ON Saturday last, the distribution of prizes to the successful candidates in connexion with the iron and coal masters' educational scheme for Shropshire, instituted four years ago, by Mr. Norris, Her Majesty's inspector of schools, took place at Shiffnal. Earl Granville had been announced to preside, but was prevented from attending the meeting. Several of the proprietors of works in the district., and a number of the clergy attended. Henry Dickenson, Esq., of the Coalbrookdale Company, and the Ebbw Vale Works, in South Wales, presided.
The Chairman expressed his regret at the absence of the noble lord who had been announced to take the chair, but could not attend. He believed the principal business of the meeting was to distribute the prizes to the children who had earned them by their good conduct, their persevering attention to their studies, and the successful manner in which they had gone through the examination. Under such circumstances the task of distributing the prizes was an extremely pleasant and grateful one to him. He should presently call upon Mr. Norris to explain more fully than he could pretend to do, the motives which had led him to induce the iron masters to provide a fund for the children to stay longer at school. He regretted that in some schools the effect had been very partial, among which was the one he was associated with. It seemed that the parents were unable to resist the attraction of wages for their children, at an age when they ought to lie at School, and not at work.
At Pool-hill school the girls averaged three years' attendance, the boys only one year. How could it be expected that anything in life could be done when such a limited period was set apart for education? Parents ought to remember that the difference between the animal and the man consisted in education. That was the only difference between the thinking and unthinking creature. He hoped also that Mr. Anstice would give them the benefit of his experience in the district with which he was associated. His observations were sure to be practical, and not such as could be had from books. He wished the recipients of the prizes fully to understand that the prizes were not given to them; they were earned by them, and they were entitled to them. They were given as a reward for past good deeds, and as a stimulus that they should go on in that course of education which they had begun so well. A year or two at school was but the foundation, and not the superstructure, and he trusted that they would persevere in the good work they had begun.
Prizes, varying from £5 to 10s., were then distributed to boys and girls of the following schools:— Coalbrookdale, Pool-hill, Madeley, Madeley-wood, Ironbridge, Ketley, Lilleshall, Broseley, and Donnington.— Mr. Anstice, upon being called upon by the chairman to give the result of his experience as to the operation of the scheme, spoke favourably of its effects in inducing parents to keep their children longer at school. The after prizes, those awarded to boys who had left school to go to work, had had a surprising effect in inducing them to continue their studies, by attending evening and Sunday schools. He was greatly struck with the sensation caused in his own parish, by the winning of the prize by a boy who had been working in his father's shop as a wheelwright, and who attended an evening school, and fulfilled the other requirements necessary. He had not applied for any prize before, but when he appeared he acquitted himself very creditably.
Mr. Norris, who went about a good deal, and always went prepared, could, no doubt, give the meeting some interesting information.— Mr. Norris remarked that, in originating the scheme, he had a higher object even than that of raising the average age of children at school. In both respects it had answered. During the four years it had been in operation, the number of candidates for prizes had been increased from 80 to 200, and it had raised the ages of those remaining at school full eighteen months, namely, from eleven years to thirteen years for the boys, and to twelve and eight months for the girls. It had, in addition to this, infused new life into the schools of the district. Although he agreed with Mr. Dickenson that one school had not answered, it was clear from figures, from the testimony of teachers, and his own experience, that that was an exceptional case. The chief purpose was to give a moral stimulus and encouragement, that remaining at school being a secondary matter, and that had been accomplished. He saw a great improvement in the children who attended the examination at Ketley, compared with those who attended three or four years ago. He sometimes went into schools where there was a sad and desponding spirit visible in the faces of the children. This scheme of prizes had given hopefulness and animation. It proved to both children and parents that the great employers of labour, the iron and coalmasters, felt an interest in their welfare. The prize itself led to thrift, by inducing investments in savings banks; and it also stimulated intellectual culture among boys who had left the school.
Mr. Norris then went on to speak of the efforts of the coal and iron masters to secure a better education for the children of their workpeople, which showed that they were not contented to have their work done anyhow, but that they wished it to be done by good Christian workpeople. With that consideration, whether it was right in political economy or not, they gave their £10 and for prizes, as encouragement to the children. The thing had done good, for some boys who had previously obtained prizes at school had thought it worth their while to keep their books, and, after a year or two's absence, had got leave to return to Ketley, where they had won prizes, and he hoped their example would be followed. Some had won bibles, and no boy or girl had won £5 unless they had previously got a bible. He thought the iron masters wished this to be a parable, to the effect that they intended the foundation of all to be God's word, and that there would be no success without it. He was sorry to make the rule that only a third of the bible candidates should come to be examined at Ketley, but the room would not hold more, nor could he have got through the examination in a long summer's day. In a neighbouring county, not only iron and coal masters, but master potters, manufacturers, and farmers, had united in sanctioning a registration of such scholars as had distinguished themselves in that way, and had determined, in selecting the boys they should employ, to give a preference to those who stood highest on the educational list. Indeed, a healthy and vigorous feeling was springing up throughout the country in favour of education that would, he sincerely believed, very soon take the question out of the hands of the Government altogether. At present, the Government were only doing the work no one else would do; they were by no means the best fitted for the purpose; but it was better Government did it than that it should be left undone. A Government scheme of education was necessarily hard and mechanical; but there were influences needed, such as cleanliness, home influence, and a devotional spirit, that could not be tabulated or recognised by a Government.
Mr Horton (Earl Granville's agent), proposed a vote of thanks to Mr. Norris, for the information he had given them, which was seconded by the Rev. C. G. Curiliffe.— Thanks were also voted to the chairman, and the proceedings terminated.