From Our Educational Correspondent
A new Defence Regulation per: runs exemption from compulsory school attendance for children of 12 years and over up to a maximum of 20 school attendances a year for farm work. Presumably in addition to this, authorities have been asked to place eight weeks of school holiday at times of farm labour shortage. There have been interesting statements of opinion.
After the first announcement there was a prompt reminder on the wireless that the new scheme was not to apply to Scotland, and in other parts of the British Isles responsible bodies were not slow to voice their adverse judgment of the project.
It is true that a maximum week of 36 hours has been prescribed, and also that a safeguard is given by the double assurance that parents' consent is necessary before any child is drafted for farm work and also that authorities are allowed to forestall injuries to the child's health by imposing medical examinations.
WHAT ABOUT CLOTHES?
Responsible persons have pointed out, however, that 36 hours a week is too much, especially as the work is unusual and perhaps likely to tell heavily on untried muscles; if there is to be any employment at all, 24 hours weekly has been suggested, spread over six days. Moreover, medical examination should bo compulsory.
Indeed, it would appear that the
scheme is but reluctantly put forwarg by its very sponsors, for local authorities are requested not to employ children under 14 as long as there is any other source of labour available, and even then only where there is some urgent seasonal need. Due provision of suitable weatherproof clothing is stressed also. Diehards no doubt will explode with cries of anger at this " pampering " of youth; but we must bear in mind the warnings recently given by medical officers in Birmingham—that we must not suppose that the bad effects of war on children's health are negligible even where they are not conspicuous. There has in fact been a peeler incidence of school maladies owing perhaps to wartime food troubles and to lowering of tone. And perhaps I may add my own observation that in several large schools every single child over 14 is either in the cadet corps or giving extra time already to food production, some doing both, and some actually in the A.T.C. as well.
In addition, labour shortage has meant a greater demand for part-time a a
errand boys and so on; many boys have already been doing work like this to the positive detriment of their studies both in and out of school, if not of their physical development.
CASUAL LABOURER I am passionately alive to the educational value of work on the land. and run a thriving school garden of about four acres. But it is one thing to have school gardening as an educative force. and another to he a mere casual labourer, especially under 14.
It isinteresting to see that the National Union of Agricultural Workers' meeting, at Bournemouth, on May 8, unanimously disapproved of the rnen Govemt's new scheme for children under 14, and urged legislation forbidding the employment of schoolchildren in any circumstances.