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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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National Education A Historical Sketch

by Henry Hallgate, Whitby
Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 248-261


This article is, for the most part, a shortened account of a Lecture delivered in Scarborough before the members of the Teachers' Guild and the Parents' National Educational Union. Its aim was to draw the attention of teachers, and local friends of education, to certain important facts in the history of modern English educational work, and to emphasize them by reference to experts and authorities. It might be supposed that education would have proved a subject of serious domestic importance, and that national interest, stirred by a common instinct, would have been everywhere eager to know it, to have it of the best, and to sweep away all partisan impediments to its progress. A lecture on education would not, however, attract as large and enthusiastic an audience as a football match. The efforts of the past are worth our close attention, and those persons who are engaged, or those who may be involved, in the arena of strife, which has arisen on education, should be more inclined to scan an outline of events in England's educational career, and to pursue the subject into detail. "The dead hand of spiritual ancestry lays no more sacred duty upon posterity than that of realising, under happier circumstances, ideas which the stress of a past age, or the shortness of human life, have deprived of their accomplishment."

Formerly, Education meant only Instruction; the instruction of the Cathedral or the Grammar School to train the scholar, the priest, the politician, the soldier; or the instruction of the workshop in craftsmanship. "The old Education had one clear object, and that was learning. Man was a being who learnt and remembered. Education was a process by which he learnt, at first, the literatures of Rome and Greece, and, as time went on, a more extensive curriculum. The new Education treats the human being not so much just as a learner, but also as a doer and a creator. The educator no longer fixes his eyes on the object (i.e., knowledge), but on the subject (i.e., the being to be educated). The success of the education is not determined by what the educated know, but by what they do and what they are; they are well educated when they have learnt to love what is good, and have had all their faculties of mind and body properly developed to do it. Hence, the educator has to ascertain what are the faculties to be developed, and then to consider further how to foster the self-activity that will develop them."

Education has been affected during the nineteenth century by three strong impulses--social, philosophical and industrial. The volcanic upheaval of the French Revolution shattered the incubus of privilege, and diffused the germs of equality and democracy. The philosophical spirit of German free investigation stimulated mental activity, and created new desires, new ideals, and new methods. The progress of science has transformed the industrial and commercial life of nations. Hence, the older educational models became inadequate, effete, out-of-date. Inspired by the spirit of the age, Pestalozzi (1746-1829) declared that every man is an organism, which "by natural right is entitled to the full development of all the faculties he is born with." The manual labourer calls for an education best calculated to fit him for an after-career, and this is the key-note of the Technical Education movement. Then came Froebel (1783-1852) viewing education through the medium of German psychology, and demanding an education for the young in agreement with their whole nature. So, we may say, that in modern times there has sprung up a tendency towards a Philosophy of Education, towards a Science and Art of Teaching.

Unfortunately England has been too slow, too inert, too unwilling to follow the lead of Sweden, Germany, France, Switzerland and America in adopting new methods, and in thoroughly organizing a complete system of National Education, and "no schemes of education which are not carefully determined in their general outline, if not in their details, can be carried out without serious waste of time." And young lives and hopes are languishing the while. Even yet we are only talking about a National system of Education; but we are beginning to shew that we are not impervious to the resultant effects of a systematised National Education. The progress of our continental neighbours and of our American cousins in art, in science, in mechanical and industrial skill, and in material prosperity, and also the serious fluctuations in our trade and commerce have combined to disturb our insular complacency, and to impress us with the urgency of improving our educational machinery, so as to keep us well abreast of all competitors in the international race for supremacy. "Our manufacturers, our merchants, and our agriculturalists are daily competing with those of countries in which there is a system of National Education," of which Secondary Education and Technical Education form an integral and a very carefully adjusted part, and a conviction prevails that a better organized system of a truly National Education will enable us to meet international competition on more equal terms, the hope being added that our politicians and diplomatists will enable us to keep clear of the temporary weal or woe of a resort to brute force.

