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.

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