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The Government and the Parochial Schools of Scotland
From Tait's Edinburgh Magazine


Four years ago we called attention to the necessity of a reform in the parochial school system of Scotland. The able and luminous reports of Mr. Gibson, the Government inspector, had then been published, establishing, beyond all doubt, that in school buildings and apparatus, in the status and condition of the schoolmaster, in the quality and quantity of the teaching, and in superintendence and inspectorship, our much-lauded parochial system was lamentably and grossly deficient. The Disruption of the Church had also occurred, giving additional force and urgency to the argument for delivering the parochial schools from the aristocratic and ecclesiastical control which were proving so fatal to their efficiency. Since that time the public mind, both in Scotland and England, has been deeply occupied with the question of education; but it has to be regretted by every sincere friend of popular enlightenment, that this important and truly catholic cause should have been made the theatre of ecclesiastical rivalry and contention. For this unhappy result, the timid and equivocating policy of the Government is as much to blame as the overweening sensitiveness of religious sects. What plan could be more directly calculated to arouse sectarian jealousy, and to give a sectarian direction to education, than to announce to religious bodies that the public purse is open to as many of them as choose to embark in the cause of public instruction, and that the grants to each will be proportioned to the sums which they succeed respectively in raising by voluntary efforts—a principle of distribution, by the way, which must always give the endowed religious establishments a decided advantage over the unprivileged non-conforming denominations? By this weak and superficial scheme, the Government literally renounces the idea that education is a matter of common and civil concern, tamely resigns the functions of the State into the hands of the clergy, and suggests while it gives full rein to the strivings of ecclesiastical ambition. The result is exactly what might have been expected. In attempting to evade the difficulties which the jealousy of religious bodies threw in the way of national education, the Government has aggravated and increased them. The English Dissenters, wearied and disgusted with schemes which are ever found to conceal, under the guise of impartiality, some insidious leaning to the Establishment, have thrown to the winds all hope of a national system of education in which they might confidently co-operate, and have commenced with redoubled zeal to organise schools entirely independent of Government support and control. The same result has taken place in Scotland, where the Free Church, justly incensed by the ejection from the parochial schools of the teachers who adhered to her communion, is labouring to establish a system of schools which is intended to surpass, and is already represented as nearly equalling, the endowed parochial system, both in the number of pupils and the qualifications of the teachers, The other Dissenters in Scotland, though equally wronged by the exclusive character of the parochial system, have not so deeply committed themselves to a defensive movement; but if the avowed intention of the Privy Council to give grants of public money to the parochial schools under their present constitution be acted upon, they will be forced to assume the attitude of their English brethren, and the educational affairs of Scotland be plunged into a vortex of sectarian strife from which they have hitherto been exempt.

The scheme of the Privy Council seems to us to bo totally incompatible with the institutions, laws, and usages of Scotland. In England the held is open to the introduction of any system which may be resolved upon ; but in Scotland a system has already been established, and unless that system is to be entirely abolished, any new measure must be so framed as to harmonise and amalgamate with it. But wo are totally at a loss to conceive by what means the scheme of the Privy Council can be engrafted upon the existing state of educational affairs in Scotland. This scheme proceeds on the avowed principle of treating the religious establishments and the various bodies of Dissenters upon equal terms. All are to be helped by the State in proportion to their ability to help themselves ; but as the Establishments are rich, while the Dissenters are poor, the ability of the former to contribute to the cause of education is greater than the ability of the latter, and their receipts from the Treasury will bo greater in proportion; so that, though nominally fair and equal, the scheme is practically unjust. It is practically unjust in England, where the Establishment enjoys no anterior educational endowment, and where all religious denominations start in the race at the same point and in the same moment of time. But with what show of fairness can such a scheme be acted upon in Scotland, where the Establishment is already invested with a national system of schools ? The salaries of the parochial teachers are as essentially an endowment of the Kirk as the stipends of her ministers. The teachers must belong to her communion, and though not elected to, they may be deprived of, their office by her presbyteries, to whose jurisdiction they are amenable in all matters affecting the management and discipline of the schools. The parochial schools are, in every sense of the term, Establishment schools, and yet they are endowed at the public expense. If the Privy Council proceed, therefore, to give grants of public money to the Scotch Establishment for educational purposes, irrespective of the aid already extended to it in the parochial system, the pretended equality of their scheme will be openly violated, and every body of Dissenters will have just cause for the most determined resistance. And if, on the contrary, the Scotch Establishment is | exempted from the benefits of the scheme, the Government will render itself justly chargeable with abandoning the parochial schools to their imperfections and deficiencies, and with depriving the parochial teachers of a long-promised addition to their small ami inadequate salaries. In whatever way the scheme of the Privy Council is sought to be applied in Scotland, it is thoroughly unsuitable to the circumstances of the country, and lands its projectors in contradictions and inconsistencies of the most obvious character. It either inflicts injustice upon the Free Church and Dissenters on the one hand, or it covers with neglect, upon the other, a system of public instruction which has been an object of legislative solicitude, and still more of national admiration, since the days of Knox and the Reformation. Between this Scylla and Charybeis there is only one safe and consistent course; and that is, to place the parochial system on a broad and popular basis, without partiality to any of the sects into which the representatives of the Presbyterian Reformers are divided. But this implies, so far as Scotland, is concerned, the abandonment of the Minutes of Council ; because such a thorough reform would rally all classes of the people round the parochial schools, and sectarian grants would be unnecessary and unsought.