A cursory glance at our National Educational work shews that approximately the "school"--leaving ages are 13, 16, 19, and, if the Universities are included, a little beyond 20. Thus groups of pupils attend school for periods of about 9, 12, 15 or more years. Naturally, each class of school should have a well-devised course of instruction, so adjusted as to educate and to meet exactly the needs and the possibilities of its pupils, and, as mind-growth and physical development follow fixed laws, each class of school should supply the whole necessary training of its scholars. Less difficulty would then arise in arranging for transfer pupils from one grade of school to another in exceptional cases, and parents would ease educational matters in many instances by deciding earlier than many do upon the future life-work of their children. After school-leaving, the many disappear mysteriously into the "common round" of life, but there remains a goodly number who are to become our skilled artisans, our professional men, our public service workers. We want these careers to be freely and fully open to all persons of every class who shew the needful aptitude, capacity, and skill. It is thus that a definite, fixed, useful and normal value is given to the work of our Technical Schools and Universities, always providing that the material placed under their control has been duly moulded and prepared for their manipulation.

Our Public Schools, so-called, carry on the education of their pupils to the age of 19. Responsions, or the Little-go, together with various University temptations and favours, are accused of narrowing down the curricula of these schools, rather than of encouraging them to pursue "the whole range of subjects which are acknowledged to form an integral part of a liberal education at school." In 1861, a Commission "sat on" nine Public Schools and bound them down by Statutes of revised government. Between those persons who hold that the Public Schools are outside the sphere of any scheme of organized National Education, and of those who discard the notion that first-grade schools are to remain the monopoly of the few, there are several hard battles to fight. One head-master maintains that the "Public Schools" alone already overstock the Universities, which, in turn, send out far more young men than there are vacancies to fill in the professions, in the military and the Civil services, the ministry of religion alone excepted.

Early in this century, Elementary Education remained in close connection with the Church of England, as the Canons of 1604 had appointed, or it was beholden to the philanthropic consideration of individuals. In 1807, the Monitorial system of Lancaster, for teaching large classes, was adopted by the British and Foreign School Society; and, in 1811, the Madras system, of Bell, was taken up by the National Society. "Personal and sectarian jealousy grew up in these two opposing camps, and their dreary contentions down to our own day, have made the whole subject redolent of controversy." In 1832, a Parliamentary Grant of £20,000 was made through the two above societies, to aid local effort in building schools for the poor. Since 1846, governments have taken in hand our public education, and have advanced funds for the building of schools, which, with the older National Schools, are capable of accommodating over 5,000,000 children. Such schools are officered by trained and approved teachers, and they are annually inspected in order to promote unity of aim, to detect errors and oversights in carrying out principles, and also to assess the value of results. Thus, there are official and public assurances that Elementary Education is, or is not, satisfactorily carried out in return for national support.

But, between the Public and the State-aided Elementary Schools, there are Secondary Schools, attended largely by those whose school-life ends about the age of 16. These schools are unorganized amongst themselves, and their work bears no certain or fixed relation to that of any other grade of school. They include Grammar Schools, Evening Continuation Schools, County Council or Technical Schools, Company Schools, and Private Adventure Schools, to the estimated number of 20,000, with an aggregate attendance of 600,000 pupils. The two last sort of schools have often sprung up in localities where no official provision was made for instruction in languages, in mathematics, or in natural science, or for the application of acquired knowledge in order to gain skill in commercial or industrial pursuits. It has never been certain that suitable private or proprietary schools would spring up wherever they were needed, nor could any certainty exist that such schools would remain a permanency. The passing remark here again occurs, that if Technical Schools or Colleges are to achieve highest success, the pupils who proceed to them must be duly and fully prepared to enter upon the work done in them. Important educational commissions, regulations, and bills, have appeared between 1858 and 1894, attesting the growing interest of the State in National Education. Of these, some knowledge should be had by educationalists, and especially by parents and by those who will be called upon to do administrative work in education.

