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Five Years of Intermediate…


Five Years of Intermediate Jtducation [Being a paper by Mr H. H. Meyler, M.A., headmaster of Machynlleth Intermediate School, read at a meeting of the Abervstwytb Giiiicl, held at the University College, Aberystwyth, on March My apology for choosing this as a subject for discussion at the meeting of this Guild to-night must be my belief that the ideas about Welsh Intermediate Education and its working, of one who has been, so to speak, in the thick of the .fight- ing, for over five years and-a-half, may not be totally devoid of interest. I must confess the position is a novel one for me. Most of the criticism (and there has been plenty of it) to which the schools have been subjected has come from without. The irrepressible amateur has from time to time found ample means to air his views, and to otfc" suggestions good, bad or indifferent as the case might be, now declaring that there are too many school- now that there are too few; that there are too many subjects taught, or that there are not enough that the schools are too technical or the reverse. Far from deprecating such criticism, however irresponsible it may be, I regard it as a healthy token of the immense amount of interest the schools have aroused throughout the Princi- pality, and as a sign to the world at large that a new era has dawned upon our country of the most far-reaching importance and significance. For my- self, I may say that when I came back to my native Wales to take my small part in the great movement. I scarcely foresaw the magnitude of the difficulties that would have to be encountered, or the large amount of success that would so speedily be forthcoming. In the agricultural counties of North Wales, for instance, an alarmingly large number of schools seemed to be in course of being established, and the source whence these schools could be supplied with pupils appeared something of a mystery. And when I was placed myself at the head of a school which boasted twelve pupils on the opening day. in premises which for dinginess and gloom, and the damping influence of their atmosphere, could not absolutely be surpassed, it will be believed that the prospects were not of the most roseate hue. I think I ought to say here that unnecessary inconvenience, not to say hardship, was inflicted on teachers and scholars through the remissness of the Charity Commission in seeing that proper provision was made at the very outset for the carrying on of school work with tolerable ease and comfort, and with at least the minimum requisites in the way of school plant and apparatus. In my own case the latter consisted of a black- board and easel and a piece of chalk, while not a single school desk was introduced for ten months. I do not doubt that other teachers suffered from similar disadvantages, some of which, being incidental to temporary premises, were inevitable. But I have merely mentioned these drawbacks in order to emphasize the remarkable progress that has been made. Nearly all the schools are by to- day in their permanent homes, and the chief In- spector reports that the school roll has reached 7,390, and he hopes before long to be able to report a a total of 10,000, when, in addition to this, the nature of the work accomplished in the schools and the standard of studies reached in the higher f.)rms in a short space of time are remembered, it will not be denied that there is reason for much thankfulness and congratulation. Let me, from a teacher's point of view, briefly touch on one or two of the points which have, per- haps, been most prominent in the public mind. It will be conceded at the outset that much that has" been attempted daring the past fiye or six years has been in the nature of experiment, and the question that naturally arises in the mind is—how far have these experiments hitherto been successful? How much are we finally to adopt and incorporate into our educational system, and how much are we to discard? It will be observed in the first place that there is no uniformity in the various county schemes, which, indeed, differ strangely in several important points, and I am yet at a loss to know how it happens that while provision has been made in some of the schemes for certain difficulties which every educationist could foresee were bound to arise, in others such provision has been entirely omitted. For example, in certain districts where schools have been established on the borders of a county, arrangements have been made in some of the county schemes whereby portions of two or even three counties contribute to the income of such schools. In other cases, however, counties have been divided up into school districts with a beautiful disregard of the geographical position of the schools. In Montgomeryshire, for instance, more than one school is on the border of the county, and in one instance we have a school situated at an angle whore three counties meet. Very natu- rally pupils fiom other counties attend it, but these counties contribute to other school districts, to which they do not often send a single pupil. In such a system there is a manifest injustice to all concerned, but, strange to say, hitherto