It has been the practice of the parliamentary defenders of the scheme of the Privy Council to admit very freely its defects, and to lay the blame upon the jealousies of religious sects, which rendered a more perfect and comprehensive system impracticable. In Scotland the sincerity of this reasoning will be put to the test. It cannot be pretended that here there are any religious jealousies to prevent the establishment of a completely national education. It has never been denied by any party that the parochial schools, if popularised in their constitution, and raised to a condition commensurate with the wants and intelligence of the country, would form an arena of instruction in which the children of all sects and classes would be found to unite. We wish we could impress upon the English people and representatives how desirable a field is presented in Scotland for a grand educational experiment. The parochial system was established before disunion had arisen among the professors of the national religion, Its seeds were sown with the Reformation, and it grew with its growth, watered by the tears of martyrs, and guarded and preserved by the labours and the prayers of Fathers, whose names are claimed and venerated alike by every section of Presbyterians. Even when Dissent arose, it arose in a form which interfered but little with the popularity of the parochial schools; for Churchmen and Dissenters still used the same Catechism, and owned the same standards of doctrine. In the bitterest days of religious animosity, the strife which agitated the Churches was never permitted to rend and separate the schools. It was only when the parochial system fell behind the wants and the spirit of the country, that the people sought instruction for their youth in other quarters, and even then the secession was as largely shared by Churchmen as by Dissenters. It has been the custom of the people of Scotland, while paying the most devout attention to the religious training of tho young in the church, the Sabbath class, and the family, to look for secular instruction in the public school; and where secular instruction of a superior character could be obtained, minor differences of opinion between parent and teacher on ecclesiastical affairs have seldom operated as a barrier to its reception, The parochial system has been tried by this standard. When its secular education was superior, pupils of all denominations freely flocked to it; when it was inferior, they as freely withdrew ; but it was only when its sectarian character appeared in overt acts of persecution— such as the ejection of the Free Church teachers that this was added to the other causes of popular dissatisfaction. These circumstances in the history and habits of the population have acquired for the parochial system, even in its decay, a breadth of interest and attachment, which is poorly represented by the narrowness of its constitution. Let it only be liberalised, reformed and raised to a state of; excellence worthy of the country and the times, and! you will revive towards it all the latent admiration | of the people, gather into its schools the youth of all denominations, and exhibit in Scotland an example of educational union which will fall like oil upon the troubled waters of religious strife in other parts of the country. One would suppose that so rare an opportunity of advancing their professed objects would be eagerly seized by those parliamentary educationists who so bitterly lament the obstacles which religions divisions have raised to a comprehensive system of national instruction; and certainly to introduce into a country, situated like Scotland, the dividing and exasperating system developed in the minutes of Council, would be one of the maddest acts of misgovemment ever perpetrated by either Cabinet or Parliament.