The Schools' Enquiry Commission, of 1866-8; was in every way so important an undertaking, and was carried out so exhaustively, that an acquaintance with its proceedings is indispensable to every person who desires to have a serious and an accurate knowledge of Secondary Education in England. The members of the Commission were:--Lords Taunton, Derby, Littleton, Sir Stafford Northcote, Sir Thomas Acland, Dean Hook, and then Bishops of London and Winchester, Messrs. W. E. Forster, Edward Baines, Peter Erle, Q.C., and Dr. John Storrar. To these were joined as Assistant Commissioners:--Messrs. Matthew Arnold, T. H. Green, Bryce, Fearon, J. G. Fitch, Fraser (Bishop of Manchester), &c., with Mr. H. J. Roby as Secretary. The Report, with its Appendices, fills 21 volumes, and is certainly worthy of the respectful attention of every teacher, both as a remarkably fine literary document, and as the depository of a body of opinion which cannot be overlooked by those who may have the direction of legislative action in any coming Secondary Education reform.

Following the excellent summary of Mr. G. R. Benson, we may say that the Commissioners' Report bore upon

(1) The Nature of the Secondary Education suitable for England.
(2) The Actual State of Secondary Education at the time, twenty-five years ago.
(3) The Practical Measures that ought to be adopted in order to secure desirable results.

The term "Secondary" is applied to those schools which occupy a position between the elementary schools and the universities in one direction, or between the elementary schools and those institutions which are designed to give only technical or professional instruction. The Commissioners sent representatives to enquire into and to report upon the work done in Schools of this class in America, in Germany, in France and in Switzerland. Mr. M. Arnold considered the Prussian system the most perfect. "It is not wanting," he said, "in the highest cultivation like the American, neither in dealing with the mass of the middle classes like the English, nor does it risk sacrificing everything else to intellectual proficiency like the French. It is more bureaucratic than would work well in England, but it is, emphatically, not a mere centralised system in which the Government is everything. Whoever created the machinery matters not, that machinery has now been appropriated by the people themselves." That great fact characterises Wales, and it is just the disheartening thing to earnest educationalists, that the English public is apathetic about scholastic reform. In the Canton Zürich, one of these clauses in the Constitution says:-"The higher establishments for teaching shall be brought into organic connection with the popular school." That, again, is just what we have not in England, and educationalists would gladly hail the advent of any well-constructed machinery into schoolcraft which would secure for our country more unity and continuity and efficiency in all the parts of a true and complete system of National Education. If we have defects we desire to know them fairly and honestly, and to rectify them on the best possible lines of equity, economy, and general utility.

The Commissioners also took evidence and reported upon a National System of Public Schools; on proper grading of schools, on suitable subjects of instruction, on Scholarships, Exhibitions, and other encouragements to learning, on fees and grants, and on Girls' Schools. After reviewing the huge mass of facts and evidence, which had taken three years to collect, the Commissioners indicated what, in their opinion, a well-organized system of Secondary Education ought to include and hold as its aim. "It would, probably," they said, "be both useless and impracticable to attempt simply to transplant into England, systems that have flourished elsewhere. We have not the restless and universal energy of the Americans, nor the long training of the Scotch, nor the singular aptitude for organization of the French, nor the strong belief in the value of culture which makes education so universal an object of desire in Prussia. But there is no reason why, if we cannot do precisely what our neighbours have done, we should not do something of a corresponding character. The wants of England are not exactly the same as those of America, France or Prussia; nor even, where the wants are identical, will the proper means of supplying those wants always coincide. But without quitting the course usually observed in dealing with English institutions, we have no doubt that the right result in the matter of education may be defined now and reached hereafter." In another part of their report the Commissioners go on to suggest that the provision of secondary education schools must be rendered adequate, efficient, and suitable to the localities where they exist. They claim special attention to the reform of our endowed schools, by reason of their public position, their traditions and their resources. Schools under private management they thought would be useful if they were exceptional, but they could not be expected to supply the main part of what was nationally wanted. "The first requisite," they state, "in organizing education is to assign definite functions to schools, so as to prevent all trying to answer every purpose, and thereby few succeeding in answering any." Generally, they recommended that the safest re-organization should be as definite and yet as elastic as possible.

