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Must the law, stepping down from its position of mere control and impartiality into the arena of practical work, necessarily absorb all other agencies into itself ? 'Next comes the question, which gives this last its chief vividness of actual interest, What will be the attitude of future education towards the religious principle, which up to this time has been the chief motive force in the educational work, and which in any case must, at least, claim to be represented in all systems of elementary instruction? Thirdly, we ask, Is there any chance of really extending our education, at once in area and in quality, so as to remedy the many defects which have always been acknowledged as marring and obstructing its work? Some answers to these three questions we shall endeavour now to suggest.
I. In considering the relation of the new state of things to the previously existing system, it is important to remember that the Education Act, as passed, has been materially altered from the Bill originally introduced by Mr. Forster, and sketched out in our last article on this subject. It has had to subinit to the fate which attends on almost all measures adopted by a popular assembly; much of its theoretical symmetry and simplicity of principle has been sacrificed to the necessity of making it so far correspond to the various opinions of political and ecclesiastical parties, that it might pass, and having passed, be a really workable measure.
In the first instance it made the creation of hool Boards a distinctly supplemental and (so to speak) a remedial measure. There was first to be a public inquiry into the sufficiency, efficiency, and suitability of the existing school machinery. If it was found defective, there was next to be a notice addressed by the Education Department to the authorities of the locality, calling upon them to supply schools in any way they chose; and only if such notice produced no adequate result, was a School Board to be formed after a given time, to supply by legal compulsion the resources which were not otherwise forthcoming. This provision was greatly modified in Parliament. It was taken for granted that there would be deficiency in the metropolis, and accordingly a London School Board, itself a new conception, inasmuch as it was to have jurisdiction over a population of some four millions, to dispense immense revenues, and to exercise most extensive influence, was to be created at once. Then power was given to the authorities of any locality to apply for a School Board immediately; and, in consequence, already more than a hundred School Boards are existent and at work. In fact, the general result is (allowing for exceptions on both sides), that in rural districts and small towns the voluntary system will for the present cover the whole area and supply all educational requirements, while in the larger towns the ratesupported schools will, with as little delay as possible, be established. In some cases, indeed—we think only a few—the creation of Boards does not imply this, the only object contemplated being the acquisition of power to compel attendance. But the general result is pretty nearly as we have stated it, and the inevitable rivalry of the two sets of schools will begin forthwith.
Another change introduced into the Bill during its passage through Parliament tends to make the separation between the two systems more rigid and to produce a more distinct antagonism. It was originally intended (as we pointed out) that School Boards might assist existing public elementary schools, on certain conditions of impartiality, and under the control of the Education Department. This provision was struck out; and we think its omission singularly unfortunate. It might certainly have saved expenditure and promoted efficiency of education, by bringing the powers of School Boards more extensively into play. But what is of more consequence is, that it would have provided a link between the purely voluntary and purely legal systems. There would have been the schools independent of the Board, and the schools supported by rates, as now; but between them would have been interposed an intermediate class of rate-aided' schools, which might have linked them together, and supplied a ready means of passing from one extreme to the other. If the two systems are to be hostile, this is well; some, indeed, of the adherents of the voluntary system rejoice in it accordingly. But if their rivalry is to wear the friendly aspect of co-operation, this alteration is decidedly an alteration for the worse.
In relation to this rivalry the Bill preserves, generally speaking, the most complete impartiality. The conditions of aid and the amount of aid from the State are to be precisely the same for both classes of public elementary schools, and even schools which do not fall under that category, if efficient, although they cannot be aided, are to be counted, nevertheless, in estimating the educational resources of a district. The principle of the Education Department is still as before. Let the work be done thoroughly by any local machinery whatever ; it is our business simply to test and to reward it, in the name of the Nation which it benefits. There is, however, one marked exception to this impartiality, in respect of that most important power—the power of compelling attendance. As things now stand, one district, having a School Board, will have this power, and may fill its schools thereby; another close at hand, just because its resources are already sufficient, will have no Board, and therefore no power
to compel the use of those resources. This is obviously a fatal blot on the measure ; and that it was so, was pointed out during the discussion of the Bill. It is no answer to say that the power to compel is only permissive, and the whole provision tentative ; because, if the matter is one of privilege, equal privilege ought to be conceded to all, and if an experiment is to be tried, it ought to be tried fairly. It was proposed, if we mistake not, that, where no School Board existed, some body representing the ratepayers should have the power to compel attendance (which power, indeed, the Poor-Law Guardians have, virtually, at this moment, in respect of the children of out-door paupers); but to all such proposals the Government turned a deaf ear. Their object was, we presume, to give a premium on the creation of School Boards, and it
have been obtained. But this consideration cannot outweigh the unfairness and inexpediency of the present arrangement; and we gather, from an answer of Mr. Forster to a deputation from the National Education Union, that in some way it is intended to rectify it. However, wherever a School Board exists, the Act distinctly suggests perfect impartiality of action. If compulsory attendance is enforced, the parent may send his child to any efficient school that he pleases; and (to touch now upon a point of sore controversy) wherever the Board sees it right to meet cases of absolute poverty by giving a free education to any child, the Act evidently contemplates remission of fees in its own schools and payment of fees in other elementary schools as co-ordinate processes,* equally admissible and equally desirable. The general idea, therefore, of the Act, is to give fair play to both classes of schools. It is (to refer to much-abused words) neither `denominational' nor undenominational' in its tendencies. Its whole aim is to be impartial, at once conservative of all that is worth conserving, and creative of that which is still needed. Just because it is so, it has received the support of all who are not misguided by party spirit or sectarian jealousy, andthe malcontents at Bradford notwithstanding-has immeasurably raised Mr. Forster's reputation as a statesman.