Opposition to the requisite reforms in the parochial system can only proceed from the heritors or the established clergy; and it must sorely be but a small proportion even of these classes who can have the folly and selfishness to resist a change so essential to the public good. In the present state of the law, the right of electing the teachers is vested in the proprietors of £100 Scots of valued rent. To these is added the vote of the minister of every parish but substantially the right of appointment rests with the large proprietors. With the view of preserving this source of patronage, and of preventing the additional expense which a reform of the parochial schools may be expected to entail, it is possible that some of the Scottish lairdocracy may take it into their foolish heads to oppose any material change upon the present system. And the Established clergy, to whom is entrusted the power of examining, superintending, and deposing teachers, may possibly feel it to be their duty to throw their influence into the same unpopular scale. But the claims of these parties, as in the case of many other monopolists in these modern times, must be brought to the test of reason and experience, and either stand or fall by the result.

What possible title, we presume to ask, can the large landholders possess to the exclusive privilege of appointing the teachers of the youth of Scotland? The fast that the teachers salaries are paid out of the produce of their lands does not constitute a valid title; because, in the first place, the law gives them recourse upon their tenants for part of the tax ; and, in the second place, though it could still be proved that the burden lies exclusively upon them, yet it is a burden which forms part of the Reformation Settlement, agreed to by their predecessors, who, instead of surrendering the entire patrimony of the Church, as the Reformers of the day demanded, preferred to take upon them and their heirs for ever the payment of the ministers’ stipends and schoolmasters’ salaries, as an arrangement more suitable to their interests, and one, therefore, which cannot now, with any honour, be repudiated; and, in tho third place, because the salaries of the teachers are only a park— not more, in some instances, than a third of their remuneration—the remainder being paid by the parents of the pupils, who, if payment is to be the qualification, have a better title to the power of electing parochial teachers than the heritors. On the score of fitness for exercising tho privilege beneficially, the title of the heritors is equally weak and unsolid. They do not send their own children to be educated at the parish schools; and, therefore, cannot feel that interest in the appointment of properly-qualified teachers, which is the most essential requisite in any body of men invested with be important a trust. As the matter stands, they are literally guilty of having committed the education of “the youth-head” of the country to men whom they consider disqualified to impart the first elements of instruction to their own children. Fully two-thirds, or perhaps three-fourths of them, moreover, are absentees—a circumstance which still farther increases their disqualification. As absentees they can neither have that interest in the educational business of their parishes, nor that knowledge of local wants and the fitness of candidates, which are indispensably necessary to a proper discharge of the weighty duties devolved upon them. When a vacancy has to be filled up, they must either vote upon hearsay, or hand over the exercise of their privilege to agents, who, in nine eases oat of ten, are equally disqualified by non residence, and still more liable to yield to private and interested motives. It may also be said, without any undue disparagement, that the heritors of Scotland are not intellectually qualified to be the sole or prime movers of the educational affairs of the kingdom. You may find in their ranks individuals whose literary and scientific attainments are an honour to their order; but, as a body, they have neither that monopoly of learning which would justify the exclusion of all other classes, nor that superlative pre-eminence of learning which would mark them out as the best qualified to direct the instruction of the young. To invest them with powers, as if they had one or ether of these excellencies, is to pay a deference to rank which does not belong to it, and which can only lead to the most injurious practical consequences. Turn it over, and examine it as you may, the claim of the heritors to their exclusive powers under the parochial school system is essentially weak and unsound. Not only can no satisfactory reason be alleged why they should have the sole power of appointing teachers, but, in some points of view, it appears that this power could scarcely be placed in more improper and disqualified hands. Has the claim of the established clergy to their share of the monopoly any letter foundation? We can imagine the few fiery and immoderate spirits among this quiet, discreet, and really moderate order of men, patting forth something like the following pro tensions:—“The parochial schools are the property of the Church of Scotland; they were founded by the Church, built by the Church, extended by the Church, and by the Church’s labours and contendings they are what they are. To the Church, there-fore, they belong by a right, which every sound lawyer will tell you is the best of all rights—the right of conquest. To take them out of the control of the Church would be downright sacrilege.” This is all very well, right reverend friends; but here beside you stands the Free Church, with no bad title to be called the Church of Scotland; and here, also, are the United Presbyterians and the Reformed Presbyterians, equally ready and equally able to make good their claim to the same appellation; all of them, undoubtedly,holding the principles, faith, and worship of the ancient Kirk; and each of them founded by Divines who stand, and will stand to all ages, at the head of the list of worthies to whom the parochial system owes its existence, as well as any measure of strength it may possess. Upon what grounds, short of sacrilege, can you exclude these bodies from a share in the control and advantages of the parochial schools? It was, assuredly, the intention of the founders of the parochial system of education, that it should embrace the whole “youth-head” of the nation ; so that it would be imperative to make such changes as the revolutions of time have rendered necessary to secure the same object, even upon the admission that the original intention of the founders should form, for all time, the ne plus ultra of the system. The established clergy are the clergy of a third or a fourth, or some other fractional proportion of the people of Scotland; but the thing wanted is a system of schools which will command the confidence of the whole people, and which will be worthy of the whole people in its extent, its excellence, and in the care and ability with which it is managed, inspected, and improved—desiderata which cannot be attained by, the parochial system so long as it is chained to the narrow frame of the Establishment, and left to the superintendence of Presbyteries which have never had time or inclination, as the records of the General Assembly abundantly testify, to accomplish so much as an annual visitation of the schools under their charge. The claim of the Church to a monopoly of the parochial schools is bad on the ground both of right and expediency.

