[To me EDITCOR OF TEE "SPECTATOR.'1
SIR,—I have been member of a School Board for more than fourteen years ; but I cannot agree with Mr. Buxton that the diffi;ulties of compulsion necessitate " free " education, or more properly, education at other people's expense.
The two things are quite separate. If a child cannot otherwise be got to school, the parent is fined ; but if a parent is too poor to pay the school-pence, either the Attendance Committee remit the payment, or the guardians make it,—and I do not know of any child in Croydon who has been prevented from attending a Board School by the poverty of its parents. We, therefore, practically, have already what Bishop Bromby desires,—free education for the most destitute. I believe the majority of parents feel it just and right to pay their little con- tribution towards the children's teaching, and have at present no desire to throw it upon others. I believe also that these pay- ments improve attendance, because the mother who has paid her pennies on Monday morning is much more likely to look to it sharply that her children get their full " pennyworths " of schooling than she would be if she had nothing to pay.
But I see a very serious danger ahead. Free education will, I fear, mean starved education. Already the ratepayers grumble. Double the rate, and there will be an outburst which will have to be obeyed. Let Mr. Buxton and all educationalists think what that means. Cheap teachers, cheap apparatus, curtailment of every hard-won improvement, relapse into the old ruts, a terrible step backwards ! There is no use blinking the truth. England is not Scotland. The English, especially the Southern English, are not enthusiastic about education at all. As a rule they have got as far as acknowledging that every child should know how to read, write and sum,—that is, have the instruments of .education,—but education itself, good or bad, they would just let him pick up for himself, when, where, and how he could get it. Back to this point we shall steadily drift, as soon as the school-rate is excessively raised by the abolition of school-pence, —back to this point, above and beyond which we have been laboriously striving, with some success, for fifteen years, to raise the practice and ideal of elementary education ! A free gift of 21,750,000 a year will have been made to those who at present pay it without a grumble,—their children will receive a routine something, which will still be called education ; and the indignant ratepayers will hate the very word,—not always without justice,—for the struggling married clerk and small shopkeeper, suffering from bad trade and dismally loaded with rates and taxes, whose English pride of class and natural desire to avoid for their children a possible daily contact with some of the poorest of the poor, forbid them to make use of Board Schools, will feel that they are paying extortionately for the gratuitous education of the children of their neighbours, poorer, perchance, in some way than themselves, but often not really so poor.
I am not exaggerating the cost. If Board Schools are made "free" by law, Denominational or Voluntary Schools must, as a rule, be closed or follow suit. If they close, the School Boards must take them over, and their expenses will also come upon
the rates. If they are to continue as "free schools" they must, in some way, be further subsidised either by "a school rate over the whole school district, in which all schools shall participate" (one of Bishop Bromby's suggestions)—again a new and heavy
rate !—or by a sudden and large increase of Government grant, which would rouse the present opposition in another form.
Again, besides the general numbness, approaching paralysis, which this ill-starred change would, I fear, bring upon educational .effort,—a special blow would be dealt by it at a growing and highly valuable class of schools, the Advanced Board Schools, at which the parents willingly pay 6d. or 9d. a week. These would have to be " free " too, and with their freedom would simply disappear, because the ratepayers would refuse to keep up these necessarily much more expensive schools, without the aid of the higher fees which the parents would be perfectly ready, but no longer permitted, to pay. As an educationalist, I protest against this so-called "free edacation."—I am, Sir, &c.,