Page images

monly selected, not because they agree, but because they differ, each of them representing some one class of opinions prevailing in society; they have no antecedent bond of union; and they have no interest as a body in the ulterior results of their own proceedings. Hence it arises that although these Commissions are excellent instruments for the purpose of inquiry, they are usually less effective in the work of legislative construction or positive administration. In truth, notwithstanding the eminent services which these Commissions have frequently rendered, they neither can nor ought to attempt anything which properly falls within the duties and the responsibility of the Government itself.

The Royal Commission, whose elaborate Report is now before us, yields certainly to no preceding Commission in the high character of its members—the Duke of Newcastle, a Secretary of State; Sir John Coleridge, a member of the Privy Council

, known alike for his remarkable attainments, for his attachment to the Church of England, and for his private virtues ; Mr. Senior, whose services on the Poor Law Commission of 1832 and the Handloom Weavers Commission entitle him to the lasting gratitude of the country ; Mr. Miall, an earnest and intelligent representative of the Nonconformists; and from the Universities three eminent men the Rev. William Charles Lake, the Rev. William Rogers, and, last but not least, Professor Goldwin Smith. Assistant Commissioners were sent to the agricultural, the manufacturing, the mining, the maritime, and the metropolitan districts of England. These inquiries were even extended to Germany, France, Switzerland, and Holland. An enormous mass of evidence has been taken and digested, and the result is that a complete history of the proceedings of the Committee of Council on Education, and a full account of the state of the lower branches of education in England, is now before us. The Reports of the Assistant Commissioners, especially that of Mr. Fraser, are of the very highest merit and interest; and we know of no publication which has thrown such a flood of light, not only on the special subjects of education, but on the habits and opinions of the population of England at the present day.

We shall not attempt, in this place, to lay before our readers any abstract of this voluminous production, which fills no less than six large octavos. Those who require an abridgement will find it executed with ability by Mr. Herbert Skeats, in a little work, which may be procured for half-a-crown. We shall confine ourselves to a brief selection of the leading facts necessary to the object we have in view, namely, the discussion

of some of the principles hitherto acted upon by the Education Committee of the Privy Council, and recognised by this Report as the actual basis of popular education in this country.

It may, however, here be remarked, that this Commission differs from almost all other Commissions similarly composed by the fact that it was practically armed with powers to try the policy and the measures of an important department of the Government. A Committee of Council has been charged since 1839 with the distribution of a grant which has risen in this interval from 30,0001. to 800,0001. per annum. That Committee of Council is supposed to consist of several of the most distinguished Ministers of the Crown for the time being. Everything done, has been done in their name. Each of their administrative acts has been brought under the cognisance of Parliament on the annual vote of the Education estimates. Twenty-seven octavo volumes of Reports record their minutes and proceedings; and in 1853 Sir James Kay Shuttleworth, formerly the Secretary of the Board, published a volume, which is, in fact, a report of all that had been done down to that date, scarcely less elaborate than the Report now before us. It was, therefore, improbable that any novel discovery should result from the inquiries which have just been completed; but it remained to be clearly shown what are the results and effects of the system of policy and administration pursued on the subject of education for the last twenty-two years.

The Commissioners differ upon the fundamental question whether this system ought to be progressively extended or gradually contracted; but the majority of the Commissioners having decided in favour of extension, that extension is recommended in a manner which appears to us to be open to grave doubts and objections. No attempt has, however, been made to conceal these differences of opinion ; for Mr. Senior, himself one of the Commissioners, has published in an octavo volume the papers prepared by him for the use of his colleagues, though not always accepted by them. These · Suggestions' are valuable, for they bear the impress of Mr. Senior's keen and vigorous understanding. In some respects we prefer his conclusions to those of the Report; but the fact that such a volume should be published simultaneously, by one of the Commissioners, will: go far to destroy any weight which the recommendations of the Report might have had with the public.

We shall now proceed to borrow from the Report and its appendices a few of the facts which are indispensably necessary to the comprehension of the observations we propose to make.

The amount of the Parliamentary grant for education administered by the Committee of Council was 30,000l. in 1839, and it did not exceed 75,0001. in 1845 : this money was chiefly spent in building grants. In 1846 an extension was introduced to normal schools, certificated teachers, and pupil-teachers; the grant rose at once to 100,0001., and advanced rapidly in succeeding years. In 1853 it was raised by the adoption of capitation grants to 260,0001. ; in 1857 it was 541,233l. ; and in 1859, 836,9201. The principal cause of this vast increase is, that by the system of pupil-teachers the Government has pledged itself to contribute largely to the maintenance and education of an ever-increasing class of young persons, who, by fulfilling certain conditions, acquire a claim on the public funds towards the advancement of their own education and future position in life. The whole sum voted by Parliament in twenty years is about four millions and a half, which may conveniently be divided under four principal heads:-Building schools, 1,000,0001.; training teachers, 2,500,000l. ; capitation grant, 186,0001.; administration and inspection, 500,0001. With a view to what follows we request the reader to observe the proportion of these amounts and to bear them in mind. The annual income of schools in England from endowments, school-fees, and subscriptions (exclusive of Government aid) is reported at 1,121,9811. But the work of education has in reality been carried on in England mainly by local and personal contributions, to an amount of which no positive evidence exists. The Commissioners estimate this amount at 8,800,0001. in the last twenty-one years.

