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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 41

[Compulsory Clauses]

Mr. Lowe's view of education.

It may seem unnecessary to say anything in favour of compulsion in a country where attendance at school is nominally enforced by law. But experience has convinced me that many persons practically hold the view which an English Minister of Education, Mr. Lowe, expressed, in 1808, in a conference on Education held in Liverpool. An enquirer then asked whether, in Mr. Lowe's opinion, Welsh labourers, who earned on an average 12s. a week, were bound to send their boys to school at the ages of ten, eleven, or twelve years, when these boys might be earning from one shilling to eighteenpence a week. Mr. Lowe replied—"Supposing a parent has two or three children who are capable of scaring birds. If, instead of doing that, the parents are called on to send them to school, the consequence is that the family go to the parish. I maintain that those children would be better employed in keeping their father, mother, brothers, and sisters from the parish than in learning anything." It will be observed that Mr. Lowe with characteristic courage chose for his illustration a form of labour which is peculiarly demoralizing to a child's intellect, and for which the smallest possible return is received. But the problem, however stated, is essentially the same. There are mining districts in Victoria where a strong boy under fifteen will sometimes earn as much as a pound a week; and if exemptions are allowed in these cases, they must be allowed in all. The sooner the country realizes this position the better. Many, I am afraid, hold that it is right to put good schools within the reach of all; and right to force children into school if they would otherwise be idle; but that it is not desirable to interfere with children who are profitably employed at home or in factories. Happily, we do not need here to apprehend that parents will

Difficulties of compulsory education.

go on the parish if their children are kept from school. But many difficult cases crop up now and again. A widower, or a widow, left in charge of a young family will often want the girls to do household work, and will be glad to put the boys' labour into page 39 the market as soon as it is saleable. Parents in thinly-settled districts will often find it difficult to replace the labour the State tells them to dispense with at any cost. I have calculated that, on a low estimate, the labour of children between 12 and 15 is worth about £400,000 a year to their parents; and I need not say that the labour of children between 6 and 12 has also a very great money value.

Practically, then, I may state the case against a compulsory system thus: that even if our present education rate were levied by a property or income tax upon the wealthy classes of society, the poorer classes would unavoidably be contributing to it in even a higher proportion, and would be paying as much out of smaller means.

None the less, I think, can an overwhelming case be made out

Case for compulsory education.

in favour of absolute and universal compulsion. I need not here go over the old ground that an educated community is on the whole more moral, more law-abiding, and more capable of work than an uneducated; and therefore that the State is justified in enforcing education that it may economise its revenue and develope its resources. These considerations I may take for granted. What I wish to point out is, that democratic institutions such as our own make compulsory education a necessity; and that its apparent is greater than its real cost even to the working classes. In the great military monarchies of the continent it was once held that a people could only be governed while it was kept brutal (il faut abrutir le peuple pour le rendre gouvernable); and a king of Naples only expressed this sentiment with unusual felicity, when he said that he wished to see his subjects "little asses and little saints." But even these governments tried to draw the educated men of the country into their service. In a country like our own, where the highest offices of the State are open not merely in name but in fact to all, it is necessary that there should be no chance of uninstructed constituencies returning ignorant representatives. Moreover, equality before the law is the leading principle of a democracy. Once allow a parent to keep his children at home because he is rich and may be supposed to educate them, or because he is poor and may want to profit by their labour, and it will be found impossible to work the Education Act at all. Again, we have not only the State and the parent to consider in our calculations; we are bound to take into account the claims of the young. The State is the natural guardian of children against their parents; and much of the progress of civilization consists in limitations of the parental right, from old times when the parent might expose the newly-born infant or sentence the grown-up son to death, to later times when the State watches that the child be vaccinated, clothed, and fed, and not tasked beyond its strength. Every child born into the world has a right to demand that it shall receive at least that minimum of instruction which is given to others, which is generally required to make its labour remunerative, and which it cannot obtain, or can only obtain at a disproportionate cost afterwards. To the wealthy classes of society it is far cheaper page 40 that they should be worked for and governed by educated men than that they should be saved the charge of an education rate. Even to the poorer classes the tax of compulsory education is less than it seems, not only because compulsory education means quick education; not only because the educated child earns more than the uneducated; but because, as Mr. Mundella has put it, "if there were not so many children employed who ought not to be employed, many parents would be better paid than they are."* The State, in fact, calls on employers to discard a little cheap labour for a time, and on parents to renounce quick profits; but it holds out to the employer the prospect of an eventual supply of steady and instructed workmen, and to the parent increased value for his own labour, and increased wage-rate hereafter for his children.

