THE LONDON EDUCATION BILL. T HE London Education Bill was introduced
into the House of Commons by Sir William Anson on Tuesday. We cannot say that its reception was of a very warm character, but we by no means feel sure that this is a sign that the measure is hopelessly bad and unworkable. The atmosphere of the House of Commons just now grows so heated the moment the word " education " is mentioned that no measure dealing with that subject has much chance of fair and cool discussion. When, too, as in the case of the present Bill, to the " odium " that belongs to education is added that which attaches to all problems involving the respective rights of the London County Council and the London Borough Councils, the air becomes literally soaked with suspicion, hatred, jealousy. and all forms of political uncharitableness. Take, for example, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's speech. One would imagine from it that the Government, instead of immensely increasing popular control over education, were depriving the people of all concern with the matter. Again, the leader of the Opposition spoke in a tone which suggested that the London County Council was the only directly elected body in the Metropolis. From his speech one would never have guessed that the Borough Councils are just as democratic bodies as the County Council, and if it comes to claiming the sanctity of popular election, can make out quite as good a case in the matter of democratic consecration as can the County Council. In such circuni- stances, no London Education Bill could have been produced which would have been received with general satisfaction. The Bill was bound, not merely to offend some individuals, but a great many people, and to offend them in a way which they would for the moment sincerely imagine was unparalleled," disgraceful," undemocratic, and 'contrary to every principle both of honour and expediency.'
The best way to understand the spirit of the London Education Bill, and to arrive at the reasons which induced the q-overnment to propose the somewhat cumbrous machinery of their new measure, is to look at the situation with which they were faced. In the first place, they had to take steps to bring the education, elementary and secondary, of the Metropolis into co-ordination, and also to make their scheme harmonise, as nearly as circumstances would allow, with that of .the rest of the kingdom. But granted that they were to move, and on these lines, it was obvious that they must link London education to the London municipal system. The education of Liverpool, elementary and secondary, was handed over to the control of the Liverpool Town Council. Therefore, if the policy of the Act of last year was not to be abandoned, London education must in some way or other be connected with the municipal authority in power in London. It is, however, far easier to state this general proposition than to apply it to London. In all other cities and counties of England there is but one Council, County or Borough, exercising the higher administrative functions within a given area. In London the municipal functions have been split, and are exercised by two bodies, the London County Council and the Borough and City Councils. Thus when you decide to apply the policy of the Education Act to London you have really settled nothing, and are met at once with the question, "Are you going to consider the County Council or the Borough Council the local authority which is to control elementary and secondary education within the London area ? " Both bodies can on grounds of analogy make out a good case for being the proper local authority, but neither can show an exclusive right. Confronted with this dilemma, one is at first tempted to suggest that the best plan would be to create a new ad hoc body, which should be neither the County Council nor the Borough Council, to do the work of educating London. But to do this would really only be to leave the School Board under another name,—and all authorities agree that the School Board was not a satisfactory body because it was in no way linked with the municipal system of London. We want in the interests of the community to concentrate in the matter of elected bodies, and not to diffuse the limited stock of electoral virtue which the voter is capable of expending at the polls. In short, the case against an ad hoc body, either elected or nominated, is very strong, and we think it will be generally agreed that the Government were wise to reject that alternative. Accordingly the Government must either endorse the claim of the County Council on the one hand, or of the Borough Councils on the other, to be the local authority, or else hit upon some compromise between the two. They have decided, and, as we think, on the whole wisely, though we do not fail to recognise many grave faults in the Bill as it reads at the present moment, to adopt the policy of compromise,—to accept the claim of neither ia full, but to create a body which shall be derived from both the County Council and the Borough Councils, and to entrust to this body the administration of London education. The plan presented by the Bill is, shortly, as follows. In the first place, the School Board and the Technical Education Board disappear. Next, the London County Council is to be the education authority for London, and is to have the rating powers of a county borough under Part II. of the Education Act. This means that the County Council will be the authority empowered to carry out technical education, to provide the elementary education now provided by the School Board, and to supervise elementary education in the voluntary schools. But the management of the Council's schools, as differentiated from their control, will be handed over to the Borough Councils, working through Committees either wholly or partially composed of elected persons, but subject to the general direction of the educa- tion authority, which will have complete financial control. In order, however, to make the interest of the Borough Councils real and substantial, they will be given the right to appoint and dismiss the teachers, the custody of the buildings, and the power to select the sites for new schools. In cases of dispute as to what constitutes management and what control, the Board of Education will be referred to, and where a Borough Council is negligent the local authority will be able to intervene and assume the management. But though the County Council is thus nominally given supreme power, it is not allowed to act directly. It must act through a Committee, the composi- tion of which is strictly laid down in the Bill. This Com- mittee is to consist of ninety-seven members, and is to be constituted as follows :—Members of London County Council, 36; Borough Councils (one each), 27; City of London, 2; City of Westminster, 2; experts and women to be named by the County Council, 25; School Board (for five years), 5. The experts and women who will be appointed by the County Council will include representatives of voluntary schools, of the great educational bodies, the University of London, the different types of public schools, the technical schools, and the contributing City charities and guilds. It will be seen from this summary that seventy-two members will be indirectly chosen by the people—those from the County Council, the Borough Councils, and the present School Board—and that the rest will be nominated by an elected body.
We must reserve detailed criticism of the measure till the actual Bill has been before the country for a longer period, and has been more fully discussed both in Parliament and outside. On a general survey of the scheme in outline two things are, however, apparent. The first is that the Bill is not open to the clamorous objections of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and his friends that it is anti-democratic and violates the rights of the people. It clearly does nothing of the kind, unless Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's definition of "the people" is people who agree with the Liberal party, or rather, his section of the Liberal party. The Committee, in fact, is as democratically inspired as any body could be that is not elected ad hoc. Every member of it has either been sancti- fied by a popular vote, or else has been nominated by persons so sanctified. But though the Committee is not open to criticism on this head, it is, we think, open to the criticism that its members are not sufficiently homo- geneous in the matter of origin. From many towns we call them, on many Boards they sit,' and it is to be feared that the Committee will therefore be wanting in that coherence which may be expected in a Committee like that, say, of Lancashire or of Liverpool. But this objection to the scheme may also, we admit, prove in practice to be ill founded. What we fear there is no chance of proving to be groundless is the objection that giving control to one body and management to another will lead to friction. That is likely to prove the weak spot of the Bill. Local bodies are notoriously jealous of each other, and inclined to wrangle; and unless we are greatly mistaken, the control and management clauses will produce a great deal of ill-feeling in spite of the arbitration provision. It is not difficult to imagine the kind of battles which the officials of the County Council Committee on the one hand, and of the Borough Councils on the other, will contrive to wage. We trust, therefore, most sincerely that some plan v be dis- covered for getting rid of the friction which the Bill thus introduces. Another objection to the Bill is to be found in the financial arrangements. There is tee wide a boundary between those who will spend the money and those who will have to raise it. The Committee will feel itself a body quite separate from the County Council, and will have little inducement to keep down expenses. For this reason we should like to see the body which will have to foot the bill given an absolute majority on the Committee.
But though we see certain strong objections to the Bill, we do not share the pessimism of many persons in regard to it. After all, it is unreasonable to expect any Bill to be free from objections, especially when it has to deal with such a situation as that which exists in the educational system of London. The Bill wants amendment, and wants it somewhat radically ; but we do not see any reason why it should not receive such amendment, and pass in a work- able shape.