the only remedy that has been suggested from any respon- sible source is to close the doors of schools situated as I have described against all who do not dwell within the school districts. Is not this as though a patient was suffering from some disease of the head, and the doctor should prescribe decapitation ? Again, it appears the schemes vary considerably in the limit of age laid down at which pupils may remain at school. This is a matter concerning which I am aware there is a difference of opinion, but if it is on the one hand inadvisable that pupils should remain at school up to any age, it is on the other hand surely absurd as well as illogical that they should be compelled to leave at seventeen. The Central Welsh Board and County Governing Bodies profess themselves—and I do not doubt sincerely —anxious to encourage boys and girls to remain a reasonable time at school by every means in their power, but if they enter at tiftteen as they often do, and have to leave at seventeen, it is obvious that the well-meant efforts of central and local authorities as well as those of teachers, to make the education provided really effective.taredefeated. Having regard to the course of study which a secondary education implies, and to the existence of the University Colleges, which teachers are en- deavouring to influence their pupils to enter, it would appear that the uniform maximum age of nineteen is the one suggested by expediency and common sense. There is one other difference in the various schemes which I think it is important to mention. In some counties head masters and head mistresses are appointed by County Governing Bodies, and are given the right by scheme of appointing their assistants themselves In theory at least this plan seems to be superior to the arrangement by which the Local Managers appoint both Heads and Assist- ants. I am not possessed of sufficient data to de- clare with confidence that in practice the former work better than the latter, but on the whole I am inclined to believe that the routine of school life does as a matter of fact work more smoothly where the Head Master is independent of local control, or at least free from the disadvantages en- tailed by local prejudice and where the assistants are appointed and dismissed by the Head Master who in this case will be careful to appoint colleagues who ;;re likely to get on with him. The interests of assistants can, I imagine, be always safe-guarded by the imposing of conditions of appointment and tenure but where there is no con- trol of the staff, it i;; difficult to conceive how there can be responsibility. If I have mentioned these three instances of variation in the schemes, it is not because I desire to be understood to imply that these schemes are perfect in every other respect, I am indeed far from thinking so. But inasmuch as this absence of uniformity in the schemes is not due to the varying needs of different districts, but more probably to carelessness and a lack of com- mon action at the initial stage of the movement it appears to me they are more valuable at these points, and that when the time comes for them to be overhauled, it is in these directions that they ) will first require revision and recasting.- Before leaving the question of the schemes. I must take leave to mention one other defect in them, and this perhaps the most important of all. And it is one I call attention to with some confidence in the reality of its existence, as I have had ample— too ample—opportunity of watching its res ults. The experts who in drawing up the schemes had to calculate the amount of income that would ac- crue to each individual school quite failed to realise the peculiar position and the peculiar needs of the small schools in small towns and country dis- tricts, which they were calling into being. Broadly speaking, a small school is as expensive to maintain in a state of efficiency as a large one, whilst its iiyfbuiu is necessarily much smaller, some- times one-half or one-third. How has this diffi- calty been met? It has simply been entirely ignored. To me this is one of the most astonishing things in the whole history of the schools. The difficulty of acquiring the necessary funds for pro- viding adequate buildings is also naturally more serious in thinly populated communities. I am glad to say this difficulty has in almost all cases been splendidly faced, and finally overcome by the en- thusiasm, the interest and the generosity of the people for whose benefit the schools were established, But where the income is inadequate, someone suffers, and I venture to say more than a fair share of the burden has fallen upon the shoulders of the teachers, especially during the first few years when they were called upon to make bricks with very little strav. n SI.IST B'- borne in mind that the fees are averaging generally about five pounds per annum, while deductions have to be made on account of those who hold scholarships, and allowance made for books and stationery The result is. that salaries have to be cut down, requisites have occasionally to be dispensed with, while work, worry, and responsibility become greater rather than less. I am not alone in the opinion that the }d. county rate