Edward Bickersteth Ottley.

Elementary education in England : the Education Act of 1870 and the Bill of 1902, considered especially in relation to the question of religious instruction : two plain sermons, preached in the Church online

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Elementary Education in
England :

The Education Act of 1870 and the Bill of 1902,

considered especially in relation to the question

of Religious Instruction.



®ljB ®l)tirtl| 0f tht ^nntrnriatinn,




(Printed by request.)

Martin & Son, Printers, i8 Lisson Grove, Marylebone, N.W.,
' AND AT 2n High Road, Kilborn, N.W.

Elementary Education in England.

" So when they had dined Jesus saith to Simon Peter ^ Simon,
Son of Jonas, lov est thou Me more tha?t these ?" He saith
unto Him, * Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.'
He saith unto him, '■Feed my lambs' " — S. John xxi. 15.


Such is the first duty laid upon the Church of God, the
first service required of her as the evidence and expression of
her love — the feeding of the lambs of Christ's flock. And
there can be no doubt as to the meaning of the figurative
expressions employed here by our Blessed Lord. The
" lambs " are the simple and uninstructed — and primarily
the children of Christ's Church ; and the " feeding " here
referred to is the nourishment of their spirits' life with the
Bread of God, the Word of life, the grace and truth which
are given to us in Christ Jesus.

This charge was given to the representative and chief
of the Apostles, as an indication of the special responsibility
that was to rest upon the official ministry of the Church with
regard to the education of the young : not indeed by way of
exonerating parents from their obligations in respect of the
religious training of their children — obligations which the
Gospel regards as inalienable and of the highest importance :
but rather as implying that the teaching office of the Church,
which is normally exercised through the organic ministry,
must be first employed in that sphere which is at once the
most necessary and the most hopeful — the training of the
young '* in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

It is surely unnecessary here to review the reasons why
the Church has always taken, and must always, take the
deepest interest in all that bears upon the education of the
young. If she did not, she would be false to her Master, her
vocation, and her creed. Particularly she would fail grievously
in regard to her great work of the salvation of souls. She
has a special duty of preserving the souls of the young from
the contamination and corruption of the sin that is in the
world. This can only be done by surrounding them as far as
possible with holy and uplifting influences ; by feeding them
with the Bread of life ; by instructing them in the Wojds
of God. There is in the Christian child something to be

**' saved," preserved, safeguarded : a divine element which is
" ready to perish " — which tends, as it were, to evaporate, if
left to itself. If the Church does not feed the lambs of Christ,
their souls are like to perish of hunger, or to feed upon the
poisonous weeds that grow with rank luxuriance in a fallen

It cannot then be justly thought a matter of surprise, that
the Church in this land, which, until within the last thirty
years, supplied almost the whole of the education given to
the poorer classes, and supplied it, partly for the education's
sake, but still more for Christ's — should watch the develop-
ments of our national policy in respect of education with the
keenest interest and solicitude. The Church has been blamed
for taking a part in the discussions of this question. But in
truth no subject is more properly within her province. Even
if she were without her strong claim to be heard on the
ground of the long priority of her occupation of the educational
field, she cannot without disloyalty to her Master neglect the
care of His little ones.

With these few words, then, by way of preface, I invite
your thoughts to the subject of the large and comprehensive
measure dealing with education introduced by the present
government, and now before the country. I think it is true
that there is more strong feeling, and even of prejudice, with
regard to the proposed legislative changes than intelligent
and just appreciation of their true character and significance.
Many seem as yet unable, and not a few resolutely unwilling,
to recognise the broad and statesmanlike purposes of the
Bill now under discussion. The criticisms passed upon the
measure are too generally characterised by an amazing want
of the sense of proportion. Men have fixed their attention
too generally on minor points, and those often of disputable
meaning, and disregarded the main, obvious, far-reaching
benefits to the cause of education which the measure would
indisputably secure.