It would have been well if this same spirit of impartiality
* The point is so important that we print the actual clauses :
XVII. Every child attending a school provided by any School Board shall pay such weekly fee as may be prescribed by the School Board, with the consent of the Education Department, but the School Board may from time to time, for a renewable period not exceeding six months, remit the whole or any part of such fee in the case of any child when they are of opinion that the parent of such child is unable froin poverty to pay the same, but such remission shall not be deemed to be parochial relief given to such parent.
XXV. The School Board may if they think fit, from time to time, for a renewable period not exceeding six months, pay the whole or any part of the school fees payable at any public elementary school by any child resident in their district whose parent is in their opinion inable from poverty io pay the same; but no such payment shall be made or refused on condition of the child attending aus public clementary school other than such as may be selected by the parent; and such payment shall nut be deemed to be parochial relief given to such parent.
had been allowed to prevail in the various School Boards. But, unhappily, it has not been so; under the names of Liberality and Unsectarianism, what we must call an illiberal and sectarian dislike of the denominational schools has shown itself, in a vehement and almost furious protest against carrying out the principle of the Act. In Birmingham, in Liverpool, and in London, this has been the one question which has split the Boards asunder; at Liverpool, the malcontents, defeated on the Board, assailed the Education Department, and received, as they deserved, a decided, although courteous, rebuff. Mr. Forster was not called upon to pronounce on the wisdom or folly of the decision of the Board ; but it was really absurd to ask him to interfere with it, against the spirit of his own Act, not only in this section, but throughout its whole tenor. In the London Board, on a similar defeat, the minority, represented by Professor Huxley, seem to have lost their tempers, and, for the first time, to have threatened the factious opposition, which is too well known in the House of Commons, and to which every popular assembly is liable whenever an angry party chooses to abuse the forms, which are meant simply to ensure a fair debate, and so to weary out a majority. The Act is, we see, given up by these gentlemen; it was hard to conceive, even from the beginning, how any fair reading of it could be pressed into their service, and Mr. Forster's honest interpretation of it, in the name of the Department, renders their case quite hopeless in this quarter. They are reduced, therefore, to argue the question on its own merits.
Evidently the Act suggests only, it cannot enforce any course of action in the matter. The School Boards are free to act as they will, and the real question is, what is the just and expedient course.
The true nucleus of the opposition is formed of the men who would have carried out the revolutionary policy of the League, who hate all denominational schools, and look with repugnance on the impartial attitude of the Education Act towards them. Their principle is intelligible enough; they would have no aid whatever given from any public source to any school connected with this or that denomination. If they could have a secular system they would choose it as the best ; if they cannot have this, they will at least have an unsectarian' scheme. Whatever tends to keep up the existing schools they oppose at every step; beaten in respect of support from the Imperial exchequer, they renew the fight in respect of aid from local rates ; precisely the old arguments are brought out with a new face, and a renewal of the Church-rate agitation, with all the virulence which local party spirit can infuse into it, is loudly threatened. But if this section stood alone, its inherent weakness would soon be shown, in the Boards as in the public generally; on this and other points of its programme it would be beaten by an overwhelming majority. In fact, however, it has drawn to itself a considerable amount of support from those who cannot see the real merits of the question, and are blinded by the mere dazzle of the word 'unsectarian.'
There is a great confusion of ideas in this matter. In the first place, the word “denominational' is used with a convenient ambiguity. It really means on this question connected with a certain religious body;' and those who talk of the denominations and the people,' 'the denominational and the unsectarian parties,' and the like, should remember that, after all, the denominations' in this sense actually include the large mass of all the education, wealth, and power of the country; and the residuum, except where its numbers are swelled by mere ignorance or carelessness, comprehends a comparatively small party or sect—the sect of secularists or "unattached Christians.' But the name is used as though it implied a really sectarian spirit of narrowness and an enthusiasm of proselytism in these scbools; and, so used, it is utterly inconsistent with facts testified to over and over again from all quarters, and still more inconsistent with the provisions laid down for the future. With a Time-table Conscience Clause, an ignoring of all religious instruction by the Inspectors, and a vigilant School Board, including that party which has as keen a nose for sectarianism as ever the Holy Office had for heresy, what intolerance or narrowness of action would be possible? Yet if it is not possible, why make all this ado? If a school is good, and if only secular instruction is enforced, what can it matter whether it be a Board school or a Denominational school? The fact is, although it can hardly be avowed, that the real jealousy is of the Church schools. The Church has worked in the cause, while the Nonconformists have been comparatively inactive, and content to use her schools; and therefore the mass of the existing schools belong to her. The natural results of her energy are now grudged to her; and if her schools cannot be taken away, they shall, it seems, at least not be fed. But this would not make a good cry; the vaguer denunciation of denominationalism serves the purpose better.
Then, again, there is a confusion between the different functions of the Board itself. It is, first of all, an educating body, providing and maintaining schools; and here the Act emphatically proclaims that it shall be undenominational,' that is, that its schools shall be quite unconnected with any religious or irreligious body. On this point no difference of opinion exists. But then it has two other powers—the power to compel parents