Sunday, November 4, 2018

The First World War and the Home Front


The New Ideals in Education community was founded at the Montessori Conference in July 1914, before the outbreak of war. It was inspired by the huge interest in Montessori through national tours of lectures and reports from 1912 onwards, and  the inspirational works of Lillian de Lissa in Kindergartens, Harriet Finlay Johnson’s work on nature and drama at her school in Sompting, Homer Lane’s work at the newly founded Little Commonwealth, and Norman MacMunn’s work on democratic teaching in the classroom. 

On the way back from the Conference, on the train, Earl Lytton, President of the Conferences, reports that he met a Minister and they talked about the likelihood and the dire consequences if we were to go to war.
"As I was coming down in the train from last year’s inspiring conference at East Runton near Cromer I met a Cabinet Minister, who expressed great anxiety concerning the consequences of the war which had just broken out between Austria and Serbia, which if it involved other European nations, would produce the ghastly experiences, and so change all the conditions of life that nothing would ever be the same again...” Earl Lytton, 1915
This is important as the development of a schooling system ‘to liberate the child’, with its emphasis on growth and freedom for the child, maybe seen, by some, as a response to the horrors of war, though it did most certainly heighten the issues at stake.
It was more in response to poverty and industrialisation, and the movements to large cities, with the threat of rural depopulation, and the question of identity and community, as people moved away from their birth places, families and churches, and crafts became replaced by industrial production.
From 1870 England had a national education system for children up to eleven and twelve years old, overseen locally by elected school boards, including women as members. Some thirty years, before the beginning of the new century, for experimentation into how national schools should be run. Several of the many examples of such teachers to experiment with methods of teaching and dynamics of the classroom are Harriet Finlay Johnson, Clara Grant, John Arrowsmith, Norman MacMunn, A.S.Neill, Muriel and Doris Lester. The conference of 1914 brought many of them together, people who had had years of innovation and practice but who felt sometimes alone, bringing them together with newer examples, and those looking for inspiration.
The start of war brought a discussion on the importance and relevance of the conferences, which indeed got bigger each year, 1914 there were 250 delegates, 350 in 1915 and some 400 in 1916. Whilst our young men were being killed at the front, was it important to present, share, discuss and promote new schooling methods?
“This, as some of you will remember, was on the eve of the War. Under the shadow of that impending catastrophe a movement was initiated which, if successful, would go far towards making such catastrophes impossible, seeing that its object was to work for a constructive freedom, in which the latent energy and capacity for doing good inherent in every child, would have an opportunity to unfold , and in which the spirit of comradeship would therefore thrive apace.”  Bertram Hawker.
There were several threads of input that focused on the war, apart from mentions of how it affected projects like the cooking lessons that were inspired by previous Conference presentations, and needed to take into account the need not to waste food because of submarine’s torpedoing our merchant ships. Luckily all the ingredients were successfully used, and the products were either eaten by the girl’s families at home or sold to the boy’s school.
There was the comparison between the German education system and the English and how they related in terms of going to war, exploring the values of nationalism, obedience, identity and the concept of democracy.
“The traditional ideal of education may be set forth in the homely words ‘Do what I tell you’. This ideal of education Germany has adopted as her ideal for life. ‘Do what I tell you’ is what the German teacher says to the pupil, what the German Officer says to the soldier, what the German official says to the citizen, what the German State says to the people, what the German people would like to say to the rest of the world.” Mr Edmond Holmes 1915    Ideals of Life and Education – German and English  P18
Dr Arthur Brock, Wilfred Owen's Therapist.
There was the link between the psychological problems and therapy of soldiers for shell shock and  the dehumanisation of the child through industrialisation and poverty, as expressed by Wilfred Owen’s doctor, Dr Arthur Brock, speaking at a New Ideals Conference, 1919.
“These are people who know how to “make a living and are yet quite ignorant of how to live. Such people, as soon as they get outside the beaten track of their own particular professional reaction, and emerge into the broader battlefield of life, drift like rudderless ships, and often founder."
He urges the conference to sustain the mental health of our children by founding their learning in schools on creative making, developing the enthusiasms of the children to arts, crafts, working with hands within the context of local history and culture.
There was also the training of soldiers, fit to fight for democratic values, as part of experimenting with teaching methods. Finally there was to be the legacy of the conflict, to create a world fit for soldiers to return to.
The issue of women’s rights had been part of the social make up of schools, most elementary and nursery teachers being women, who were also to be found active in the Suffrage movement. The lack of men as workers due to conscription, reinforced the dominant role of women in schooling, but also in inspection and local government. The venues of the conferences were supported by women academics, like the Bedford College for Women in 1917, and the reports were published by the Women’s Print Society, London.
Bertram Hawker, replacing Earl Lytton, who was busy with the Transport Bill, opened the 1919 conference and thanked the women, many of whom were or had been struggling for the right to vote, and for equality.
"...kindness and self-sacrifice of the principles and staffs of certain colleges of Women...” 1919
The use of history education to engage children in the understanding of the causes of war was explored through the development of methods of learning through research and critical questioning. How to judge evidence. Exploring how historians create their concepts of history.
Finally there was the question of the relationship between teaching and the prevention of war.
"It is surely significant that notwithstanding we are engaged in the most terrible conflict which has ever ravaged Humanity, there should yet be found time for us to meet together to discuss, not war and its accomplishments, but Education, the offering of Peace; and to give expression to those new ideals which animate us.
"It is not an exaggeration to say that the outbreak of war came as a shock – that many of us sustained a mental upheaval, which overthrew the ideals and ideas of a life time. Those who laboured, it matters not how humbly, for the uplifting of their fellows, were filled with despondency; and I do not hesitate to say that some of us asked in weariness of spirit, “to what end have we toiled?” The Montessori Principle in the Elementary School by Mrs Hutchinson, from Catherine Street LCC School, 1915.
(The research this summary originates from can be read in the articles section of the website: New Ideals in Education)