In view of the vital importance of the subject in its
bearing upon the welfare of our country, and on the other hand
of the large amount of ignorance that still prevails as to the
present position of the educational question and the nature of
the proposed reforms, I would attempt as briefly and clearly
as I can to describe the purpose and effect of the Education
Act of 1870, and the case for further legislation as it stands
at present.

At the time when Mr. Forster introduced his bill rather
more than 30 years ago, the position was something of this

,uiuct ■

kind. The elementary education of the country was given
exclusively in what are now commonly spoken of as
Voluntary vSchools, that is to say, schools maintained for the
most part by representatives of religious bodies, and paid
for almost entirely by the voluntary gifts or endowments of
pious and charitable individuals. These schools in 1870
numbered 8,281. The great majority were schools of the
Church of England, though a few belonged to the Wesleyans,
the Roman Catholics, and others. The number of children
in the elementary schools at that time was 1,693,000. Good
work was no doubt being done by many of these schools.
But very large numbers of children, especially in the out-
skirts of London and in the larger towns throughout the
country, were growing up in lamentable ignorance owing to
the unquestionable deficiency of schools in many places. It
was not possible for the Church to provide all the schools that
were required, and the Government of the day felt it incum-
bent upon them to inaugurate a new system of schools,
with no intention whatever of supplanting, or provoking
competition with, the existing Voluntary Schools, but simply
and solely with a view to filling up the gaps which the
voluntary system left. It cannot be too clearly and
emphatically stated that the legislation of Mr. Gladstone and
Mr. Forster in 1870 with reference to elementary education
was intended to supplement but not to supplant the existing
voluntary system. I do not understand how any doubt can
exist as to the sentiments of the authors of the Act of 1870.
On this point there may no doubt have been some politicians
at that time, as there have been not a few public men since,
anxious that the Voluntary Schools should be extinguished.
But I have good reasons for knowing that they would have
met with no sympathy from Mr. Gladstone. For reasons
which I need not now specify, Mr. Gladstone was strongly
persuaded that, ceteris paribus^ a Voluntary School was always
to be preferred to a State-provided or Board School. His
desire was, as far as possible, to conserve and maintain every
efficient Voluntary School in the country. But undoubtedly,
in some respects and to a limited extent, the legislative
enactments of 1870, which have resulted in the erection of
5,837 Board Schools in the last 3 1 years, have had the indirect,
and no doubt in a large measure unintended effect of crippling
and injuring the Voluntary Schools. How this disastrous
condition of things has come about is very well known. The
i School Boards have no doubt in the great majority of cases
! done much excellent work, though in some rural districts,

truth obliges me to add, they have been a very by-word for
financial or educational incompetency. But owing to their
unlimited power of spending public money, they have
in some cases laid themselves open to the charge of a
certain amount of profusion or extravagance in their expendi-
ture. In any case they have in general spent much larger
sums upon their buildings and the equipment of their
schools, they have employed many more teachers, and in
many cases paid them far more highly, than the managers of
Voluntary Schools in parallel circumstances would have
found possible or deemed to be necessary. Again, in their
zeal for higher education, they have yielded to the temptation
in some instances to trespass beyond their proper bourn.
They have spent large sums out of the rates in the
education, not of children, but of adults. They have
carried on Evening Schools at the public expense, to
which scholars have been attracted, not so much by any-
thing commonly regarded as a subject of education as by
mere recreation, such as dancing. I do not contend that
money spent in night classes for policemen and others, as,
for example, a class to teach English to German waiters, or
on innocent amusements for young men and women, is not
well spent. But I cannot believe that the provision of these
things, however admirable in themselves, was ever intended
to be the business of the School Board, and to be paid for out
of the educational rates entrusted to them. But the only
bearing of these extravagances — if such they be — upon the
welfare of the Voluntary Schools is indirect, namely, by
reason of the fact that the heavier the School Board rates the
harder is it for the managers of Voluntary Schools to persuade
men to subscribe to their maintenance. It is not unusual for
even a rich man to refuse altogether to support the Voluntary
Schools of his parish upon the ground that he is already
heavily rated for the maintenance of the Board Schools. On
the other hand, it is obvious that the School Boards have
always the power oi out-bidding the managers of the Voluntary
Schools, as by offering higher salaries, and providing the
best and most costly appliances, and otherwise enhancing the
attractions of their schools both for teachers and scholars.
It is unnecessary, and it would be therefore invidious, to
assume that those responsible for the policy and administra-
tion of the School Board have deliberately aimed at increasing
the difficulties, and so ultimately achieving the extinction, of
the Voluntary Schools. But their policy has acted, as it were,
automatically and necessarily, with that effect. And the ever-

