THE HEAD-MASTERS' CONFERENCE. A. HEAD-MASTER'S idea of a holiday—at all
events, at Christmas—is something like that commonly attributed to actors. He does not, indeed, go and see other men teach, but he does the next best thing to this,—he goes to hear them talk about teaching. It is not for the public, however, to complain of this devo- tion of spare time to professional subjects. Doubtless there is something to be done in the way of improving our educational system, and we know of no better way of discovering what this something is than by collecting the opinions of competent experts. There was a. time when every schoolmaster was an absolute ruler. He neither knew nor cared what might be law or custom in other kingdoms. To-day each head-master is in some sort a member of a federation. The rules by which he governs his community are of his own making indeed, but he is no longer indifferent to the degree in which they conform to, or depart from, an international standard.
The Head-Masters' Conference last week began with a discussion on secondary education. It is significant that the resolution moved by the Head-Master of Winchester was practically the same as that carried, with only one dissentient, at the Conference of 1895. The object of the resolution, said Dr. Fearon, was "to strengthen the hands of the Government, or to stimulate them if they required stimu- lation." We suspect that the latter process will be found the more needful of the two. In theory, no doubt, Ministers are deeply impressed with the importance of secondary education. But the importance of a subject is not always a reason for dealing with it. Importance implies diffi- culty, and the inducement to a Ministry to take up a difficult question is commonly the interest their supporters take in it. But the interest taken in secondary education is not very widely diffused. It is felt strongly where it is felt, but it is only felt here and there. Eventually, no doubt, there may be a good deal of glory to be derived from the successful handling of the subject, but it may be long in coming, and in the meanwhile a great deal of time will have been spent with very little to show for it. It may be said, in answer to this, that the fact that secondary education is not a popular question makes the Bill all the easier to pass. The discussion of it will be left to the experts, and the experts are practically agreed. But practical agreement among experts is a very unsafe thing to trust to. It is very much in evidence during the debate on the second reading, but it is apt to disappear altogether when the Bill gets into Committee. All the secondary schools in England may be of one mind as to the lines on which it should be framed, but when the details come to be considered it may easily turn out that every one of them wants some particular modification, without which the law will work unequally. Any measure that deals with secondary education in a large and comprehensive spirit must affect a large number of private interests, and when this is realised the limit of heroic self- saerifice is soon reached. There is another consideration, too, which may well make a Government think twice before pledging itself to introduce — and pass — a Secondary Education Bill. We have heard something of the religious difficulty in connection with elementary education. But in elementary education we are for the most part concerned with day-schools, and, in theory at all events, a child who attends a day-school may be taught religion at home. In secondary education we are largely concerned with boarding-schools, and the child who goes to a boarding-school must take his religious as well as his secular instruction from the master of the school. The idea so commonly entertained that the religious difficulty has no existence in secondary education may prove an over- tianguine rendering of the fact, and it is the more likely to do so by reason of the irritation which the Welsh Inter- mediate Education Act has excited in many Churchmen. That was in effect a Secondary Education Act for Wales, and it was passed by a Conservative Government. But all the same, in the opinion of many people it gave up the whole principle of denominational education, and applied to secondary schools that very Cowper-Temple clause which has been the occasion of so much heat in connection with elementary schools. All these objections may, of course, be overruled by a strong Minister, and the Duke of Devonshire undoubtedly is a strong Minister. But it may be doubted whether his strength is most conspicuous in the direc- tion of education ; and though in Sir John Gorst he has a highly capable lieutenant, the Vice-President of the Council seems more interested in displaying the enlightened and half-amused contempt with which he regards his chiefs than in doing the rather thankless work of guarding their educational measures against pitfalls.
That a Secondary Education Bill, when it does come, will establish a Central Education Authority is more than probable. It is the conviction, we believe, of pretty well every one who has gone into the question, that this is, what the resolution of the Conference describes it, "the essential starting-point in any sound movement towards reform." The Universities may be laws to them- selves, but if every separate school is to be a law to itself the result will be chaos. The State will be spending its money with no assurance that it is getting its money's worth. It would be impossible to put the majority of schools under a Minister of Education while leaving some outside his control ; and here the Head-Masters' Conference has established, we think, a solid claim to have its demand for a Bill attended to. " The Government," says Dr. Fearon, "are afraid to constitute their Central Authority because they are afraid of opposition." Consequently it is important that the leading schools should "show that they are not afraid of a Central Authority," and that even if they are not in love with the prospect of having one set over them, "they are willing to give way from the point of view of the good of the nation. So long as any ques- tion that has to be referred to a Central Authority goes sometimes to one Department and sometimes to another, now to the Charity Commission, now to the Education Office, now to the Department of Science and Art, there can be neither uniformity nor certainty. Without the action of the Conference the smaller secondary schools might be afraid to exchange King Log for King Stork, but when the heads of the great public schools declare their readi- ness to submit to a more vigorous rule the small schools must at least keep their fears to themselves.
A second resolution dealt with the relation of secondary and elementary education. This is a subject which at times has excited a good deal of interest among people who think that they see in it a means of reducing the expendi- ture of Board-schools. It is possible, no doubt, that these schools have sometimes erred in the direction of making their curriculum too ambitious, though, considering the early age at which the great majority of children unfor- tunately leave school, we doubt whether this ambition can be responsible for any large part of the school-rate. Any way, we are convinced that whoever benefits by a stricter limitation of subjects in Board-schools, it will not be the ratepayer. It may make a difference in the name in- scribed at the head of his demand-note, but it will do nothing more. In proportion as the working man comes to understand the true interest of his children—and, slow though the' process be, there is an advance in this direction—the more urgent will be his demand that the community shall bear the cost. In the case of secondary education, endowments may do a good deal ; but there will be large areas in which endow- ments do not exist, and in them, at all events, it is on the ratepayer that the burden will fall. For each penny that he saves by the exclusion of secondary subjects from elemen- tary schools, he will have at least another to find to build secondary schools in which to entertain the exiles. The justification of the resolution of the Head-Masters' Con- ference, "that an official differentiation, by a Central Educational Authority, between the aims and curricula of primary and secondary schools is necessary," must be sought elsewhere than in any check the separation is likely to impose on the alleged extravagance of Board- schools. It lies in the danger that if this " differentia- tion " of aims and curricula is neglected, we shall not get the best results from either class of school. The education of the boy who leaves school at sixteen ought to differ from that of the boy who leaves school at thirteen, not merely in duration but in conception. The two will not only learn different things, but they will learn the same things in a different fashion. Secondary education cannot be properly given in elementary schools. In them it is an adjunct, an ornamental appendage, an "extra." In the secondary schools it is an object pursued from the beginning as the object for which the school exists. That is the true reason fur drawing a sharp line between the two