Editorial | Published:

The Secondary Education Movement

Nature volume 49, pages 203204 | Download Citation



THE outcome of the Oxford Conference on Secondary Education in England is our usual panacea for social ills, a Royal Commission. As this is to be, let us hope that the reference will be restricted to some definite points, and the members to a small number of properly qualified persons. Otherwise little else than unnecessary delay will be the result. Practical experience of such Commissions tends, however, to disenchant one with the prevailing idea of their usefulness, that is, of their power to settle the question at issue. Look at the last Commission on Primary Education, containing bigwigs of every kind. How long they sat, and how many Blue Books they filled with evidence, may be learnt by those who are interested. But what did it all come to? The large majority reported that they were totally opposed to free education, and the small minority, though not opposed, saw no possibility of its accomplishment. Two years afterwards a Tory Government carried a Free Education Act! Again, a Royal Commission on Vaccination has been sitting every Wednesday for the last five years, and it has not yet finished taking evidence.! In face of facts like these, and they might be greatly extended, can one look with much hope to the early settlement of so difficult and complex a question as English secondary education by a Royal Commission as usually constituted? There are two conditions under which Commissions of this kind can act usefully: first, as means of inquiry into facts, and such a one was the Technical Commission of 1881-4, which journeyed over sea and land in quest of information; and second, as a means of carrying out measures laid down by Act of Parliament; and such a one, for example, is the Scottish University Commission now sitting. If we do not now know what we want in the way of secondary education, let there be a Commission by all means. Many may think that we do know. We are all convinced that more good secondary schools are needed both in town and country; and what has to be decided are such matters as how these schools are to be governed, by whom new ones are to be set up, and old ones remodelled to suit the wants of the times, how the necessary funds are to be found, and so forth. Now, are these questions of a kind which a Royal Commission can once for all determine? I think not. In my opinion they can only be settled by the House of Commons. The rival claims of County Councils, now in possession of the funds; of School Boards, now entrusted with primary education; of existing public schools of various orders; and, lastly, of private venture schools of all sorts and sizes, cannot be met or satisfied by any report of a Royal Commission. They must be fought out on the floor of the House, and it is by no means clear that the outcome of such a struggle will be in accordance with the recommendations which the report may contain. Therefore, desiring, as all those interested in education must do, to see the present chaos reduced to some degree of order without delay, and the crying needs at least to some extent supplied; and, knowing that there is no present prospect of Government action on such a scale as to systematise our varied forms of educational activity, I, for one, should be satisfied to get a Bill through the House of Commons consisting of two clauses, the first making the educational use of the whisky money compulsory and permanent, and the second giving County Councils power to expend such a portion as they think fit, of the funds capable of devotion to technical instruction, on the furtherance of secondary education. That an expenditure in this direction of some of the money especially voted by Parliament for technical instruction is justified by the acknowledged fact that it is impossible to carry on such instruction, except on the lowest level, to persons ignorant of the educational tools, which have to be used.

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