Saturday, November 3, 2018

1918 Education Act and the Role of Learning Outside the School



The importance of children learning through going outside their schools is embedded in the New Ideals in Education practice, innovation and case studies. They had presentations by Baden Powell, and others on the new Guides and Scouts organisations, which advocated the child owning their own learning and instead of having  teaching and discipline imposed,
Sompting Children acting out finds they made on a ramble.
to have the child taking responsibility for their actions and learning.
The primary inspiration of New Ideals, as referred to in an earlier blog, was the work of Harriet Finlay Johnson at her state Elementary School in Sompting. She started with rambles and exploring nature as a foundation for her teaching, moving onto the use of drama within the landscape, on which she published a book for teachers. An example was her children living out the stories of 'Tig', the prehistoric boy, building a  hut, digging clay, making pots, firing them, knapping stones, cooking outside...


Building the 'Tig' shed to act out a story.

Edmond Holmes, the Chief Inspector of Schools, persuaded Harriet to write a book on her methods,'The Dramatic Method of Teaching' (1912), he wrote one that featured her school as an image of what all schools should be like, 'What is and What Might Be' (1911), and later 'In Defence of What Might Be' (1914).
Children playing in the streets, mural in Children's House by Eve Garnett.

Her work inspired the 'Mantle of the Expert', that uses drama as the framework of all learning in the primary school, as can be found practised in the state village
primary school, Bealings.
Children walking towards 
the door to go to the countryside

Developing a relationship between children and nature was promoted by Margaret McMillan and her open air nurseries in Deptford, the Settlement Movement as in Kingsley Hall, which organised school trips to the countryside, day and residential (in their Children's Home nursery school there is a mural inside the classroom of children playing, happily in the streets, and walking along a wall to the doorway to the countryside and on the other hand playing in the woods and by the river...).

