally demanded, from the necessity of learning any religious creed, catechism, or distinctive formulary in the schools of their own selection. From head 10 it appears that the building of new schools is to be left as far as may
be to voluntary efforts; but when built out of the rate, as provided for under head 12, though the use of the Holy Scriptures is to be enforced, it is expressly declared that no creed, catechism, or distinctive religious formulary shall be taught therein, as they will be entirely disconnected from any religious body, congregation, or sect.
It would far exceed our limits to attempt to discuss all the important principles of education, involved in this plan. We must therefore confine ourselves to some remarks upon two or three particulars connected with it.
And first, as already observed, when viewed only as an experiment, it is to be regarded as a matter of no small concern. The unanimity hitherto displayed by its friends and promoters has been such, that their failure or success in carrying their plan into effect is equaliy important. For if they fail in this first step, after such apparent concord in attempting it, it will require no ordinary courage to make a second trial. And if, on the other hand, they succeed in carrying their plan into operation, whether that plan answer their expectations or not, the question of the general education of the poor will in either case be considerably affected. For if the plan, when applied, be found
to produce only a fair proportion of the benefits which many seem to anticipate from it, one result will most probably be its almost general adoption in populous districts. But if, when applied, its results fall greatly or altogether short of what has been hoped for, then the question of obtaining the means of educating the poor by a compulsory local rate will, probably, for a considerable time be regarded as settled, and the friends of general education must be content to fall back upon the voluntary system, aided as at present, by such assistance as can be procured from the State.
Another observation is suggested by that part of the plan which seems to have procured for it such general acceptance. This as stated at the conversazione by an Independent minister, Mr. R. Fletcher, is, that according to his view, “ the rate is intended to be applied simply to the secular part of the instruction, and the religious portion is entirely left to the conscience of the parent or guardian of the child, without interference from the State.” “ The money is not given to the schoolmaster or school-managers to support the school establishment; but it may be regarded as given, in fact, to the parents to send their children to school. You pay simply in proportion to the number of scholars sent, and therefore it is just the same as if the ratepayers gave the money into the hands of the parents and said, 'We want your children educated, well educated; we will take care that the masters you send them to are persons competent to give secular instruction ; we shall examine them as to their fitness to teach, and your children, as to their progress from time to time; but we leave you to select the school of whatever religious denomination you wish them to go to, and to have them taught such religion as you wish ; with that we wont interfere.' Who shall say that the parents have not a right to choose the teachers and the school, and the religious teaching they prefer? or that this method is an invasion either of churchmen on the one hand, or of dissent on the other? In my view there would be forcing of conscience and infringement of religious liberty, if parents were obliged to accept an education for their children without religion, when they deemed it essential that religion should be blended with it, or if they were compelled to submit to some prescribed form of religion ; but I can, dissenter as I am, come in with this scheme, as it leaves all to choose such religion as, in the sight of God, they believe to be right and proper, without the State interfering to say how it is taught, or affecting to judge at all in the matter, its inquiries being wholly restricted to the secular instruction.” Now a plan such as may be thus described, does
to be one which any person who is convinced of the importance of general education, may conscientiously take part in without any compromise of religious principle. But then does the plan in question, as at present proposed, sufficiently correspond with this description of it? It is true that, as at present explained, it does not propose to interfere with the doctrines taught in the schools already established. But, as stated under head 7, whilst proper security is taken for the religious character of the education offered, attendance on the teaching of distinctive religious doctrine is in no case made compulsory; that is, in a Church of England school, even the children of professed members of that
church, if their parents please to require it, may be exempt from being taught any distinctive religious doctrine. Now it does appear difficult to conceive how such a condition can be imposed by Act of Parliament upon any school, whether of Churchmen or Dissenters, without the State thereby manifestly interfering to say how religion is to be taught; certainly in imposing the above condition it cannot be said, not to affect to judge at all in the matter. It is daily becoming more and more a generally recognised principle that religion should be blended with education. Nay, as was most forcibly expressed at this very meeting by the right rev. chairman, many have come, as the bishop declares that he has, “ not to the surmise, not to the opinion, not to the conviction, but to the knowledge, that education without religion is a nullity, and an unreality.” But then, surely, if religion be so essential to education, it ought to be truly and essentially embodied in it, and enter more or less into every