is insufficient for 5 2 the purple for which it is allocated, and that < sooner or later a penny rate will have to be granted, and with it the Treasury grant doubled, as it becomes apparent to all concerned that the needs of the schools are ever increasing. I trust, as the arrange- ments for Technical Instructionand for the teaching of Science become complete in the various counties, it will be found possible for the County Councils to make grants to the schools, to enable them to face new responsibilities, which are certain to involve local managers in considerable expense for building and equipment. Already, I understand, several County Councils, notably in South Wales, have acted very generously in this matter. One deplorable result of the financial position I have endeavoured to describe is the necessity which school authorities have felt themselves to be under of making the school conform to the regula- tions of the Science and Art Department, in order to earn the miserable dole of pence which the Department holds out to them with niggardly hand. I presume managers are convinced it is worth their while to secure the grant, but I am not so sure that they are aware at what a heavy cost it is earned. A* short time ago, I heard the head master of one of the largest of the Intermediate Schools of Wales publicly declare they had been compelled to turn their school into an organized science school, on account of lack of funds, The question may possibly be a disputable one, but I imagine the best friends of intermediate education in Wales never contemplated the possibility of placing the schools they fought so hard to obtain under the iron heel of the Science and Art Depart- ment. Important modifications in their regulations have been made by the latter of late, and I understand they are going to dispense with their examinations, but the inroads their demand make on the time table, the annoyance and inconvenience caused by their system of registering attendances, and by their periodical inspections, in short, the whole moral effect of a bad system, based as it is on distrust, render the department an undesirable acquaintance. I trust I shall not, from the foregoing remarks, be regarded as an educational pessimist, but 1 have i taken the liberty to dwell for a moment on certain defects, because I wish to urge the desirability of getting rid of the most flagrant anomalies before we can hope to attain to within measurable distance of those ideals which many of us have set before ourselves. It seems a truism that before we can obtain complete efficiency within, we must have perfect administration from without. There is one other question to which I may refer since it has a close connection with what I have already said. I have been greatly interested dur- ing the past few years by questions that have been put to me by English teachers, as to whether mixed schools are likely to be a success or a failure. Probably the chief argument that can be urged in favour of mixed schools is their comparative cheapness. They have hitherto fully justified the wisdom of those responsible for their establishment in Wales; it does not follow they would be equally successful in England. My own experience has been acquired in a district where boys and girls are invariably brought up together in the primary school, and where, consequently, it is the most natural thing in the world for them to continue their studies in the same classroom. I am bound to say that the system has not caused me a moment's trouble, and I am convinced that. at least in districts like my own, there need be none, if the most ordinary precautions are taken. A few simple rules are framed, and care is taken that they are duly observed. Boys and girls who come by train are forbidden to travel in the same com- partment there are separate entrances, separate classrooms for other than school hours, and separate recreation grounds. Boys and girls only meet in the classroom under the eye of the teacher, and, of course, sit on separate sides of the room. It is premature to speak with authority, but I imagine that in this way girls have an ad- mirable opportunity of estimating that mysterious being—boy—at his real value. At all events, I fear he can no longer pose as a hero, when once the merciless methods of the classroom have, so to speak, reduced him to his lowest terms. The system is further satisfactory to this extent, that in the case of those who proceed afterwards to our University Colleges, they are the less likely to be upset by the method that obtains there. May I touch here on the curriculum that has been imposed upon the schools It has been remarked more than once that the smaller schools will have to narrow the range of subjects taught, as they cannot provide a sufficiently numerous staff to specialize in all the subjects that require specialization. I am so far agreed that I believe a little narrowing all round will be fraught with very beneficial results, whether the school be large or small. There is a decided tendency to teach too many subjects. The exigencies of examinations are partly responsible for this, but the rivalry that exists between schools is not unlikely to produce an unwholesome desire to