The Commissioners estimate the number of schools and scholars in England and Wales in the year 1858 at the following amount:

[blocks in formation]

We very much question, for the reasons already given by us last year (Ed. Review, vol. cxi. p. 349.), the accuracy of this statement. The Commissioners inform us that the number of

Of this number, 917,255 were in 1860 on the books of schools in receipt of grants from Government.

children, whose names ought at the same date to have been on the school books in order that all might receive some education, Fas 2,655,757. The number they found actually on the books vas 2,535,462, thus leaving only 120,305 children in the kingdom uninstructed.

Looking, therefore, at mere numbers as indicating the state of popular education in England and Wales, the proportion of children receiving instruction to the whole population is, in our opinion, Dearly as high as can be reasonably expected. In Prussia, where it is compulsory, 1 in 6.27; in England and Wales it is, as we have seen, 1 in 707; in Holland it is 1 in 8.11; in France it is 1 in 9-0.

In 1803 the number of day scholars was estimated at 524,241, or one in 171 of the whole population at that date. In 1818 the numbers were 674,883, or 1 in 174. In 1833 they were 1,276,947, or 1 in 11. In 1851 they were 2,144,378, or 1 in 8-36; while in 1858, according to our own returns and estimate, they have risen to 2,535,462, or 1 in 7-7. These statistics prove the great and steady progress which has been made since the early part of the century, both in the extent of the provision made for the education of the poorer classes, and in their appreciation of its worth.'

We confess, however, that we receive these figures with very great distrust. We do not believe that the number of children receiving no school education is as small as the Commissioners suppose; and we have their own authority for saying that a large proportion of the school education received scarcely deserves that name. The practical results of the present system are described by the Commissioners in the following terms:

* We have seen that its leading principles have been to proportion public aid to private subscriptions, and to raise the standard of education by improving the general character of the schools throughout the country ; that it has enlisted, in the promotion of education, a large amount of religious activity, and that, avoiding all unnecessary interference with opinion, it has practically left the management of the schools in the hands of the different religious denominations. In these respects it has been most successful. But we find that it demands, as a condition of aid, an amount of voluntary subscriptions which many schools placed under disadvantageous circumstances can scarcely be expected to raise ; that it enlists in many places too little of local support and interest ; that its teaching is deficient in the more elementary branches, and in its bearing on the younger pupils ; and that while the necessity of referring many arrangements in every school to the central office embarrasses the Committee of Council with a mass of detail, the difficulty of investigating minute and distant claims threatens to become an element at once of expense and of dispute. We find further that Lord John Russell, one of its leading supporters, asserted in Parliament that “it was not intended by

“ those who in 1839 commenced the system that its plan should be “such as to pervade the whole country ;” we see that it has been found necessary to break in upon its original principle of proportioning aid to subscription, and that this leads to a vast increase of expense, and we therefore conclude that if the system is to become national prompt means should be taken to remedy defects which threaten to injure its success in proportion to its extension, and to involve the revenue in an excessive expenditure.' (Report, p. 327.)

The Commissioners are of opinion that the defects of the present system may all be classed under four heads. 1. The excessive expenditure thrown on the central revenue for local objects. 2. The difficulty of assisting a large number of schools without such expenditure. 3. The defective teaching of elementary subjects. 4. The complicated business of the Education department, which would be unmanageable if the present system became national. But in considering these four points the Commissioners do not appear to us to have gone to the root of the matter; and the recommendations made by them for the purpose of removing these defects would rather, we think, tend to augment them. We attempted in our April number of last year, when the Commission was still deliberating, to direct their attention to some other points, but the result of their inquiries and debates has not altogether justified the expectations we then entertained. Here it is, that a Commission formed on the eclectic principle is apt to break down. The opinions of its members are so various and conflicting that their Report is generally lowered to the standard of a compromise. If unanimity is obtained, it is at the expense of completeness and sincerity: and the individual convictions of each member of the body would probably be entitled to more weight than the mosaic work to which all of them have put their names. Nay, we even think that the individual recommendations of the Assistant Commissioners, each one speaking in his own name, are more judicious and practical than those of the Commission itself.

The first point to which we think the attention of the Commissioners might with advantage have been directed, but on which they have not recorded their opinion, is the nature and character of the office or department of Government charged with the administration of the Education grant. It does indeed appear from the evidence of Mr. Lingen, the present Secretary of the Education Committee, that the complication of business in the office is such as to present an effectual bar to the extension of the present system to the whole country. Mr. Lingen's words are: I think that if you were to follow out the present

« PreviousContinue »