George Lansbury founded and opened a countryside based training school, a children's home for East London's destitute children, in 1905, Hutton Poplars in Essex. He also had community plantings of trees, and promoted public gardens and parks.


The image of the school, as portrayed by Earl Lytton in a report, ‘Working Out the Fisher Act – The Human Aspect of the Continuation School’ by Basil A. Yeaxlee, Oxford University Press, 1921:



“The elementary school would be the 'regional museum' of any given locality. In it would be stored and classified information relating to the natural features, animal and plant life, public services and buildings, and historical records of the neighbourhood, collected by the children themselves and set forth by them, under the direction of their teachers, in maps, charts, and plans, together with specimens of peculiar local interest or application gathered in their rambles. Lord Lytton claimed...”

Children walking through the door to the countryside.


The strategy document on the implementation of the 1918 Education Act by the London County Council is a surprisingly exciting read for a local government publication. Indeed its style is one of engagement which it celebrates. Apart from celebrating the freedom of the teacher, the elasticity of the curriculum, the breaking of the timetable... most of which is happening in the nursery and elementary schools, the report talks about the reduction of teacher's talking to the whole class as the best method of learning:

“In a less marked degree, there is evident on the senior school the same tendency to make individual, or, at best, a small group of individuals, the teaching unit instead of the class…”

And in terms of learning outside the schools:

“Perhaps the most noticeable change of all is the increase of incidental activities which involve a departure from the timetable. These are mainly visits of educational interest and school journeys. The visits, especially visits to the theatre to see Shakespearean drama, have multiplied enormously during recent years. The school journey movement, which was retarded by the war, is now going rapidly forward.” p13

The report goes into detail about the Old Vic creating a team of players to do Shakespeare for schools in small theatres/venues around London. It also informs us of the efforts to ameliorate schools in a big city, with grants for schools to cultivate of plants, build aquariums; a Botany scheme to provide plants from the parks, 8.5 million bedding specimens each year to schools; creating 20 school gardens a year, on top of those build in new schools or extended schools.


“Nature study occupies an important position in the school curriculum. Its aim is to evoke in the child a sympathetic interest in his or her surroundings. As the direct observation of animals, plants and rocks in their natural environment is an essential feature of the subject so regarded, London schools are necessarily placed at a considerable disadvantage, but efforts of various kinds have been made to encourage nature study.”

The lessening of the impact of the curriculum and a fixed timetable is joined with the reduction of the imposition of exams on the schools. For how can you have children learning by leaving the classroom and using the world, the park, the museum, the town hall, the workplace... as a learning space.

Picture from Clara Grant's book 'The Teachers Book of Toymaking'.

“Increasing attention is being given to visits to museums and other places of educational interests; to school journeys lasting for a week or more, during which the headquarters of the party are fixed either in the country or at the seaside; and to physical exercises, organised games, swimming, and other subjects to improve the physique of the child or stimulate a wider range of interest.
"Generally speaking, it may be stated that the teaching of the last few years has been to diminish the number of examinations imposed on the schools, and to give more freedom to teachers in framing their curriculum.” p15

From the earliest New Ideals in Education conferences, examples of outside learning were shared and promoted, mirroring this image of the school envisioned by many teachers and others implementing the 1918 Education Act.
“By one dramatic stroke appealing through its very name, the Forest School, assembled together the natural and fundamental requirements of developing childhood, the supply of abundant pure food and air, of healing sunlight and cleansing water,  the opportunity for unrestrained movement and collective games within periods of rest and, if need be, of sleep, together with free scope through association with nature for the development of the child’s life through imagination and joy.”                  'The Open Air School. Its Physical and Educational Possibilities' by Dr R.H.Crowley.  Report of the Conference on New Ideals in  Education held at Oxford from July 29th to August 5th 1916, p241

The 1916 conference had Baden Powell and the Scouts, they mentioned 'playground classes in London', 'open air classroom in North Wingfield School, Derbyshire', 'half day excursions', 'school journeys', 'school camps'...