Faults of the present Act.

Starting then from this assumption, that rich and poor alike ought to be forced to educate their children, I will briefly indicate why the present compulsory Act is practically useless for its purposes.

Defective registration.

In the first place, there is no adequate machinery for ascertaining the children of school age in a district.

A certain number of children are on no school rolls whatever, and the expense of a satisfactory school census once a year would be a serious addition to our present Estimates.

No tests of private instruction.

In the next place, there is no machinery for testing the value of a parent's statement that he is educating his children at a private school or at home; and truant officers are reluctant to summon people of substance, though a few of these notoriously neglect their duties.

Persons vexatiously summoned.

Thirdly, many parents are summoned who have an adequate excuse, because there is no machinery for ascertaining and registering the causes of absence.

Muster-rolls not properly called.

Fourthly, the system of calling the muster-rolls is generally defective, and many children who do attend come late, or are allowed to go away early.

Minimum of attendances fixed too low.

Lastly, the provisions of the Act favour an idea that 30 days in a quarter, the legal minimum, are a proper number of attendances, and thus the school teaching is paralysed by intermittent scholars, and children have to be kept at school long after they ought to have passed the standards.

Compulsory system in Norway and Sweden.

It may perhaps be useful to examine in what way other countries have established a compulsory system. The countries best worth studying for this purpose are Norway and Sweden, North Germany, Scotland, and Massachusetts. In Norway and Sweden the circumstances are peculiar. A great tract of country is inhabited by a very sparse population; in the northern parts the population is not thicker than in our own bush districts; and throughout Norway in particular the difficulties of communication, from climate and from the hilly character of the country, can hardly be exaggerated. The people are poor to a degree that perhaps only

* Report of the National Education League, 1869, p. 213.

"Whilst in Malmöhus district there are 750 people to the square mile, in Norbotten there are only 85 to the same area."—Thomitée't Sveriye, p. 20.

page 41 those who have lived or travelled among them can understand; and in the interior of Norway very few places can be found where the houses are near enough together to constitute a village. Nevertheless, the population is almost universally educated. The constraining influences have been that the schools till lately have been in the hands of the clergy, that no uninstructed child could be confirmed, and that no one was likely to get employment in Norway or could marry or hold office in Sweden without a certificate of confirmation admitting to the communion.* Besides this, there are certain civil penalties, such as inability to vote, for uneducated persons in Sweden. But the old system, which is responsible for the results, and which dates from the Reformation, is clearly inapplicable in Victoria; and the most important point to notice in the systems of Norway and Sweden is, I think, the liberal use of half-time or migratory schools.
In North Germany the clergy till very lately exercised very

Compulsory system in North Germany.

great influence over the schools; and, under the patronage of the notorious Von Mueller, a theological character was stamped on the whole course of instruction. Six hours in the week were devoted to theology, and the reading books were filled with religious teaching often of the most childish character. A State which exacts four instead of three subjects from its pupils necessarily increases the burden it lays upon them by something like 25 per cent.; and the school hours in Germany have accordingly averaged 26 hours a week. For many years the system which seemed excellent on paper was comparatively barren of results. The teaching was mechanical; and the pupils, when they once left the school, had no civilizing influences of a free press or political discussion, and gradually relapsed into savagery. But during the last few years the character of the teaching has been much improved; in 1872 the Education Department was secularized by a law transferring inspection from the clergy to the State; and, as Germany has been consolidated, its rulers have been less afraid of the people, and public intelligence has been quickened. Practically, attendance is secured in Germany by a strict system of registration, superintended by the police; by warnings from the schoolmaster, from the pastor, and from the board of advice; and, if these are ineffectual, by summons before a magistrate, who can punish with fine and imprisonment. So admirably does this work, that "in a district of fifty odd thousand persons," a school director, who enforced attendance strictly, told Mr. Mundella that he had only 42 cases of contumacy in eight years, Mr. Mundella states, however, that there was a good deal of difficulty for a year