The Report of the Commissioners next deals with the actual state of our Grammar (or Endowed), our Proprietary and our Private Schools, the three chief agencies in carrying on Secondary Education in England.

A large number of endowed schools was engaged in carrying on the work of Elementary Education. Passing over these the Commissioners reported on 782 endowed schools, which were mostly teaching Latin and Greek. They estimated that 260,000 children required secondary education. These 782 schools were attended by 37,000 pupils. It is not surprising that the Commissioners reported that "in two-thirds of the places in England, named as towns in the census, there is no public school at all above the primary school, and in the remaining third of these towns, the secondary schools are often insufficient in size or in quality." Some of them, like Christ's Hospital, had as much as £42,000 a year and large buildings; others had only a room and a £5 a year; whilst the revenue of the majority was below £100 a year. Although their attendance is now doubled, yet more than 80 per cent. of Secondary Education pupils are receiving their instruction either in private schools or at home, or not truly at all. The Commissioners considered that too many of these schools were "classical." Very few of them sent 20 per cent. of their pupils to the universities. One-third of them sent one boy each per annum to the universities, the rest supplied one each triennally. The Commissioners received the names of 50 grammar schools, the whereabouts of which they entirely failed to find. They held some fear that a classical instruction not unfrequently formed a pretext for the neglect of all other kinds of useful learning. The general insufficiency and inefficiency of the work they attributed to untrained teachers, to bad methods of teaching, to unrevised work, and to total absence of organization. The State afforded these schools neither test, nor stimulus, nor advice, nor dignity.

Nor was the Management satisfactory. Undue interference on the part of the managers was not frequent. In many cases, vain attempts had been made for as long as six years to attract the "managers" to a single meeting. In one town a deaf man kept a private school. The mastership of the endowed school became vacant; it was considered harsh to do anything that might impair this poor man's school, and so the trustees made him master of the endowed school. Many of the buildings of the endowed schools were found to be dilapidated, often without any playground or proper appliances, situated in undesirable quarters of towns, damp, ill-ventilated and the like. But wherever the Commissioners found well equipped and well managed schools, they reported them appreciatively.

In 1866, the number of proprietary and private schools was estimated at 10,000. Some were excellent, and were raising the tone and the standard of local education. The Commissioners considered private schools useful for backward boys, and conducive to enterprise in educational methods, and to the advancement of learning. Even their dependence on parents was deemed a stimulus to exertion wherever such schools did not sink to the low level of ruinous competition and of submission to parental fads and fancies. Their great difficulty was to run alongside endowed schools, despite even their superior management and better work. Of the large majority of private schools, then existing, the Commissioners could not report favourably, as they did unanimously of the proprietary or company schools.

The Report also notes the effects of such examinations as Secondary Schools adopted. Examiners, chosen by the managers, they did not recommend for a supply of unbiassed reports. The Cambridge offers of whole school examination they thought too expensive. The University Local and the College of Preceptors' Examinations were more for individuals than for entire schools, and the Commissioners conceived that such examinations were conducive to cramming, and to the neglect of the many for the few. Civil Service examinations might easily lead to the dislocation of a regular and an orderly curriculum.

The condition of girls' schools was worse than that of boys'; hence such schools had special claims on national consideration and endowment. "We find," the Commissioners state, "as a rule, a very small amount of professional skill in girls' schools, an inferior set of school books, a vast deal of dry, uninteresting task-work, rules put into the memory with no explanation of their principles, no system of examination worthy of the name, a very false estimate of the relative value of the several kinds of acquirements, a reference to effect rather than to solid work, a tendency to fill and adorn rather than to strengthen the mind." But the Commissioners did full justice to the capacity of girls for improvement, to their superior memorial power for facts, and to their greater eagerness than boys to learn. They seriously regretted the lack of the means of educational training for girls in the art of teaching, the isolation of schoolmistresses' lives and their few opportunities for mutual intercourse as teachers.

