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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Secondary Education

by J. S. Mills.
Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 186-191


After the lapse of a quarter of a century we seem to be on the eve of a practical embodiment of the educational principles so memorably set forth in the Report of the Schools Inquiry Commission of 1868. The Endowed Schools Commission established by the Act of 1869 and the Charity Commission which succeeded it have done a good deal since that Report was published in the manipulation of endowments and in reform of more obvious abuses. But most of the educational criticism in the Report still holds good of the present state of English secondary education, and, after twenty-five years' continuous work, its final and satisfactory organization has still to be achieved. The main feature of the Commissioners' scheme was the provision of secondary instruction in three grades, adapted respectively to boys who are likely to remain at school up to the ages of nineteen, sixteen, or fourteen. "The wishes of parents," says the Report, "can best be defined in the first instance by the length of time during which they are willing to keep their children under instruction." This is precisely the principle upon which liberal educationists have been lately insisting so strongly. Most boys who leave our classical forms at the age of sixteen or seventeen enter life, strictly speaking, without any real education at all. They have been carried to a certain point in a curriculum applicable only to boys of exceptional opportunities and ability, and assuming a further course of training at college or university. They toil through the wilderness for weary years without ever seeing, much less entering, the promised land. Obviously these two classes of boys with their different prospects and opportunities require a corresponding different treatment and curriculum. "It was found in practice," writes Mr. Benson, "that the attempt to combine the education of these different classes of boys in one school prevented any class from getting what it really wanted." Since 1868, of course, our public elementary schools have taken the place of the Third Grade Schools in the scheme of the Commissioners. But there is still an urgent need for organized provision of schools on the two higher grades. The mere classification of existing schools by the Charity Commission is insufficient. In every district schools of two or three grades should be provided, so that parents may exercise a deliberate choice and obtain for their children the education exactly adapted to their requirements. The Birmingham school system as nearly as possible fulfils this ideal. There the elementary school, the grammar school, and the high school are in close correspondence with those divergencies of social class and educational requirement.

The Commissioners' criticism of the classical teaching in endowed schools has lost little of its force. "The classical training prescribed in a large majority of the grammar schools," says the Report, "is a delusive thing. It is given to very few boys in any form. It is not carried to a substantial issue in the case of 5 per cent, of the scholars. But is furnishes the pretext for the neglect of all other useful learning." Again, "The boy seeking a commercial education finds himself regarded as an inferior being who may be left to the lifeless teaching of a lower master, and cannot expect any further culture than can be extracted from the Greek and Latin accidence." The establishment of modern sides has to some extent narrowed the incidence of these remarks. Nevertheless much, perhaps most, of our classical teaching is still worthless and fruitless. Our schools still suffer from the tyranny of head-masters who apply faded academical ideas to the theory and practice of popular education. No reform in this direction can be expected until the entire system of secondary education has been subjected to the wholesome influence of an awakened public opinion. It is for this reason that those who have for some time ceased to bow the knee to the classical fetish regard with an interest amounting almost to enthusiasm this movement for the reform of our secondary schools.

That some reorganization is necessary is apparent to the most conservative observer. The Commissioners of 1868 found that, "in at least two-thirds of the places in England named as towns in the Census, there is no public school at all above the primary schools, and in the remaining third the school is often insufficient in size or in quality." The efforts of the Charity Commission to distribute endowments, to treat them as a "liquidated fund to be carried about and applied where most wanted," have been generally frustrated by the objections of interested districts to such a process. The gross amount of available endowments has also been found insufficient for any adequate provision of schools. Again, many of our best endowed schools, founded originally for the use of the neighbourhood, have been left stranded by the depopulation of country districts and no longer fulfil their original purpose. What is needed, then, is the arrangement of existing schools and the foundation of new ones in two grades, on the principle of distribution suggested by the School Inquiry Commission--namely, one first-grade school for every 20,000 people, one second-grade for every 5000, a first-grade boarding school for every four million of the people, and one second-grade boarding school for every hundred thousand. The educational course in these two classes will differ considerably. In schools of the second-grade intended for boys who enter life at the age of sixteen or seventeen, no Greek, for instance, will be taught: and the instruction in languages, science, and mathematics will be so arranged in accordance with the special requirements of the pupils as to confer a complete and rational training. Greek will be confined to first-grade schools, and even there will be further restricted to boys who show some special aptitude for the study, and modern sides, or, as the Commissioners preferred, modern schools will be established conferring a sound culture in "modern" subjects amply sufficient to absorb a boy's energies until the age of eighteen or nineteen. The grading of the schools should present no difficulty. The main principle to be observed is that each school shall provide a continuous and self-complete course of training, not be merely preparatory to the university or to a school of a higher grade. Otherwise the new scheme will involve one of the most crying abuses of our present system--that so many boys receive a small fraction of a course of training in reality only applicable to boys of exceptional opportunities and ability. The school fees will probably be regulated by the average fee already paid in the public or private schools of the districts. There is no conceivable reason why the cheapening of secondary schools should be an object in the scheme of reform. The proposal is simply to provide schools where people may obtain for their money the education they desire, and not pay for a worthless article which is expensive at any cost.