increasing School Board rates — so far in excess of anything
contemplated by the authors of the Act of 1870 — have
resulted in the ever-increasing difficulty of maintaining the
Voluntary Schools, and in the closing of a very considerable
number. It would be but just, however, if time permitted, to
enumerate the many great and valuable services to the cause of
education rendered by the School Boards in London and
throughout the country. Not only have the School Boards
done an immense amount of good work in the face of many
difficulties, but they have largely contributed to raise the
general standard of education as well in Voluntary as in
their own Schools. If their competition has been often
painful, and in rare cases hardly fair, it has nevertheless on
the whole acted as a wholesome stimulus to the managers of
Voluntary Schools. And if the education given in the
elementary schools of the country still seems in certain
respects open to improvement, there can be no doubt that
a far better education is provided now than was the case 30
years ago, and that this is mainly the fruit of the Education
Act of 1870.

We have then to consider, how do matters stand now as
compared with the condition of things in 1870.

I mentioned that in 1870 there were 8,281 Voluntary
Schools, educating nearly 1,700,000 children.

Since 1870, the Voluntary Schools have greatly increased
in number. From 8,281 they have become 14,319, and the
children attending these Voluntary Schools have increased
in number from 1,693,000 to 3,066,000. During the last
thirty-one years 5,857 Board Schools have been established
in which 2,600,000 children are being educated. It will be
observed that the Voluntary Schools are far more numerous at
the present time than the Board Schools — 14,318 as against
5,857 ; and that they are now educating about half a million
more children than the Board vSchools. As regards educa-
tional results the grant earned per head per child in the Board
Schools is very slightly higher than that earned in the Volun-
tary Schools, but the cost of education per head in the
Board Schools is considerably greater (by from 13s. to 14s.)
than in the Voluntary Schools. We may take it that the
very slight apparent superiority of the educational product
of the Board Schools, and the large excess of the cost of
Board School education, are due in the main to the same
cause ; namely, the fact that the Board Schools are chiefly
found in towns and populous neighbourhoods, whereas the
Voluntary Schools are scattered broadcast over the country,

and many are very small schools working in remote, back-
ward populations. The Voluntary Schools then are still
doing considerably the largest share of the Elementary
Education of the country, and generally speaking they are
strong in the affection and interest of those for whose benefit
they exist. In devising a great, comprehensive scheme of
education which should bring all the schools of the country
under one and the same educational authority, the Prime
Minister was confronted by the same question as Mr.
Gladstone in 1870.

Are the Voluntary Schools to continue to exist, or are
they to be left to perish — as it is certain they must if left to their
own resources, by slow degrees, in face of the Board School
system with its practically unlimited financial resources ?
Mr, Balfour has answered the question exactly as Mr.
Gladstone did in 1870. The Voluntary Schools — 14,319 in
number, of which nearly 12,000 are Church Schools, 458 are
Wesleyan, about 1000 belong to the Roman Catholics, and
another 1000 are classified as British and miscellaneous —
these Voluntary Schools, I say, are a serviceable, working
system which no practical statesman can ignore. They have
done good service in their various localities for a long period
of years. Their buildings are computed to be worth from thirty
to forty millions of money. They were provided, and they
have been maintained, by the voluntary gifts of those, who
desired above all else to provide an education that should
be complete in its scope — and train the children of the poor,
not intellectually only, bnt morally and religiously as well.
Would it not be possible to make all these schools available
for the purposes of the best secular instruction, under the
direction and control of a publicly elected educational body,
while preserving to them the specific religious character
which their founders in the past, and their owners of the
present, regarded as of supreme importance ?