part of it. And as religion should influence every action of daily life, so it should, as far as possible, be interwoven with every part of the daily teaching of children. This seems to apply in a peculiar manner to what ought to be the teaching of the youthful members of the Church of England. At admission into that Church it is specially enjoined upon those who have brought the infant for admission, to see that it be taught so soon as it shall be able to learn, what a solemn vow, promise, and profession has been made by them for it; and chiefly, they are to provide that it may learn the creed, and all other things that a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul's health. Now what more likely to lessen a child's reverence for such teaching, or to destroy the humble and trustful confidence of a child's belief, than to see some of its companions daily exempted from instruction, which it is told is so necessary as to have been publicly ordered by the Church. How can this duty be mentioned without suggesting to the inquisitive mind of a child, why then are not my schooltellows so and so taught the same? To raise questions of this sort in the mind of a child, before it is at all capable of judging between opposite opinions, can hardly fail of being most in jurious both to the child who is to receive religious instruction and to the child who is to be exempted. And it seems strange that Disa senters have not objected to the evils of such a systein as strongly as Church people. Perhaps it may be, that less definite teaching being prescribed by the former, the admission of the condition in question may in their case involve a less apparent sacrifice of principle, than where a distinctive formulary for religious instruction has been enjoined. At all events, we do not see how, in a place like Manchester, where schools of every religious denomination may be found, and where, according to the provisions of the proposed Bill, grants to each are to be in proportion to the number of scholars, it can be said that the positive condition of exemption from religious instruction, whenever demanded, is necessary to the trial of the experiment of education by a local rate ; nor, indeed, do we see how such a condition can be fully and honestly observed, in any plan which professes to secure the religious character of the education to be offered. far in smaller places, not circumstanced as Manchester, some allowance may be made, is another question. But in such cases, whether
as regards Churchmen or Dissenters, it would surely be preferable to give a permissive power of making exceptions according to circumstances, rather than to impose an absolute condition upon all. There would in such a course be less occasion of division afforded, and less temptation to sacrifice of principle and of conscience. As already observed, the building of new schools is to be left as far as possible to voluntary efforts. But when in the case provided for under head 12, provision is to be made for building schools out of the rate, these schools are to be entirely disconnected from any religious body, and it is expressly declared that no creed, catechism, or distinctive religious formulary shall be taught therein. of this part of the plan, the friends and promoters of the bill say, that they are prepared to defend, but they do not feel themselves called upon to advocate it, as its introduction is rather in compliance with the necessities of the case than the free expression of their own feelings and wishes. It seems 80 unlikely that this part of the plan will be adopted, especially in a measure which is only to be regarded as an experiment, that we will not now dwell upon our many objections to it.
But if the proposed measure become law, in whatever form and under whatever modifications this may be effected, there is one obstacle to its successful application, which, unless it can in some degree be removed, will probably do more to disappoint the promoters of the plan than all other obstacles put together. We mean the parent's taking the children from school as soon as they are able to earn any. thing. If this be the case, as we have in former numbers of the Journal shown that it is, in agricultural districts, where the employment of children is only at certain times of the year, how much more in manufacturing districts, where employment is independent of the seasons, and where, since the extensive introduction of machinery, every measure of strength, or rather every subdivision of manual labour, however small, if only its regular application can be depended upon, may be turned to account; and where, too, the wages of the parents are so variable, and liable at certain times to be so reduced, that the smallest additions from their children's earnings may be of great importance.
The mere saving of threepence or fourpence a week for schooling, which is the utmost that securing education to the poor absolutely free of expense can effect by the proposed plan, will, it is to be feared, be regarded but as a small boon, when set against the two or three or four shillings which might be earned in the mill or workshop. How then is this obstacle to be dealt with ?
It has always appeared to us, that the great problem, as regards the proper education of the poor, is to devise some plan, which after the earliest years of infancy and during the yet early period of youth, would combine some school-teaching with profitable employment and actual training in works of industry. The common working man spends the greater part of his time in acts of labour, and can devote but a small portion of it to reading and such like exercises. The natural effect of constant bodily labour is to render the mind indisposed for intellectual exertion : just as constant mental employment is often found to make the student unwilling to take even such bodily exercise as is essential to health. Under the present system the youth