The City of Nottingham promoted whole schools, and departments into their parks. In one day it was reported that 1,500 children ‘gathered under trees or engaged in some occupation out in the open.’
Chair of the New Ideals discussion, A.C.Coffin, Director of Education, Bradford reported that the Parks Committee and Education committee have formed a joint committee “to do everything they possibly can to encourage schools to go into the parks.”P259 

Let us end with a quote from A.S.Neill's autobiographical first novel, 'A Dominie's Log', about his first year as headteacher of a state, village elementary school from 1914-15.
In the year he concludes, in response to a young girl telling him that her father claims that they have learnt nothing and just played all year. 'Mary's father is right: I have converted a hard working school into a playground. And I rejoice! These bairns have had a year of happiness and liberty... They have hung on my arms as we rambled along in search of artistic corners...'
Our schools, our politicians, our inspectors, all need to remember those before them, those at the homefront, who sought a world in which learning and teaching was everywhere... and needed to be for the healthy childhood of our children.















Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Most Democratic State School... Alexander Bloom's St Georges-in-the-East

As we approach the celebration of the centenary of the 1918 Education Act, and the visions of the school behind it, as portrayed and created by the New Ideals in Education Community, I thought I would post a series of blogs that would explore different aspects of the Act and the concept of the school fit for the returning soldiers and their families, the school fit for a developing democracy, a democracy that had just extended its franchise to women with property or who attended university.

Alexander Bloom.
I am going to start, rather in the future, a school created after the end of WW2 in bomb destroyed and impoverished East End London, Stepney. Alexander Bloom, the headteacher, expresses the values found throughout the history of New Ideals, though we have yet to find evidence that he attended  their conferences or was part of that community. Though their publications were promoted to teachers, and sent free to them on request, or for a small sum. Published originally by the Womens Press.

Bloom did become an active member of the international community that sprung from New Ideals, through the organisational skills of Beatrice Ensor, one of the first women to become a school inspector in England, part of the New Ideals in Education community from the beginning, who helped found New Education (International) Fellowship that held its first international conference in Calais 1921, and whose journal, New Era, was co-edited by A.S.Neill just before he founded Summerhill School.


There is little evidence for the background to Bloom's creation of the most democratic state school in Britain, when he took over headship of the East End School in the blitzed, impoverished Stepney, though he wrote numerous articles on how the school worked. 



People came from all over the world to visit St Georges-in-the-East, there was a film made by Rank about the school, and national and London newspapers ran reports about its activities and Blooms funeral. The school was run co-operatively for ten years, 1945-55, ending with Bloom's heart attack at his school desk.


Bloom created a school based on a written ethos of freedom from fear, co-operation and democratic participation. There was a structure of class meetings, class rep meetings, school council meetings, staff team meetings and staff/student management meetings. 

One regular meeting described in E.R.Braithwaite's autobiographical novel about his first year of working at the school, 'To Sir, With Love', has the whole school in a hall, with a panel of teachers on the stage answering anonymous questions taken from a hat by students. The book, and subsequent film, with Lulu and Sidney Poitier, seem to portray a traditionalist teacher, who exerts authority over the students, but is fair, and even takes them on a bus trip to the Museum. But the book portrays the school as a failing progressive, that the headteacher is letting his children down through his progressive attitudes, this is a perspective from an aero engineer and spitfire pilot, who could not get employment except finally as a teacher, due to racism. 

Comparing the book/film with the articles about the school would be a great way of exploring the issues of teacher as traditionalist hero or the community, through the vision of the headteacher as the hero. I have, with resources based on Prof Fielding's research, run workshops with secondary school children comparing their student voice with that of St George's-in-the-East and then making suggestions for change in their schools.

