THE MANCHESTER EDUCATION SCHEME. [To THE EDITOR OF THE "
SPECTATOR."] SIR, the belief that your article on " Compulsory Education " last week was written before you had seen the proposed Manchester
Education Bill, may I venture to point out how that Bill meets the "religious difficulty," which, as you truly say, is the real difficulty.
You write, " a universal rate and compulsory education mean possibly the gradual abandonment of the denominational schools at which education is not altogether gratuitous, and a thronging to the schools in which it would be so." Now, of course, if secular free schools were set up alongside of denominational schools where fees were charged, the certain effect would be to empty the latter. Any scheme therefore which proposed to do so would arouse the vehement hostility of the denominations. But the Manchester men were quite shrewd enough to perceive this, and they have accordingly proposed nothing of the sort. Their scheme is most conservative. They leave the denominational system, the present management committees, the Government inspection, and the Privy Council grants all intact. Under the new law Public Schools' Committees are to be constituted, but if the existing schools elect to enter into union with them, their dealings with these Com- mittees are to be purely financial, and financial, moreover, after the pleasantest fashion. On the one condition—others indeed are specified, but they are all exacted already by the Privy Council— of ceasing to charge fees to the children, the Committee will pay to the managers a capitation grant large enough, when eked out by the Government grant, to render them independent not only of the children's pence, but also of the annual subscriptions. But how about parental scruples? In spite of the compulsion applied, they are to be most carefully considered, and that without the aid of a conscience clause or any equivalent. The Manchester men have simply opened their eyes to the fact that in all large towns, at any rate, there is so ample a choice of schools that every parent, if left free to choose, can find one sufficiently in harmony with his religious opinions. " You must send your children to school, but you may choose what school you please,"—that is the keystone of the Manchester scheme, and I submit that this is the simplest and most practicable solution of the " religious difficulty." It is no solution, I admit, in small towns and country districts. But let us make a beginning in the great cities, and by the time we have got universal education there, the difficulty will have melted away elsewhere. There is yet another quarter, however, in which the difficulty may present itself. The Public Schools' Committees are to build new schools where they are wanted, and these schools must of necessity be more or less secular. But the inevitable grievance is anticipated. The Committee are to give six months' notice of their intention, and any denomination which in the interval under- takes the erection of the school may bar their action. If they cannot, and will not, they are surely bound " thereafter for ever to hold their peace." Not even Archdeacon Denison could have the hardihood to say, in such a case, " Though there is not the slightest hope of my teaching these children the Catechism, I strongly object to any one else teaching them the three R's."—I [Our correspondent is right that we had not seen the details of the Manchester scheme when we wrote, and could not gather them from the speeches as reported. We suggested, however, as the best, the plan which the Manchester men seem to have adopted. —ED. Spectator.]