The greatest factor in educational reformation, urged eloquently again and again by these Commissioners, is an awakened and a real national interest in the work. Parliament can guide and aid the wishes of the nation. Let the people once regard the schools as their own, take a hand in their management, and replace apathy with enthusiasm, then difficulties will disappear, and the energy to work the machinery of state education will be found by trusting the schools to this very sympathy and good-will of the people themselves.

Since this report was issued the number of secondary schools has increased and many changes for the better have been introduced, endowed schools have been revised and the needs of localities have been cared for, but the unification and the organization of National Education has not been radically undertaken, nor have all private and proprietary schools been brought into line, neither have they been subjected to fair and reasonable compulsory tests of efficiency. Welcome to teachers is inspection (not "examination"), if it is sympathetic, suggestive and undertaken by competent educationalists.

The Royal Commission of 1895 was appointed "to consider what are the best methods of establishing a well-organised system of Secondary Education in England, taking into account existing deficiencies and having regard to such local sources of revenue or endowment or otherwise, as are available, or may be made available for this purpose and to make recommendation accordingly."

One part of their report discusses the present condition of Secondary Education in England, under the three heads of (1) central and local authorities with financial power, including the Charity Commissioners, the Department of Science and Art, the Education Department, the Board of Agriculture, the County Councils, Governing Bodies of Endowed Schools, Managing Committees of Proprietary Schools, School Boards, Managers of Voluntary Elementary Schools, where available funds are roughly estimated at £2,500,000; (2) the existing schools, which are doing Secondary Education work, including endowed, proprietary, and private schools of three types or grades, so classified according to the duration of school-life or to the three aims of (a) reaching the Universities, (b) passing the local examinations of Oxford or Cambridge, or (c) attaining the third class standard of the College of Preceptors; (3) the examining or inspecting agencies of secondary schools. Such agencies are the Education Department, the Universities, the Department of Science and Art, the Charity Commission, County Councils, the College of Preceptors. Much interesting and valuable information for future legislation occurs under the headings of the supply of schools, transfer of pupils, defects of organization. The Commissioners consider that all available local powers should be utilised and unified under a central authority.

"In every phase of secondary teaching, the first aim should be to educate the mind and not merely to convey information. It is a fundamental fault which pervades many parts of the Secondary Education now given in England that the subject, literary, scientific, or technical, is too often taught in such a manner that it has little or no educational value. The largest of the problems which concern the future of Secondary Education is how to secure, as far as possible, that in all schools and in every branch of study the pupils shall be not only instructed, but educated. The degree in which this object may be attained must depend ultimately on the action of the authorities who prescribe the qualifications to be required of teachers, the conditions under which their work is to be done, and the means by which the work is to be tested." But as the Commission of 1864 so strongly and repeatedly affirmed, the attitude and the action of parents, in regard to the education of their children may be such as to impede or to thwart the best intentions of legislators or the teachings of experience.

The Commissioners considered that their evidence pointed to the necessity of having a local authority, consisting of representatives of universities, of teachers, of school-managers, and of specialists in local industries, as a directorate of Secondary Education, all under a central authority, managed by a Minister of Education, aided by an advisory board of representatives of the Crown, of the Universities and of the teaching profession.

Very strongly did the Commissioners urge the devolution of administrative powers upon local authorities, and the utilisation of existing governmental machinery. They disapproved of the destruction of existing means of education, but strongly urged the strengthening of local authorities for their work. Especially did they commend elasticity in the time tables of schools, and they considered the highest gain to education would arise from improved methods of teaching, and from the introduction of more highly educated, trained, and skilful teachers. So, the two great commissions on Secondary Education agreed that National Education would advance most prosperously, if it became a matter of real and serious popular concern and interest, if there should be a central guiding and controlling power, and a committal of detailed administration to local authorities.