get up "as many subjects as possible, and to advertise that such subjects are taught. But whether the necessity for reform is one that applies to smaller schools or not, I will venture to say that up to the present, it is the smaller schools that have succeeded in impressing their individuality as it were, on the community at large. I believe this is a fact, let it be accounted for as it will. The experiment that Wales has made of establishing a number of small schools seems already to have been abundantly justified. I hope I may be pardoned for repeating a statement that is becoming trite- that these small schools have brought secondary education to the doors of the Welsh people. Hundreds of Welsh boys and girls are thus being enabled to secure the advantages of education, for whom it would otherwise be hopelessly out of reach. And further, it is possible in this way to bring the pupils under the direct and constant in- fluence of the teachers, who are thus enabled te foster the individuality, and to help to develope the character of each pupil under their charge. And I take this to be no small advantage. And in this con- nection I cannot but deprecate the inordinate desire for uniformity observable in certain people who are interested in education. I have already given it as my opinion that uniformity to a certain extent in the schemes is desirable, but it is more than questionable if there can be any possible advantage in turning out boys and girls from ovir schools as from a machine. I have heard it suggested that it would be well if the Central Board undertook the conduct of examinations for entrance scholarships for pupils from the primary schools, so that I pre- sume all the candidates would be known to be working the same papers at precisely the same hour, on paper and with pens of an exactly similar pattern. I grant that this notion may be one full of comfort, but it ignores the fat of the varying needs of different districts, and of the necessity for complete uniformity in the primary schools to begin with. I would urge upon my fellow teachers the absolute necessity of maintaining as much freedom as possible in our secondary schools, and it is a pleasure to record that the Central Board, with a tactful and sympathetic Chief Inspector, has shewn no tendency to tamper with or destroy it, or to prevent every school from develop- ing its strength on its own natural lines. There are many details connected with a school curriculum which it is outside the province of such a paper as this even to refer to, and so I will con- tent myself with naming one which has seemed to me worthy of notice. While the study of lan- guages. or of mathematics or science has to be limited to the few and fit, in these utilitarian days, when the cry is for shorthand and commercial arithmetic and book-keeping, I would plead for a more sympathetic treatment of the study of English literature, or at all events so much of it as will stimulate a more vivid imagination and a healthy curiosity, and a love of culture for its own sake. This may not pay in the examination room, but it. will be a splendid investment for the future for young Wales. It is really appalling when one begins to discover how ignorant the generality of boys and girls are in regard even to the best known names in our literature, which is partly a proof that the love of reading has not been generated in them, and paitly the result of the pernicious in- fluence of the cheap weekly periodicals which abound in these days. I once put a few questions to a class of twenty-six that had just entered the school. All had heard of Shakespeare, but they did not know whether he flourished before or after Homer. As for the latter, he might have been an Englishman, but no one knew. This latter dis- covery did not, of course, astonish me, but I was somewhat surp:ised t,) find that not one had even heard of Kipling or of R. L. Stevenson. In Welsh- speaking districts the bilingual difficulty is account- able for much. When children do not understand the meaning of ordinary English words, it is not to be wondered at if a taste for reading does not manifest itself. I asked the same class some question about the army, and I soon found they were not at all clear as to the meaning of the word. The nearest approach to an explanation I got was the remark one ventured, to the effect that it was the navy! But that was certainly in the piping times of peace. What I would plead for is that teachers who are capable of teaching the subject with sympathy and with enthusiasm, shall not be compelled to do so with an eye alwavs on the dodges of the examiner. I believe our Welsh boys and girls have a real aptitude for literature, and they will appreciate and understand and love a play of Shakespeare quickly and readily, if it is brought to them fairly free from doses of para- phrasing and etvmology. I have found it a great help to assign the pupils their parts in the play let them learn it by heart, and act a scene or two ffi their school-fallows, a" a special reward for in- dustry. Performers and audience learn some- thins:, and the work is no longer regarded as a mass of dry bones. The school library is a further help, and pupils should, in my