* "Until within the last few years, no one, unless he had communicated, could either marry or bold office under the Crown "—Lloyd's Peasant Life in Sweden, p. 356. "I could not help laughing when I was informed that a common barber, before he could open shop, was obliged to pass an examination in Cornelius Nepos." Lower's Wayside Notes in Scandinavia, p. 272. At present attendance at school is enforced by fines in both Sweden and Norway. "If parents (in Sweden) neglect the education of their children, they are at first called before the board of instruction, and receive an admonition from the presiding officer of that board. If that have no effect, the board of instruction can take the children and have them educated at the expense of the parents; but it is in most cases impossible to collect money from such parents, since they are generally poor."-Professor Meyerberg at the International Conference on Education held at Philadelphia, Report, p. 53. "Parents who fall to Bend their children to school when they are old enough, or to give them in some other way the instruction which every child ought to receive, are punished with a fine. If the parents are obstinate, and also when the children are badly treated or get a bad example in the bosom of their family, they can he taken from home and placed with other families."—Brocks Royaume de Norvéye, p. 82. Compare Laing's Norway, chapter 4.

Report of the National Education League, 1869, p. 131.

page 42 or two after the law was first enforced before this desirable result was achieved.*

Compulsory system of the New England Skates.

In America, even in the New England States, there is no real system of compulsion. There is a compulsory law, but its effects are more or less neutralized by three causes—(1) There is no registration; (2) there is a clause in the Act exempting parents from its operation if they are poor; and, (3), the application of the compulsory clauses rests with districts, and even in Massachusetts more than half of these had not complied with the Act in 1874-5. The regulations of the Massachusetts Factory Act, as it existed when Mr. Fraser visited the country in 1865, read like a burlesque. They provide that no child under 12 years of age shall be employed in a factory for more than 10 hours a day, or unless it has attended school for 18 weeks in the preceding year. What good a child will haver got from an attendance of only 18 weeks, or what profitable school work it can do after 10 hours' work in a factory, are points which do not seem to have impressed the legislature. Happily this Act was replaced in 1866 by one of a much more stringent and satisfactory kind.§

Notwithstanding these palpable defects of present or recent legislation, school attendance in Massachusetts reaches an average which, if far below that of North Germany, is far above that of most English-speaking countries, and comparatively respectable. The reason undoubtedly is that public opinion is thoroughly alive to the advantages of the school system; and that in large districts—as, for instance, in Boston—the truant law is rigidly enforced. The worst cases of default are in the country districts; but even in these much good work is said to be done during the long winter months.

Compulsory system of Scotland.

In Scotland, the success attained has been very much due to the moral support accorded to the Act. Thus, in Glasgow, an elaborate school census was made without regard to expense, and the chief inhabitants divided the city into districts, and made a personal visitation to induce parents to send their children to school. The defaulters were still numbered by thousands; but almost all gave way finally before the threat of legal proceedings. Out of 12,374 guilty defaulters, nearly two-thirds were sent to school on warning by the officers, and nearly one-third more on receipt of a simple notice from the board, while only in forty-seven cases was it necessary to prosecute.


It will be observed that in the North German system—the most effective of those I have quoted—a thorough system of registration is adopted. There is no difficulty about this in Germany, where, within my own memory, every man staying more than two days in a place was compelled to give notice to the police, and every man leaving a place was obliged to get permission from the authorities. It is sometimes supposed, however, that English habits are opposed to this system. No

* "When Prussia, in virtue of the treaties of 1815, took possession of the duchy of Posen, then containing 1,000,000 of inhabitants, the Prussian Government introduced compulsory attendance, and met with, difficulty. It was the same even in the Rhenish provinces, which then passed from the rule of France to that of Prussia." Report of the (French) sub-commission appointed to enquire into the state of technical instruction in Germany and Switzerland, p. 7.

Report of the Commissioner of Education for 1875, p. 187. Washington.

Fraser's Report on the Common School System of the United States, p. 29. Sydney edition.

