Friday, 13 February 2015

Suggestions for Teachers

I've given this blog a new title and a slightly new direction.  The new title is from a Norman MacCaig poem which I've written about before.  I want to share some of my favourite things from my collection of old education documents.  They remind me that English primary education used to be the envy of the world.  Occasionally I might write about other things too, like bikes or guitars or even writing.  But just now there will be regular posts about education.

In front of me now I have PRIMARY EDUCATION, subtitled "Suggestions for the consideration of teachers and others concerned with the work of Primary Schools." (1959)  How polite HMI used to be!

I read the pages of this book and find myself nodding in agreement with almost everything it says.  Don't be put off by the use of 'he' and 'his' for every child and teacher - this, from the introductory pages, still makes perfect sense to me.

The primary school should not (...) be regarded merely as a preparatory department for the subsequent stage, and the courses should be planned and conditioned, not mainly by the supposed requirements of the secondary stage, nor by the exigencies of an examination at the age of eleven, but by the needs of the child at that particular phase in his physical and mental development.

And this:

No good can come from teaching children things which have no immediate value for them, however highly their potential or prospective value may be estimated.

Handbooks of Suggestions for the Consideration of Teachers were published at intervals from 1905 until 1959.  The next passage was written in 1918, repeated in subsequent editions, and quoted again in 1959.

'The only uniformity of practice that the Board of Education desire to see in the teaching of Public Elementary Schools is that each teacher shall think for himself, and work out for himself such methods of teaching as may use his powers to the best advantage and be best suited to the particular needs and conditions of the school.  Uniformity in details of practice (except in the mere routine of school management) is not desirable even if it were attainable.  But freedom implies a corresponding responsibility in its use.

However, the teacher need not let the sense of his responsibility depress him or make him afraid to be his natural self in school.  Children are instinctively attracted by sincerity and cheerfulness; and the greatest teachers have been thoroughly human in their weakness as well as in their strength.' (Handbook 1918)

This is the heart of it.  It's why teaching was, and still can be, a great job.  But successive governments have made it far harder for a teacher to be their 'natural self'.  The principle that 'uniformity in detail is not desirable' has been ditched.  The teacher's world is dominated by the measurement of their efficiency in getting children to progress through defined benchmarks.  Instead of child-centred education we now have data-centred education.  Why did we let people tell us that child-centred education was a bad thing?   Here, to finish for this week, is the opening paragraph of Chapter 2 of the Plowden Report from 1967. The picture at the top is from the frontispiece of the report.  Not much uniformity there.

 'At the heart of the educational process lies the child. No advances in policy, no acquisitions of new equipment have their desired effect unless they are in harmony with the nature of the child, unless they are fundamentally acceptable to him.'

If you want more of this stuff, come back next week!


  1. Paul! This is amazing. I'm going to re-read some of those quotes every time I feel disheartened about the profession.

    1. Hey, thanks for the comment! It encourages me to search out more!