But there is a test to which all public institutions and public officers, however old and valuable their privileges, must yield, and from which there is no appeal. The claims of the heritors and established clergy to the future government of the parochial schools may be decided by the results of their past rule. What has been the practical working of the system under their management ? Has it served the ends of a truly national system of education? Has it so much as attained the model proposed by its original founders? or has it even accomplished the good which has been so long and flatteringly attributed to it? The want of school accommodation, the miserable status of the teachers, and the dark and deplorable ignorance which prevails alike in our large cities and our rural parishes, give a too palpable negative to these inquiries, Scotland, once at the head of European nations in point of education, is rapidly sinking to the bottom of the list. It is unnecessary to enter formally upon a proof which has been so often and so clearly established. One or two facts, however, will repay consideration. In 1846, 4069 persons were committed for trial, or bailed, for criminal offences in the various counties of Scotland ; and of these 903 could neither read nor write, and 2424 could only read or read and write imperfectly 2 To be able only to read imperfectly is almost as bad as not to be able to read at all; and it is to be feared that much of the education of Scotland partakes of this equivocal and useless character. No person can pass as “educated,” in the simplest sense of that term, who leaves school without a desire for acquiring knowledge, and without the mechanical and mental accomplishments necessary to enable him to gratify that desire with facility and pleasure. Practically, therefore, the two classes above-mentioned may be placed in the same category ; whence it will follow that of the 4069 criminals in Scotland in 1846, 3327, or more than four-fifths of the whole, were uneducated and illiterate persons. Here we have popular ignorance issuing in its natural denouement—crime; and affording unanswerable evidence of the defects of the parochial system. There are not fewer, we should suppose, than 300,000 youths in Scotland, who either are or ought to be at school; yet, the highest number of pupils in attendance at His parochial schools of Scotland, between Michaelmas 1833 and Ladyday 1834, was only 68,293. If the people of Scotland are an educated people, its certainly not the parochial system to which they are indebted for their instruction. The pupils attending the parochial schools have probably decreased since 1834, as the44,036 children reported by the Education Committee of the Free Church as being under instruction in the schools of that body must have been drafted to a considerable extent from them. Indeed, it is well known to all that the parochial system forms but a fragment of the educational institutions of Scotland ; and that it is to the voluntary and private schools that we are chiefly indebted both for our supply of the means of instruction and for improving and elevating its character. It is consequently in the rural and thinly-populated districts where voluntary schools have not been established, that the inadequacy of the parochial system is most correctly exhibited. In 1833, in a Highland district, embracing the islands and 24 mainland parishes, and containing an aggregate population of 151,053, the immense number of 55,718 persons, above the age of six years, were unable to read in any language. So far from the parochial system making inroads upon this dense mass of ignorance, it was found in 1837, four years later, that in the same district, with the population increased to 154,763, the number of schools had fallen from 328 to 266, and the number of scholars from 16,891 to 13,586 !J We are convinced that matters have not much improved since 1837. Population is rapidly increasing, while the means of education are stationary, in some instances retrogressive; and if an investigation were made at the present moment, an amount of educational destitution would be exhibited, which would sadly ruffle the national self-complacency, and show how grossly the heritors and the established clergy have neglected the invaluable trust committed to them.