§ Ryerson's Special Report on Systems of Popular Education, p. 157.

page 43 doubt there was a time when this might have been said; but our present practice, in many instances, is in an opposite direction. We force parents to register the births of their children, and to

Precedents for registration.

obtain certificates of vaccination; we compel married people to register marriages; we have a registration of deaths; and we even oblige owners of clogs to register them. Considering that the education of our children is of the last importance to the community, and that the State offers it free of cost to the parent, it can scarcely be considered unreasonable if parents are required to register their children of school age at the State school of the district. By the plan I propose, every man may ascertain, by

Plan of registration.

going to the town hall or to the nearest post office, which his school district is; and the head master will be in attendance to register for five hours during five days of the week at the State school, or at any other reasonable time in his private residence. The onus of ascertaining whether he is or is not in a school district—that is, whether he does or does not live within two and a half miles of a State school—ought, I think, to rest with the parent, who must apply to the school board for information if he is doubtful.
When the children are registered, it will be the duty of the

The head master of the State school should summon truants.

State schoolmaster, in the first instance, to see that they come to school regularly. For this purpose he will be supplied by the department with printed forms, in which the parent is called upon to explain why a child has been absent a specified number of days: and for the delivery of these the head teacher is empowered to use the services of pupil-teachers or of children over nine years of age, and living within half a mile of the house of the person summoned. Much trouble will be saved to all parties if parents register the children under school age with the others, so that the head teacher may be in no doubt whether the legal age has been reached. With respect to this system of summoning, I may observe that it is freely used in America, and has been adopted by several of the most successful teachers in Victoria at their own cost for their own convenience. Its use is two-fold. It saves the head teacher and school board the trouble of following up cases in which there is a sufficient excuse, and will furnish an easy form of evidence against defaulting parents, whose written statements can be produced against them. But it will be no less valuable to parents in giving them instant information when their children are playing truant.
Every month the head teacher will send in his rolls and a list

Prosecutions to be authorized by the board of advice.

of truants, and the summonses that have been issued and returned, or, where they have not been returned, a statement of the circumstances, to the local board of advice. It is desirable that the board of advice should not come forward too prominently in the matter of prosecutions; but it is impossible to relieve it from the duty of instructing the truant officer or the police what parents are to be summoned. Probably, in some cases, members will be able to bring moral influence to bear on a defaulting parent; and in some cases the board will be able to accept reasons for a child's absence. When the list of defaulting parents is made page 44 out, and handed over to the police and the truant officer, it will still be desirable for a time that parents should have a chance given them of explaining their reasons before they are summoned; and in cases where the excuse preferred cannot be taken, I think the board might be empowered, for a first offence, to accept a confession of judgment and fine without forcing the parent into court. Of course it should be understood that the confession of judgment would operate hereafter as a conviction for a first offence if the parent required to be prosecuted again.

Truancy cases to be adjudicated by police magistrates.

I would recommend that truancy cases be adjudicated only by a police magistrate, not only because in some rare cases the prejudices of magistrates opposed to the Education Act are said to have interfered with the course of justice, but because it is undesirable that school boards should be partially represented on the bench, when it is scarcely possible that all the members should be magistrates. It will not promote the harmonious working of a school board if one of the members, being in the commission, assists in quashing a prosecution which his colleagues ordered.

Defaulting districts to be charged with the cost of a truant officer.

Another and not the least vital point on which the success of our compulsory system hinges is, that there should be some power of charging the cost of excessive truancy to a district. I propose that the present system of average attendances be altered, and that every child should be taken separately, as having obeyed or broken the law. Should it appear at the end of the educational year that the attendances of children of school age are below eighty in a hundred, the Minister should, I think, be empowered to quarter a truant officer specially on the district, and charge his expenses to the ratepayers, until the law is obeyed. The number I have suggested, 20 per cent., is a very liberal allowance; the common estimate in Great Britain for necessary default being 16 per cent. The cost of a truant officer—being not much more than £200 a year—is not a very heavy fine to pay for neglect; and the principle, that the State pays for education and not for ignorance, is, I think, one the soundness of which will not be disputed. The experience of England shows that school boards are not implicitly to be trusted. "Of the fifty-eight school boards within my district," says an English inspector, "thirteen only had, up to the end of June, passed any bye-laws; and of this small number by no means all had taken any action upon them. The reason of this is obvious, viz., that the very men who constitute the boards have a direct interest in the non-attendance of the children, and oftentimes are themselves directly responsible for the breach of their own bye-laws."* I may observe that this gentleman's district comprised a population equal to about one-fifth of our own, so that the proportion of school boards to inhabitants was very nearly that which prevails in Victoria. While I believe that we have here a far more enlightened and earnest feeling on the subject of education than prevails in England, I do not think it would be wise to assume that we shall never have school boards as lax as the Cornish, or whose members may not hold, with Mr. Lowe, that a boy may be better employed in earning money than in learning