Such was the problem as it presented itself to the present
Prime Minister, and his solution of it is presented to us in
the present Education Bill. That measure, in its broad out-
lines, will, I have no shadow of doubt, hereafter, when the
storms of controversial passion shall have exhausted them-
selves, and the clouds of prejudice and misrepresentation have
drifted past, be recognised as a wise, masterly, statesmanlike,
and courageous endeavour to unify and consolidate the primary,
secondary, and technical education of the country, and at the
same time to do such justice as is possible to those who have
long been contending, in the face of many diffi::ulties, and with

the most generous self-sacrifice, in the cause of such education
as in their belief alone can permanently bless its recipients —
education in which the inculcation of the service and the
worship of God occupies the foremost and the central place.
Such in its general scope and main character is the great
educational scheme of the present Government. And it is
impossible for me in the limited time now at my disposal to
proceed any further in exposition of its details. I shall hope,
God willing, to return to the subject once again, when I shall
endeavour to deal as simply and frankly as I can with the
much-vexed question of the religious teaching in the two
kinds of elementary schools that have existed side by side in
England for the last 30 years.

I would end by the statement of my earnest conviction
that those who desire to further the best interests of their
country — of the State equally with the Church — will do well
to strive and pray, that the proposals for the modification of
our educational system now before the country, may in their
main purposes and provisions speedily pass into law, and that,
not for any merely political reasons, but because the great
measure that has been so carefully devised, will bring
unity, harmony and co-ordination into our public educational
methods, in the place of the present hopeless and chaotic
disorder; it will go far to remove the burden of grievous
injustice and disability which has so long pressed upon the
great majority of the elementary schools of England ; above
all, as we hope and believe, it will give new vitality and
permanence to those schools, in which the fulness of the
Christian Faith can be freely taught, and the lambs of Christ's
flock can be fed with the life-giving Bread of God, in loyal
accordance with the injunction of our Blessed Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ.


In the foregoing Sermon I have endeavoured to put
before you a simple statement of the present position of the
question of Elementary Education in this country, and of
the problem which the Government has set itself to solve. I
shall now attempt to describe in outline the proposals of
Mr. Balfour first with a view to bringing all Elementary
Schools — and indeed all secular education — whether primary,
secondary or technical — under the control of one and the
same Education Authority : and in the second place, for
dealing with the thorny and much-discussed question of the
religious instruction. I need hardly remind you that the


present legislative proposals do not affect London, with
which it is proposed to deal in a separate measure later on.
The plan of the Government then is that the whole of the
Secular Education given in all Elementary Schools shall be
under the exclusive direction and control of a Local Educa-
tion Authority. That Local Authority is to be the County
Council, or the County Borough Council, as the case may be.
Such authority will act not directly but through an Educa-
tion Committee, in accordance with a scheme made by the
Council and approved by the Board of Education. The
composition of the Education Committee may — if I under-
stand the matter aright — ^vary according to circumstances,
but a majority of the members must be selected by the Local
Authority, the remainder being appointed by them, on the
nomination of other bodies, if desirable, from persons of
experience in education, and well acquainted with the needs
of the locality. The Local Authority will be responsible for
the up-keep and maintenance of all necessary Buildings in
connection with either the Board Schools, or the new schools
which the Local Authority itself may hereafter find it neces-
sary to provide. It will also be responsible for the whole of
the expenses in connection with the work of all Elementary
Schools in the country, including the cost of the secular
instruction in the Voluntary Schools, but with one notable
exception. The Voluntary Schools are aslced to place their
buildings at the disposal of the Local Education Authority —
buildings estimated to be worth from thirty to forty millions
sterling — to be used, rent free, for the purposes of secular
instruction. It is proposed that the entire cost of the educa-
tion furnished in the Board Schools and other state-supplied
Schools, shall be defrayed out of public funds, three -fourths
from the imperial Taxes, and one-fourth from local Rates :
while from the same financial sources all expenses are to be
defrayed relating to the secular teaching in the Voluntary
Schools, including the salaries of the teaching staff. On the
one hand, then, the Managers of the Voluntary Schools are
asked to provide the School buildings rent free ; and in
addition, to keep them in proper repair — and further, to make
such alterations and improvements as the Authorities consider
to be necessary. This means, of course, that voluntary con-
tributions to a consid-L-rable extent will be required, and it
would seem impossible with truth and justice to deny that
the State obtains a very good bargain.

