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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 86

IV.—Efficient Education for the Children

IV.—Efficient Education for the Children.

As the State undertakes to fulfil all the duties of parentage to over 50,000 children (this is the average number of indoor pauper children : 32,000 of them are actually orphans),* and prevents, moreover, any interference by their relatives in tne matter, it is clear that the State is bound, as a matter both of morality and public policy, to ensure that these duties are fulfilled in the very best possible manner. The Government should, at any rate, set, as a parent, a good and not a bad example.

* P. 279 of C—5818.

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The grim principle of the 1834 Commissioners, that the pauper's "situation, on the whole, shall not be made really or apparently so eligible as the situation of the laborer of the lowest class," cannot, even by the blindest devotee of the now discredited lakser-faire principle which so misled the able authors of that remarkable report, be held to apply to orphan children whilst the situation of the children of the lowest laborer remains below the level of nurture and education at which they can be prepared for the struggle of life. To manufacture paupers wholesale inside the workhouse, merely because individual parents are doing so outside, has proved too stupid even for the scientific Poor Law pedant; and a vast improvement has taken place in the care of indoor pauper children.

Boarding out is still restricted, both by its limitation to orphan or deserted children, and by the difficulty of securing efficient supervision; but 3,778 were boarded out on July 1, 1888,* and, in the great majority of cases, were found to be well cared for.

The facilities for boarding out and emigration, now confined by the order of the Local Government Board to orphans and deserted children, might well be extended to other pauper children. It is even suggested by experienced Poor Law workers that the children of permanent indoor paupers might equally be boarded out, just as they are now sent away to the Poor Law School. The others, instead of being herded together in pauper barracks, or crowded in gigantic ophthalmic workhouse schools, as they are in all but a few exceptional institutions, need, if they cannot be boarded out, to be allotted in comparatively small parties in 11 cottage homes," to the care of "house-mothers." They should be kept free from any pauper taint; sent if possible to mix with other children in good public elementary schools; and carefully taught some trade or useful occupation, by which they can fulfil the duties of good citizenship, incumbent on them as on others. The apprenticeship of pauper children to unskilled trades, or the placing of them out as errand-boys or farm-laborers, ought to be definitely abandoned.

Their elementary education requires, too, considerable improvement. 16,216 children were in Metropolitan workhouse schools in 1886-7. Out of these only 359 were in Standard VI. (only 221 of these passed). The Poor Law inspectors are always deploring the inferiority of the Poor Law Schools.

It does not seem too much to ask that every child to which the State assumes the duties of parentage should be given, up to fourteen, the best elementary education possible, followed by apprenticeship to some highly skilled trade, so as to ensure that every workhouse child shall become a skilled instead of an, economically speaking, "unskilled" recruit in the labor market.

* P. 279 of C—5813.