* Report by H. P. Codd, Esq., in Report of the Committee of Council on Education for 1876-7, p, 474.

page 45 to spell. I may add that I think it will strengthen the hands of the school boards if they can convince the ratepayers that it is expensive not to prosecute. A district might elect men pledged to a lenient interpretation of the Act if there was no means of punishing leniency.
At the same time I rest my chief hopes of bringing up our

Propriety of increasing the term of compulsory attendance.

school attendances from their present deplorable average on the regulation for increasing the number of school days for children of tender age. The old adage, that "the half is more than the whole," is, I am convinced, true of school attendances; in the sense that an attendance, carefully pared down to the legal minimum of thirty days, is practically more vexatious to parents and child than an attendance of fifty or forty days would be. It is more vexatious to the parent, who learns to count on the child's work and regret its absence; and it is demoralizing to the child, as every teacher knows, to attend irregularly. In suggesting that the legal attendance after 9 years of age should be fixed at eighty days in the six months, and that boards of advice should have some power to determine the days when work is commenced, I have had regard to the peculiar wants of the potato-growing and hop-growing and pastoral districts, where a boy's work is exceptionally valuable at certain periods of the year for a month at a time. A boy at Koroit beginning school on 7th January may complete his eighty days before May, and be free for work; and, similarly, a boy in the Hamilton district may get through his legal term before November. But though I think that these relaxations must be allowed for a time, I hope the day will come when they can be discontinued. Our school hours are not so long that a boy cannot do a great deal of healthy out-doors work in addition to them; and work in a woolshed, a factory, or a brickfield, where the child is removed from his father's oversight, is work that may expose a child to very demoralizing influences.
As regards distance, the present amending Act gives, I am

Present limit of distance a good one.

convinced, a very reasonable limit. The fact seems to be that children in town find no distance short enough, and children in the country find no distance too long. Through the courtesy of Mr. Inspector Gilchrist, I have obtained a list of children in a country district who steadily walk several miles to attend a school which their parents think better than the one in the place; and it appears that in a school where the average attendance is 25, 13 walk from a distance of 3½ to 4 miles, and 7 from a distance of to 3 miles. At Merino, the children of one family walk altogether 14 miles a day, and attend with great regularity. This, of course, is an exceptional instance; but I may safely say that a distance of from 3 to 4 miles is no insuperable obstacle in many parts of the country.
There remains one description of case, which must be specially

Gutter children.

dealt with, I mean the case of so-called "gutter-children," that is, children who have been allowed to run wild in the streets till they have acquired such habits that they are considered undesirable subjects for a State school. At present there is a school page 46 in Little Bourke street where more than 100 such children are treated separately. Apart from the grave objections to that particular school, from its neighbourhood and want of accommodation, I am convinced that this system is bad in itself. Many children who have been allowed to run wild might easily be reclaimed, if they were drafted into ordinary State schools. The more difficult problem is to deal with the street Arabs, whose parents defy the law, and say they will not send them regularly, and will go to gaol sooner than pay a fine. Clearly we do not want to people our gaols with refractory parents, or to saddle the State with the expense of sending their children to our so-called Industrial Schools, even were these better managed than they are. I am in hopes a solution may be found by adopting the new English system of Day Industrial Schools in a modified form. There are probably not more than five or six districts