There are about 20,000 schools in the country of which
14,294 — or not far short of three-fourths of the whole — are Vol-

untary Schools. These 14,000 odd schools — ot the capital value
of say thirty-five million pounds are placed at the sarvice of
the State, represented by the Education Authorities through-
out the country, for the purpose of secular education, during
the main part of the day, for five days every week. No rent
whatever is to be paid for them, and they are to be kept in
repair, altered and improved, at the cost of the Managers,
who, moreover, will be expected to comply with all require-
ments of the Local Authority regarding secular education.
On the other hand, the Local Education Authority absolutely
controls all the secular education, and can inspect the school,
audit its accounts, and direct the work generally, as it thinks
fit. Indeed it is difficult to see what the Managers will have
to do during the hours of secular instruction, beyond seeing
that the decrees of the Local Authority and its Committee
are carried into effect. Moreover, the Local Authority has
the right to appoint additional Managers to each Voluntary
School to the extent of two-sixths of the whole number.
The appointment of the Teachers rests with the Managers of
each Voluntary School, but the Local Education Authority
has the right of veto upon each such appointment, as also
of dismissing any teacher considered to be unfit, on Secular
Educational grounds.

I pass now to the consideration of the bearing of the
proposed legislative changes upon the subject of the religious
teaching to be given in the two classes of Schools, namely,
the Board and other State-supplied Schools on the one hand,
and the Schools of the Church of England and other religious
bodies, on the other.

And first we must cast a backward glance to the Act ot
1870. And it is only fair that those who object to the cost of
education in the Voluntary Schools receiving further aid from
public funds, whether local rates or Imperial taxes, because
they object to the denominational teaching given in those
schools, should be reminded that for some 30 years we have
been paying very dearly for the maintenance of a large
number of Schools, now educating more than 2^ million
children, and that the system of religious instruction in those
schools has been one to which a large proportion of Church-
men have a very strong, conscientious and reasonable
objection. I do not maintain that the religious teaching in
Board Schools may not often be good, and occasionally, I
hope often, excellent. But the point of objection is that
if religious instruction under a School Board is sound and
good, it is merely an accident. There is absolutely no ground


of assurance, no guarantee that it is so and will remain so.
I have no doubt that many a conscientious and devout teacher
under a School Board endeavours day by day to instruct the
children committed to his care in the great truths of the
Christian religion. But that there has been and is not a little
risk of unsatisfactory instruction in the same sacred subject
matter cannot be reasonably doubted, I have it on good
authority that at the present time religious instruction in
a certain Board School is being given by an avowed atheist —
well known to be a member of an atheistical club. I do not
presume to pass judgment on him, or upon the School Board
which lays itself open to such scandals. But I say that no
words are too strong to condemn the rotten and illogical
absurdity of the system based upon what is known as the
" Cowper-Temple Clause." It has been, in fact, the source of
endless strife and controversy, and I venture to believe there


Online LibraryEdward Bickersteth OttleyElementary education in England : the Education Act of 1870 and the Bill of 1902, considered especially in relation to the question of religious instruction : two plain sermons, preached in the Church → online text (page 1 of 2)