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the rewards of labour have been small in comparison with the growth of riches through the application of labour.
But the injustice and hardship of the system are felt most in the arbitrary, unequal, uncertain, and tyrannical manner in which the school fees are levied. The fees in the board schools for each scholar in average attendance amount in Birmingham to 6s. 5d. per annum, in Hull to 9s. 7d., in Liverpool to 13s. 1d., in London to 8s. 4d., in Manchester to 14s. 10d., in Sheffield to 12s. 8d. As a rule the fees in the denominational schools are considerably higher. There are about 7,000 free scholars in Birmingham, and the numbers in other towns vary, according to the policy of different boards. This is unjust both to ratepayers and parents. It may be said that it is a matter for local adjustment between rates and fees, and that it is no ground of complaint that a workman in one town has to pay double the fee which is exacted elsewhere. But there is no such
isolation of interests as this argument assumes. On the contrary, there is a close interdependence between all the school districts of the country. The amount of the school rate is determined by the scale of fees and the Government grant. The grant varies according to many conditions, but all experience proves that, other things being equal, the best attendance will produce the highest results, and consequently the largest grant. Therefore it has only to be shown that a low scale of fees secures a more regular attendance to establish a general connection. For instance, the average fee in Birmingham is lower by nearly 3s. than the average for England, while the average grant is about 1s. 3d. higher than the general average. Consequently, if the better result in Birmingham is due to a more regular attendance, depending on easier admission, the whole nation is paying extra for the low fees and the large number of free orders in the Birmingham board schools. This, however, by no means explains the extent to which the inequality comes home. There are necessarily a certain number of free scholars, while the fees of others vary according to circumstances. There are very few districts in which the school fees are uniform. The proportion of free scholars is at present comparatively small, but is always on the increase. About 15 per cent. pay 1d. per week; 38 per cent. pay 2d.; 27 per cent. 3d.; and so on in a decreasing ratio up to 9d. So that in all school districts there are parents who are paying their own fees and contributing to the fees of their neighbours who are in the same rank of life, but from whom they are divided by artificial lines created by the regulations of the school boards. Artisans and labourers are classified according to a graduated poverty scale. A man earning 3s. per head of his family has a free order, but a man earning 3s. 1d. per head has to pay fees. In one place the exemption scale is 3s., in another 2s., in others 4s. or 5s. The school boards adopt one
scale and the guardians another. The principle upon which the law proceeds, that the fees shall be adjusted to the means of the parents, cannot be carried out with any degree of impartiality and fairness. It is also mischievous in itself. It is the inquisitorial principle of the income tax, with the highly objectionable difference that the poor are required to expose not their wealth but their poverty. And, since fees can only be remitted or paid for limited periods, this scrutiny into family affairs is periodical.
The law presupposes the ability of the parent to pay, and to escape compliance he is put upon proof of his inability. Under the most favourable conditions the practice is degrading and humiliating. It works, however, with much less friction in some places than others, so that virtually there is a different law for different school districts. Again the custom varies according to the colour and constitution of the school boards as determined at each election, so that scholars who are free under one board may be ordered to pay under the next. In London, Manchester, Birmingham, Hull, Portsmouth, and other towns, the power of remission is freely exercised, sometimes to the extent that the parents of one-half of the children in board schools are contributing to the fees of the other half. Other school boards, amongst them some of the most important in the country, wholly refuse to remit fees in their own schools, under section 17 of the Act of 1870, and send all the children to the guardians to have their fees paid, under section 10 of Lord Sandon's Act. It has been decided that it is optional with school boards to remit fees, while payment by the guardians is compulsory. In the city of Liverpool, with its swarming population of necessitous poor, the power of remission is never made use of by the school board, all persons who cannot pay the fees having to apply to the guardians. The practice is defended on the ground that it contributes to regularity of attendance, though why it should do so is not clear. But many school boards throw these payments on the guardians in order to keep down the school-rate, that they may stand in a better position with the ratepayers. Others refuse to remit on account of an alleged injustice to denominational schools. Some boards have used the power of remission sparingly, and allowed large arrears of fees to accumulate, which have had to be periodically cancelled or proceeded for in the County Court. In the latter case their recovery has hitherto depended upon the view which each particular judge might take of the law. The majority of the judges in the metropolitan courts, as well as some able lawyers in the provinces, have decided that arrears cannot be recovered. This view of the law has been confirmed by the recent decision of the High Court in the case of the London School Board v. Wright, but as the judgment is to be appealed against the law cannot yet be regarded as settled. So great
is the difficulty of securing prepayment of fees and of getting in arrears that many board schools become practically free on this account. In fact the recent judgment of the High Court will leave it in the option of the parents to say whether the schools shall be free or not in all districts where prepayment is not strictly enforced. They will be encouraged in their opposition to fees by some members of the boards. Complaints have been made at the London Board that the members of one division seemed determined to bring in a system of free schools through a liberal use of the power of remission and of cancelling arrears. In Wales, where the farmers bitterly complain of the injustice of paying both rates and fees, remissions are sometimes made where the parents are assessed at £50, and even £150 per annum.
The regulations of the guardians as to paying fees are quite as irregular. In some towns, such as Salford, encouragement and facility are offered to the applicants, and the orders are on a liberal scale. But the reverse is more frequently the rule. The highest duty which the poor-law guardian recognises is to save expenditure and keep down the rates. In the majority of unions every kind of incivility and obstruction are used to discourage applications for fees. In some unions the guardians resolutely refuse to comply with the statute, and when the poor have run the gauntlet of the relieving officers, their applications are often refused. After seven years' painful experience of Lord Sandon's Act, in which the road to pauperism has been opened to thousands of respectable families, the solution of the difficulty as to the school fees of the poor, in any way short of their total abolition, seems to be as far off and as impracticable as ever.