Day industrial schools

where a Day Industrial School need be opened. I would suggest that, in the first place, the experiment be tried of letting the "gutter-children" attend ordinary schools; but as some would present themselves too badly dressed to be admitted, while others would not present themselves at all, and a few would be almost instantly expelled for disorderly conduct, the chief value of the experiment would be to give a chance of reformation to the better disposed. Those who played truant or were rejected or expelled should be assigned by summary process to the nearest Day Industrial School; the head teacher giving notice to the school board, and the school board instructing the truant officer to serve a notice on the parents. When I mention that there are five State schools within easy distance of Little Bourke street, it will be seen that there is no danger of the ordinary schools being swamped by a sudden influx of young barbarians; and the operation of drafting them out may easily be spread over weeks or months.

Plan of industrial schools.

If this plan is adopted, the parent on whom notice from the board of advice has been served will be bound during the ensuing two years to send his child every day to a Day Industrial School for the 8 hours from 9 till 5. At the school the child will receive 4 hours of intellectual training, and 2 hours of hard work, while it will be allowed 2 hours for dinner and recreation. The gain to the child is obvious; and I am convinced that, in many cases, the certainty of a dinner will draw children to the school of their own accord. The gain to the State will also be considerable; though I do not suppose it will get any appreciable profit from the work done. Half the mischief and pilfering that is done in our streets is attributable to children who have run wild; and the State will be saved from most of this at the expense of about a shilling a week for each child; whereas, if they were sent to the present Industrial Schools, the cost would be

Parents to pay part of the cost of children sent to day industrial schools.

more nearly eight shillings a head. Meanwhile, I propose that the parents should in all such cases be charged a shilling a week for their children's board; so that theoretically the system should be self-supporting. Practically, of course, it will be very difficult to collect the money. But I would suggest that a special truant officer, empowered to demand assistance from the ordinary page 47 truant officers and from the police, be assigned to the service of these schools, and be on duty each day in one or another district. In dealing with classes who defy common morality, no indulgence need be shown; and defaulters should be incessantly summoned. I am convinced that a great many will give way if the fines inflicted are not allowed to accumulate, and will pay one or two shillings sooner than go to gaol with hard labour for three days. I am inclined to think, too, that a good many arrears might be collected in the weeks preceding great public holidays, such as Cup day, Boxing day, and Easter Monday. Many a worthless father would pay for his child's schooling sooner than be kept in on a day of general amusement. But should he elect on such occasions to go to gaol, property will perhaps be all the safer, and public order better preserved during his enforced seclusion. I may observe that in the worst case that has been brought under my notice, where the children are hardly fed, and are clothed by charity, the father is said to earn ten shillings a day whenever he is sober.
As it is desirable not to treat young children as criminals, and

Day industrial schools not to be of a renal character.

to let it be clearly understood that the Day Industrial Schools are not prisons, I would suggest that the term of committal to them be only for two years; that they be inspected every quarter; and that the inspector have the power of discharging those who, in his judgment, are likely to make good use of their liberty.
The most difficult cases to deal with will, I think, always be

Truancy of spoiled children.

those of spoiled children, who play truant, being under no proper control at home. Public opinion, which would support the Government against thieves, drunkards, and prostitutes, will not, I think, allow of any exceptional measures in these cases; and we must trust to the effect on the parent of constant fines and a certain loss of reputation. At the same time a good deal might be done towards diminishing these cases if the police were furnished from time to time with a list of such cases, and instructed to drive those whom they found playing truant into school.
I may here briefly notice with respect to night schools, that

Night schools.

I do not think attendance at a night school ought in any case to be substituted for attendance during the day. Night schools have many disadvantages. As a rule, the best teachers are too hard worked daring the day to care for giving up their evenings, and the teaching and discipline of a night school are therefore apt to be inferior to those of a day school in the same building. At the same time, the students are often young men and girls of neglected education, and have reached a time of life when they are impatient of control. Having been at work during the day, they find it difficult to attend punctually in the evening, and rarely get their full two hours work. The chief use of a night school is therefore to carry on the education of those who have passed the standards, or to complete the education of those who have passed the school age. It may be hoped that in a few years night schools will only be needed for the former class, and will all be on the model of the present Schools of Mines and Schools of Design, attended by picked students under highly qualified teachers.