A reform of the parochial system of education is a matter of paramount necessity. The parish schools cannot long remain under their present management with safety to the moral and social wellbeing of Scotland; and tho only part of the question on which there is likely to be any difference of opinion is that which relates to the new machinery by which the old should he replaced. The writer of the able and useful letter which we have taken as the text of our remarks suggests that the power of electing the schoolmasters should be vested in those who enjoy at present the Parliamentary elective franchise, subject, however, to these restrictions: first, that the elector shall have resided in the parish .three years previous to the vacancy to be filled up; and, secondly, that the qualified electors shall appoint three individuals, who, on their acceptance of the trust, shall be empowered, by trials or testimonials, to select a qualified individual for the school. We opine that this constituency would be much too narrow to secure popular confidence in the schools ; and there seems to us to be no reason for placing any arbitrary limitation upon the voice of the people, since the election is to take place through an intermediate body. The appointment of the electoral committee of three, or whatever number may be fixed upon, should be vested in the whole body of householders, or heads of families, resident in the parish. The labourer, with a family of children, has as deep a stake in the education of his parish as the Parliamentary elector; and if his interest and confidence in the schools are to be secured, you must recognise his right to a voice in the appointment of the teachers. Nor is there anything extreme or unprecedented in this proposition. The General Assemblies of the Church have repeatedly asserted the same doctrine; and some of the statutes, even in the iron days of the Stuarts and Episcopacy, speak of the consent of most part of the parishioners” as a necessary element in the settlement and ordering of the parochial schools. To retreat from the broad basis of popular control, recoghised by presbyters and bishops in the sixteenth century, to the narrow and restricted constituency of the Reform Bill, would be a retrogression for which we cannot perceive the smallest necessity. With respect to the question of religious tests, the same writer would dispense with signing the Formula, but sees nothing unreasonable in requiring from the teachers a subscription to the Confession of Faith, as a standard of doctrine. To this we do not suppose there can be any objection; but the duty of proving the religious qualifications of teachers should be mainly devolved upon the Board appointed to grant diplomas, whose inquiries into the life, character, and profession of candidates, would be more effectual in securing a body of sound Christian teachers than the subscription of fifty confessions.

This Board should be so constituted as to secure the confidence of the religious denominations, and should embrace all who are most distinguished for learning, and for zeal in the cause of education, in Scotland. Upon it would also devolve the supervision of the schools; and to aid them in this work, there should he an ample staff of active and enlightened inspectors. The system of education should also embrace, especially in the Highlands, an industrial department both for boys and girls; and the old principle of requiring the schoolmaster to teach gratuitously “such poor children of the parish as shall be recommended at any parochial meeting,’’ should be carried out till “ragged schools,” depending upon voluntary subscription, are entirely superseded. It is obvious that an extensive measure of this kind would entail considerable additional expense ; and the source from which the necessary funds should be derived forms not the least important branch of the question. There are 436 parishes in Scotland in which there are unexhausted teinds, that is, commuted tithes which are not applied to “the better providing of kirks and ministers' stipends, and the establishing of schools and other pious uses,” for which they were originally designed, and are still chargeable. *The gross amount of these unappropriated teinds is £153,928 9s. lid. The Crown itself is a holder of Scotch teinds to the extent of £15,741 12s. 5d., of which only £5,559 7s. 9d. is applied to public purposes in Scotland, the remaining surplus of £10,182 4s. 8d. being leased out to private individuals, on terms which yield to the Crown a merely fractional part of its value, and on terms which, easy as they are, have never been fulfilled! No branch of the public revenue in the worst days of misgovernment was ever more deplorably mismanaged than the Crown teinds of Scotland. It is high time that the objectionable system of farming these public funds should be abolished, as has long since been done with respect to other revenues, and that their full proceeds should be applied to purposes of public good. An allocation of the unexhausted teinds, supplemented whenever or wherever necessary by an equitable tax upon the owners and occupiers of property, seems to us the simplest, test, and most satisfactory mode of providing for a new and extended system of parochial education in Scotland. It would impose no new* burden upon the imperial revenue, but raise the necessary fund entirely in that part of the kingdom which is to reap the benefits of its expenditure. So that in appealing to the people and representatives of England to assist in carrying out these necessary reforms, we do not ask them to confer upon Scotland, at the public expense, a boon from which other parts of the country are exempted, but simply to aid us in accommodating one of our old institutions to the altered circumstances of society, and in. carrying out, upon our own charges, an experiment of national education which may prove of ls^ting service to every branch of the Empire.


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