opinion, be encouraged to borrow books, and given time and opportunity to read them, no less .than to study their home work. In this connection, too, I would say a word in behalf of music. Class sing- ing, apart from its intrinsic value, which is of course very great, is of enormous help towards the banish- ment of that ill-humour and ineptitude which I comes over classes at times, and seizes them one carccly knows why. I am glad that Principal Reichel of Bangor has so ably urged the educational value of music. I agree with every word he saysi One word more as to the curriculum, or rather that part of it which, though immensely valuable, does not produce showy results. I was disappointed to find that in no single scheme was any mention made of the teaching of what I will call civic duty; no direct attempt to inculcate the principles of how to become a good citizen. If the ultimate aim of education is to produce good citizens, it is somewhat strange that no provision was made at the outset for enabling a boy to leave school with a few clear ideas as to how we are governed. I have reason to know that classes in this subject can be very interesting, and, what appeals to many, profitable and directly useful. The subject finds a place, I believe, in many English public schools. Perhaps, at some future time, something will bo done in this direction. For the present some of us do what we can by bringing as much of the subject as time will allow into the history lesson, but, the danger is that many will feel they cannot afford to do so as it doesn't pay. There are many ques- tions of much interest which have cropped up during the past five years in connection with our schools, some of which I cannot even mention in a paper of this scope, and some of which, indeed, require to be treated separately, and by themselves, such as the place of technical instruction in county schools, the relation between primary and secondary education, and the question whether our system is likely to produce what has been called over-education. But before closing this most imperfect paper, I would make two remarks on what appear to be questions of immediate moment, and some practical utility. Scholarships tenable by primary school pupils at the county schools have been granted with a fair amount of generosity, comparatively speaking, and provision has been made for their increase, according to the increase in the school roll. But I cannot but think ;bat the tunas set asiae tor scnoiarsmps at our ] University Colleges are lamentably small, more 3specially when it is remembered that many of them are open to the world. At present, though i help is given to the deserving in the way of county exhibitions by County Governing Bodies, I fear many are still debarred from the privileges of a college training, who would undoubtedly profit by that training. Secondary school teach- ing throughout Wales will hail with satisfaction. a more generous treatment of Welsh boys and girls in this respect. o My other and final remark is this,—the Central Board will do well to be on its guard against the evil effect of demanding results too soon. I should not mention this, had there not been signs of a decided tendency to err in this direction on the part of that body. It has almost been forgotten, I fear, that we are only yet at the starting point of our careers and yet the standard of work required by the examiners is absurdly high. This simply means we have no time to teach, and that a strong temptation is held out to us to cram. The Central Board claims to have dethroned the numerous tyrants in the way of outside examinations; let it take care it shall not bel a case of King Log and King Stork. The reports of their examiners have been remarkably just and fair, but it is clear that one or two of the latter have not realised the nature of the material with which they have to deal, and one of them has been dangerously near to confounding the examination with the Cam- bridge Mathematical Tripos. And the cry has already been beard from many quarters—(ftiis euxtodiet ipsos emtodes ? We all realise that we cannot dispense with examinations, that they are a necessary evil, and have to be faced, and now the Central Board has an excellent opportunity of reducing the evil to a minimum, and of laying more stress on inspection, and less and less on examination. I cannot close without bearing testimony to the splendid efforts put forth by the local governing bodies throughout the Principality to make the schools worthy of their native land and of the great movement which has fallen to their generation. If some of them have felt that Knowledge to their eyes her ample page Rich with the spoils of Time, did ne'er unroll," they have been all the more determined to leave this noble heritage in fullest measure to those that shall come after them. Let us, Welsh people, then, notrest satisfied with what we have already accomplished, but rather cul- tivate a healthy discontent, and not be afraid of progress, of high ideals and noble aspirations, or of harbouring the ambition that our people shall be among the most cultured, and our schools among the most perfect in the world.





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