It is to be hoped that the framers of the Secondary Education Bill, will disregard a good deal of advice freely bestowed by School Board organs and elementary teachers. The School Board Chronicle, regarding the question of secondary education as part of its critical province, has published a series of articles on Secondary Schools, in which the following passage appears: "The intention of the Bill of last Session (Sir Henry Roscoe's Bill) was to keep the School Boards out in the cold, and give the real power to the County Councils, and such, no doubt, will be the purport of any legislative proposals brought out under the auspices of the Technical Instruction Association, unless School Boards assert their claim to be the authority for the supply of secondary education. By the isolation of the elementary schools from schools of advanced instruction, the progress upwards of those children of the masses possessing intellectual faculties fitting them for advancement will be retarded." Elsewhere the writer maintains that the ultimate object of educational reformers must be to free all secondary schools. No advice could be more perverse and ill-timed. So far from subjecting Middle Class schools to the jurisdiction of the School Board, it is the obvious and unavoidable duty of the reformers to maintain very strictly the distinction between the two provinces of education. However unjust in one sense it may be to identify advanced with middle class education, for present practical purposes such identification is an essential principle. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the coming measure concerns chiefly and primarily the middle-classes, and simply proposed to do for them what the Act of 1870 did for the working-classes. Any measure founded upon a disregard of existing social conditions is foredoomed to failure. It may be impossible to analyse and explain the thrill of joy which a middle-class parent feels on receiving his school bills; nevertheless, he still prefers to pay for education, and still considers to some extent in the choice of a school the social class of the children with whom his own will associate. The result of putting the school he uses under the School Board, the result of freeing or greatly cheapening secondary education, will simply be that the middle-class will decline to use the new schools, the working-classes will absorb them, and the work of reorganizing middle-class education will have to be started afresh. This social distinction, together with the more advanced subjects of instruction in secondary schools, and the greater complexity of educational problems involved, justify a different and a more widely representative governing unit than the School Board. The Carnarvon Joint Committee has proposed a scheme of government which, with modifications, might be generally adopted. It proposes to form a County Governing Board, composed chiefly of County councilors, and a Local Governing Board within that, representing Town Councils, Boards of Guardians, School Boards, &c. The scheme also defines the duties of the two bodies. Here, however, some modifications would be necessary. It must not be forgotten that education is a science requiring from its proficients the most liberal culture and the widest sympathies. It seems doubtful, therefore, how far arrangements of curriculum could be entrusted to a local governing body so constituted. All such arrangements should in any case be subject to the approval of a wider representation, including educational experts. Again, inspection of schools should be conducted nationally, and not provincially. The inspector would be more of an inspector and less of an examiner than in the Elementary Department. A cut-and-dried educational code would of course be inapplicable to secondary schools; to inspect efficiently without interfering unduly with the liberty of the individual teacher and school would require great tact and educational experience, the efficiency of a school being tested not by concrete and visible results of examination, but by conformity to the general educational principles laid down in the Report of the School Inquiry Commission of 1868.

The cleavage, the, between the elementary and secondary school must be jealously maintained, so as to secure the acceptability of the new and newly organized public schools to the great body of the middle-classes, for whom they are intended. This, of course, does not mean that the working-classes are to be excluded from the opportunities of higher education. As long ago as 1882 the Charity Commissioners had created three thousand scholarships, tenable at secondary schools, most of which were restricted to bona fide scholars of elementary schools, and the County Councils, under powers conferred by the Local Taxation Act of 1890, are at present busily engaged in adding to the number of such scholarships. A continuous linkage or ladder is thus contrived, by which a boy of ability may climb from the lowest standard of the elementary to the highest form of the secondary school, and thence to college or university. If it be objected that this system creates social distinctions within the walls of the school, we can only urge that no positive injustice is thereby committed, that no legislation can remove or affect social distinctions by simply disregarding them, and that whatever be future social conditions, our present object is to provide for the middle= classes schools in every way acceptable to them, and adapted to their requirements.

"We may look upon secondary schools," writes Mr. Llewellyn Smith, "as mainly middle-class institutions, or as the crown of the edifice of primary education." For the present purposes we are bound to take the former view. When the social millennium arrives, and class distinctions are wiped out, we may then have one uniform organization and government of national education. Every English child will then enter the primary State school at a tender age, and proceed or not, according to his ability, to the secondary State school. The universities will by that time have been completely reorganized on a democratic basis, and the whole machinery of a national education adapted to the selection and evolution of the best intellect of the nation. But these times are not yet; and meanwhile, having satisfactorily organized the elementary education for the working-classes, we must in turn provide for the well-defined middle-class, in proportion to its means, condition, and requirement, schools which without barring their doors upon poorer children and thus accentuating social distinctions, shall nevertheless be acceptable and serviceable to those for whom they are primarily intended.