The scales of fees adopted by different school boards, under the guidance of the Education Department, afford a fine example of the capricious exercise of authority. In some localities the amount of the fee depends upon the situation of the school, especially upon contiguity to a denominational school; so that parents of the same class, in the same town, often pay at different rates for precisely the same education. In another district the charge is fixed according to the standard the scholars are in, which is a tax upon intelligence; and in another it depends upon age; in another upon the number in family; in another upon the assessment of the parent; in another upon the condition of prepayment, or otherwise. Sometimes the parents are divided into classes, those in receipt of wages being distinguished from traders on their own account. Under this plan a prosperous mechanic may pay half the sum which is taken from a struggling greengrocer. In many districts I find the parents and fees classified as follows:-tradesmen, 6d. ; artisans, 4d. ; labourers, 2d. In one town pointsmen and engine-fitters are charged 2d., and
skilled artisans 4d. Sometimes there is a sliding scale adapted to wages, a father who earns 18s. per week paying 4d., and one earning less 2d. In parts of Wales a poundage system is in operation, under which deductions for school fees are made from wages, irrespective of the fact whether the workmen have any children.
It is impossible to defend such a chaotic system as this on grounds of common justice or equality. That an attempt is made to adjust the demand to the means of the parents is not questioned, but the manifold circumstances of millions of households make the difficulty insuperable. Take the case of the smaller tradesman. No class in the community is much worse off than the little shopkeepers, who have to pay high shop-rents and rates. The day labourer is often in more comfortable circumstances. Under the best systems which can be devised, short of free schools, injustice is inevitable. At a meeting of the Birmingham School Board Mr. Dixon said, "There was in Birmingham an unquestionable injustice. Some schools were penny schools and others threepenny schools, and it could not for a moment be said that there were not children in the higher schools who should have the benefit of the penny fee, and vice versa." The general testimony of members of school boards is that the most vicious and undeserving get the advantage of the existing law, to the exclusion of numbers who are equally necessitous but more selfrespecting and independent. In the Forest of Dean, where extensive remissions are inevitable, strong protest has been made against the previous partiality of remitting fees in favour of the improvident and idle and withholding assistance from respectable poor parents. It is sometimes urged against free schools that the industrious and thrifty would have to pay for the education of the idle and worthless. That is precisely what happens now. It is generally acknowledged that the dissipated and thriftless readily secure assistance from guardians by facing out the degrading treatment which applicants are subject to, but which poor people not lost to self-respect cannot be persuaded to encounter. At the Worcester School Board it was stated that the steady and industrious were paying for the education of the improvident. At Keighley it was admitted that the parents of the children whose fees were remitted were the least deserving part of the community.
Not the least part of the grievance is that the respectable poor are so dependent upon circumstances over which they have but small control that they are constantly liable to fall into the ranks of the indigent. So narrow is the margin which separates them from want that a parent who can pay school fees one week may be quite unable to do so the next. They live in vast numbers on the borderland of subjection and dependence. A hard winter, a poor harvest, loss of work, a strike, a lock-out, an accident, illness in the family, death of
father or mother, makes all the difference in their ability to provide daily bread for their households. How small a thing turns the scale is illustrated by the fact that the teachers at Wolverhampton attributed a decrease of £8 in the monthly fees to the parents being locked out from work during the Whitsuntide holiday week. We may be sure that while the law requires fees to be paid most parents will make sacrifices to find them, but there are not many families which can feel permanently secure that the time may not come when their ability may cease, and they may be obliged to suffer the misery and degradation of applying for remission or payment. In either case it will be felt as a humiliation, and their children will become marked children in the schools.
II. If the final decision of the country is to be that the tax on parents shall be perpetuated, it ought to be made independent of attendance. At present the amount of the fees paid is determined by the number of attendances. It naturally follows that their exaction is the greatest cause of absence and irregularity, and is responsible for most of the inefficiency and waste in our school system. It is the cause, too, of a great wrong towards the children. In the conflict between public duty and parental duty the child often slips between two stools, and his school-days go by while the contention as to who shall pay his fees is going on. But it is not only that the school-time of the children is wasted. A great part of the elaborate machinery which is now directed by school boards and guardians, teachers and public officers of various grades, is occupied, not in giving instruction, but in getting the children into school. On the one hand the law orders the attendance of the children, and makes rigorous provisions for effecting that object; on the other it offers a premium to non-attendance. It supplies to the parents an urgent, direct, and daily temptation to evade and resist its provisions at every point. Legislative absurdity could not go farther than this. It is surprising that a practical people, who have seen the development of free trade, and watched the gigantic strides which commerce made when it was relieved from its shackles, should persist for a day in an experiment which is contrary to common sense, and is condemned by its results. The Superintendent of the Chicago schools, in his report for 1882, says, "The old standard question of how attendance may be improved and tardiness prevented may well give place for a while to that of how our schools may be made such that children will be glad to attend and parents find it for their interest to send them." This is exactly the question for England: how to remove the causes of conflict between the people and the schools; how to replace opposition and antagonism by co-operation and sympathy; how to engage the interests and the goodwill of parents and children on the side of the schoolmaster; how to secure that the