The irony of the title of the book and film is that the headteacher of the school, Alexander Bloom refused to be called 'sir' by his students

The teacher, Thackeray,  in the film, takes his children to the Museum by bus, this appears as if it is an innovation in the school, and helps him get the children on his side, whereas the school had a policy of encouraging children to leave the school to learn and research, sometimes even without a teacher. One project reported in the Times Educational Supplement, 1951, was of Form 4 Alpha, creating self-selected groups, choosing sites along the 15 bus route, phoning and writing to them, and then visiting them to research and create a display, to share and teach others, with some 37 sites celebrated. Much of the work done without a teacher. 

This project and the use of the 15 bus will be central to a centenary celebration of the 1918 H.A.L.Fisher Continuation Education Act, for which it epitomises the values of the vision of schooling that was behind the many people who supported and implemented the Act.

A HMI school inspection report stated: 
‘The pioneering and missionary work which has been carried out over the past two and a half years, always in a spirit of confident adventure, has attained not only the goal which the school set itself from the beginning, but also something every School can be.’  (Ministry of Education 1948) Report by H.M. Inspectors on St, George-in-the East County Secondary School, Stepney, London. Inspected 25th-27th February, 1948.
And when on to say that this was 'the vision of the secondary modern school'. These statements and valuation of a community of learning reflected similar writings and case studies shared by school inspectors active in New Ideals in Education from 1914, including the ex-Chief Inspector of Schools, Edmond Holmes.
To find out more click on the links below to read Prof Michael Fieldings research. I will end here with one quote he uses to show the importance and respect held for Bloom and his school:
"...to work of such innovative power and inspirational reach that Dr Gertrude Panzer, a concentration camp escapee and one of the key figures in the educational reconstruction of post-war Germany, insisted that 'If I could have in Berlin three schools like St. George-in-the-East, Stepney, I could revolutionise the education of this city' (Birley 1978, 63)? How was it that in less than two-and-a-half years Bloom was able to achieve what HM Inspectors described in their 1948 report as 'a vision of what the new form of Secondary School can be' (Ministry of Education 1948,11)."
Alex Bloom: Introduction and Part 1 By Prof Michael Fielding, Lib Ed 1 May 2013


The pictures in this article and much of its content about the school comes from research by Prof Michael Fielding, who has published much of it online. 

'Democracy and Leadership' slides for Michael Fielding presentation 2014

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Clara Grant and New Ideals




Clara Grant
Clara Grant is a famous teacher in Tower Hamlets, she was headteacher at Devon's Road Infant School from 1900, which was later named after her; created the Fern Street Settlement from her home in 1907 promoting health, play and community support including adults learning a trade, making dresses sold via the Settlement, a similar pattern shown by the Lester sisters in setting-up Kingsley Hall; campaigned for health work in schools having one of the first nurses to work in a school, and giving her students a hot breakfast. 

She also set up clubs to save and get boots, spectacles, cradles and fireguards, as an emphasis on hygiene and safety.



Montessori class at East Runton.
Clara Grant attended the Montessori Conference at East Runton in 1914, and later two more conferences, as the community renamed itself New Ideals in Education. She does not speak from the platform, but luckily we have reports of the contributions from the audience in the early conference reports. 


Clara Grant responds to the presentation on Montessori, and comments on the irrelevance of the model classroom that had been set-up for the conference, stating that it is with few children, a lot of space, and investment in costly apparatus. How could she apply this to her large classes in East London, with the poorest children? Even though she was enthusiastic about Montessori. 
The published report states:


“Miss Clara Grant, Infant Mistress, Devon Road L.C.C. School, Bow and Bromley, hoped that those who like herself taught in the elementary schools would not be discouraged because they could not have all the apparatus of the Montessori system of education. It was not much encouragement to see at Runton small children under ideal conditions, while they,
Toys made by children, as presented in Clara Grant's book for teachers.
loving the system, had neither material nor apparatus. Freedom was a dangerous word, and they knew something of the restriction on their elementary schools in the past. It had been most disastrous. Those who lived among poor children and poor parents saw the results. And now the teachers were going the opposite way, and trying to make the apparatus and apply the system in their schools. She thought the class system had been a failure, there should be some individual competition over which the children could exercise their judgement, the children should be independent of the teacher. There were not enough teachers in the infant schools, so they used older children to teach younger. Personally she thought there was much in the system which could be taught and practised.” P23 1914

Indeed in her book on 'The Teachers Book of Individual Occupations'  she continuously references Montessori, though she is showing teachers how to create their own apparatus for children to learn through manual use, including card games, textiles, objects for sorting etc. Like in her book 'Teachers Book on Toy Making' she believes in children learning by doing, and through play. The toys include dolls, objects for a doll's house, 3-D scenes for storytelling like The Three Bears, or of a park the children had visited or wanted built... 

Clara Grant's book for teachers.
Her teacher's guide advises that the teacher offers boxes of materials from which the children can choose, along with tools, and to let them free to make what they want, how they want, to give advice if they ask and instead of directions show them either the object they are trying to make, for example a cooker, or pan, or show them such toys already made. 


Clara Grant, in her reports on the Fern Street Settlement, writes about each area of work and finance, and lists all the workers, supporters and donators. Health, free milk, cleanliness, transition from school to work, play and happiness are the major issues. She advises on the re-use of household items to create them into toys, and in 1910 lists games that are for learning, mental games. These include cards to be matched with words, faces linked to names, sticks of different lengths for putting into order. 

She was known as 'The Bundle Woman of Bow' as she created small bags of gifts from recycled or homemade toys and from donations, including Queen Mary. There were given out every week for a farthing, adding toys to the children's lives and the pleasure of a surprise. It was so poplar that a doorway was constructed, which the children had to walk through, if they were too tall then they were deemed too old for the bundle.



“Farthing bundles are full of very human things such as children love,” explained Clara.

Toys for storytelling.
“Tiny toys of wood, or tin, whole or broken, little balls, doll-less heads or head-less dolls, whistles, shells, beads, reels, marbles, fancy boxes, decorated pill boxes, scraps of patchwork, odds and ends of silk or wool, coloured paper for dressing up, cigarette cards and scraps.”


Her farthing bundles are a way of distributing second hand, and homemade toys and items. For Clara Grant the making of the toys, and the playing with them are an important part of childhood. There are also exchanges between her school and those in more affluent areas, which she recognises as important in terms of social mixing, and people’s understanding of poverty. There are frames on the walls for art to ensure that the environment of the child includes art to create a landscape of beauty. 


One, of many stories she tells in her book, 'From Me to We', starts with watching a child outside, who is in a street with little stimulus to thought or beauty. She writes:

“PICTURE WINDOWS

“… one evening I watched a small boy counting the cracks in our lower windows. Borrowing an idea from a social worker in Limehouse who placed sacred cards on her window-curtains, we decided on framing the many beautiful cards which reached us… Miss Ethel Moir, had started passe-partout (making picture mounts from cardboard or patterned paper) classes of enthusiastic little neighbours, with a waiting list of forty-seven…
“We have now hundreds of these pictures carefully grouped in subject and changed weekly in our three lower windows, and we have four weekly classes so there is a constant enrichment of old groups and new.” P56-57
She goes on to tell us about the conversations she would hear of children, or children with their parents, chatting about the pictures as they looked at them. One great use of buildings and their relationship to public spaces to encourage learning through looking and conversation.

Clara Grant was part of a delegation in 1917, from the New Ideals Conference, which had been meeting at Bedford College (Regents Park), who went to Parliament to lobby the President of Education H.A.L.Fisher, on his 1918 Continuation Education Act. Earlier on he had opened the New Ideals Conference, being introduced by Earl Lytton, both rushing to and from the event because of duties in Parliament.