Education and the Hadow Report – Learning from the History of Education

It’s a pleasure to be working again with Professor Yoko Yamasaki at Mukogawa University. The focus of our current collaboration (on the history of education and on contemporary issues in education) is the Hadow Report of 1931, and its impact on Primary education: “The Board of Education Report of The Consultative Committee on The Primary School”.

Hadow Report

In many countries the soul of education is still looking for a settled home, or at least an agreed place to rest for a while. During the final part of the 20th Century and into the 21st it’s clear that in many countries education has been a zone of combat between many competing factions, some of them driven by political expediency, personal ambition and ideological zeal. In order to find a consensus and to set an agreed course for education into the future, we might consider some key facts about historical trends in education.

The role of the Primary school, as far as England is concerned, has continued to be keenly debated and discussed. The “traditionalist” faction amongst commentators, practitioners and policymakers continues to assert that the role of the Primary school is to make young children “secondary ready” and to that end they insist that academic attainment is mainly or largely “the be-all and end-all” of Primary education.

As far as Traditionalists are concerned, this is the role that has always been, or should always have been, the role of Primary education. This is a group that assumes “progressivism” or “child-centredness” was a misguided attempt to re-set the educational agenda during the countercultural events of the 1960s. In order to examine this misconception we need a proper scrutiny of the history of education in Britain.

In 1931 the Hadow committee of inquiry was set up to carry out research and to provide objective expert opinion regarding children and learning between the ages of 7 and 11. By the end of the 1920s and into the 1930s the school system in England and Wales was still in a state of flux. There were many different types of schools, governed by many different bodies and organisations. There was general consensus about the developmental needs of children in what we now call the early years, along with fairly settled ideas about learning post-11 years of age. As to what should be learned and taught between those two stages – there seemed to be little agreement, even among education professionals. There was seemingly a lack of a “vivid appreciation of the needs and possibilities of the children themselves”.

The introductory paragraphs of the Hadow report state:

The following question was referred to us by the Board of Education: ‘To inquire and report as to the courses of study suitable for children (other than children in Infants’ Departments) up to the age of 11 in Elementary Schools.

The problems are numerous and urgent. A school is at once a physical environment, a training ground of the mind, and a spiritual society. Are we satisfied that in each of these respects the primary schools of today are all that, with the knowledge and resources at our command, we have the power to make them?

Are their buildings and physical surroundings as conducive to health and vitality as may reasonably be demanded? Is their curriculum humane and realistic, unencumbered by the dead wood of a formal tradition 。。。quickened by inquiry and experiment, and inspired, not by an attachment to conventional orthodoxies, but by a vivid appreciation of the needs and possibilities of the children themselves?

Hadow 2

Are their methods of organisation and the character of their equipment, the scale on which they are staffed, and the lines on which their education is planned, of a kind best calculated to encourage individual work and persistent practical activity among pupils, initiative and originality among teachers, and to foster in both the spirit which leaves the beaten path and strikes fearlessly into new fields, which is the soul of education?
What are the deficiencies, if any, which most hamper their work, and by what measures may it be hoped such deficiencies will be removed?

Was it here, then, that we see the true seeds of “progressivism” and “child centredness” as far as the English and Welsh state system of education was concerned? (Remembering that by 1931 the educational needs of young children had for many years been under (re)consideration in Britain and elsewhere by individual educationalists, philosophers and academics)

What are the key messages of these opening paragraphs of the Hadow report?

  • By 1931 there were thought to be problems within schools which were “numerous and urgent”
  • The Primary school ought to be seen essentially as a “training ground of the mind” [and not as a “results factory” greatly preoccupied with the rote-memorisation of “facts” and the testing and grading of young children]*
  • The Primary school should be seen as “a spiritual society” [which we can interpret as a place in which human values and virtues are developed within a context of mutual respect and joyful collaboration]
  • There was concern about the quality of the physical environments in which education took place
  • There was a consensus amongst education professionals (and politicians?) that within each of these aspects of concern there were urgent problems and indeed much scope for change and improvement.
  • There was an understanding and agreement that many of the existing “buildings and physical surroundings” were not “conducive to health and vitality”
  • There was a concern that the curriculum on offer was not “humane and realistic, unencumbered by the dead wood of a formal tradition”
  • There was an understanding that children’s learning should be “quickened by inquiry and experiment, and inspired, not by an attachment to conventional orthodoxies [rote learning, memorisation, continuous testing, etc], but by a vivid appreciation of the needs and possibilities of the children themselves”
  • Teachers and others should develop a “vivid appreciation” of children’s developmental needs
  • They should also consider the “possibilities” and potential of individual children – and differentiate learning accordingly
  • There is a need to “encourage individual work and persistent practical activity” [including individual and group self-directed inquiry]
  • There is a need to encourage “initiative and originality among teachers” [to move away from central direction and the micromanagement of methodology and curriculum]
  • There is a need to “foster the spirit which leaves the beaten path and strikes fearlessly into new fields, which is the soul of education” – which we may see as a call to engage creatively and imaginatively on the part of both teachers and students, especially as new media and resources become easily available and affordable.

In order to tackle these pressing issues and problems the education system would need a comprehensive review and thereafter consider wholesale changes to its methods of organization, to the character of its premises, resources and equipment, to the scale on which schools were staffed, and to the lines on which education (the curriculum) was planned.

Hadow 3

To be continued . . .

* “A system of payment by results was introduced in 1862 under the notorious Revised Code. Pupils were tested in the ‘three Rs’ during an annual inspection of schools, the results of which determined the level of grant, and therefore the teacher’s salary. An inevitable consequence of this system was ‘teaching to the test’, routinised, mechanical and dull methods of teaching. Payment by results was relaxed in 1895, and with the dawn of a new century the introduction of an official Handbook of Suggestions (1905), published by the Board of Education and written by a new breed of enlightened and progressive HMI, encouraged elementary teachers to take more initiative in responding to the needs of their particular children.” – P18 Politics and the Primary Teacher, Dr Peter Cunningham, 2012, Routledge

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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