After two Royal Commissions had collected evidence and reported upon Secondary Education, it was not surprising that an expectation was created that another Government Education Bill would take up the principles and recommendations of these Commissions and issue an order for the organization of Secondary Education. The Education Act of 1896, however, chiefly concerns Elementary Schools. The act extends to elementary, second grade, and technical education, and therefore considers the needs of "the agricultural labourer, the artisan, the textile worker, the engineer, and, generally, the whole industrial population." It devolves many of the administrative powers of the Educational Department--"My Lords"--upon County Councils and Borough Councils, by giving them the right to elect a Statutory Educational Authority for the major part out of their own popularly elected members, with a minimum of co-opted experts in education or in technical knowledge pertinent to local needs. This may fairly be described as an effort to carry out the great, oft reiterated conviction of the great Commission of 1866, that National Education will only be at its best when the people themselves take a real and an active interest in its administration. The Bill thus confers more authority upon local councils, and gives a very free hand to those who would adapt local school aims to surrounding circumstances; it further commends to the new local authority the adoption of means to improve teachers and teaching. So far, the Bill seems to have been influenced by the recommendations of the Commissions on Secondary Education, but to have applied them in the first instance to Elementary Education. The compulsory, rather than optional inclusion of members of the teaching profession on the new Educational Councils, a more definite, technical, and professional advisory section of the Education Department, to direct, control, and check any tendency of local authorities towards narrowing down education to merely parochial temporary requirements, and some stronger assurance of the just and equitable treatment of private schools of an efficient and well-equipped sort, would all have tended to more confidence in, and satisfaction with, the new Bill.

It is stated that 700,000 children are educated in private schools and that there are 50,000 private teachers in this country. So far as the Education Bill is calculated to bring about a genuine system of National Education of an approved type, it deserves a national welcome. It does not go the length of attacking the whole problem of an organized national system of education on a complete scale, yet its aims, its merits, its faults and effects are great enough to deserve continued study and reflection. All these matters are at present obscured in the mists of sectarian and political partisanship. These are likely, most unhappily, to remain obstacles to the educationalists' ideal of a system of national education and progress. It may be that, as popular acquaintance with education grows and matures, a nation, weary of and wronged by such impediments, will bid the combatants choose another arena whereon to settle their strife, and decree meanwhile a system of National Education. The Committee stage of the Bill will naturally afford occasions for corrections and improvements. Meanwhile, as it has been said, "the friends of Secondary Education would be better employed in securing the inclusion of experts on the proposed Educational Councils than in joining the battle between School Boards and County Councils."

"Men may construe things, after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves."

Educationalists hope for the best possible educational workshops everywhere throughout our country, with the most highly trained and apt workmen to manage them, and then it will be reasonable to expect the most to be made of the material that is worked upon. The educational movements abroad and in England, during the present century, point to the supreme value of a system of National Education, well devised, well correlated in all its parts, and well suited to the needs of all classes of children, for the development of faculty follows laws of order, and all pupils require systematic and suitable training, in order to be as well equipped as possible for the discharge of the various duties of good citizenship, with credit to themselves and honour to our land. A spreading philosophic spirit demands the adequate training of all teachers of every grade in the history, the principles and the approved methods of their art. The commercial greatness of our country necessitates Technical training on a large and complete scale. But all national and individual claims need carefully considering and organizing into a well-developed and a coherent system. Apathy, supineness, rivalries, jealousies and all other hindrances to national educational progress must in large measure disappear from the field of action. Teachers are many who feel the dignity of their calling and its important issues; they appeal for State protection against injustice, imposture and incompetence, and they beg of parents to add the energy, born of public sympathy, to the machinery which teachers are now working eagerly and earnestly on behalf of the enduring happiness and the usefulness of the young lives entrusted to their care.