This is Part 3 of our series of posts on the Hadow Report and its contribution to the history of education.
On reading these further extracts from the Introduction to the 1931 Hadow report on Primary education our readers will undoubtedly notice the similarities between the prevailing views described by the report’s authors and those of many of our contemporary commentators and practitioners who insist Primary education should focus on “the basics” and ensure that no time or effort is wasted and nothing should “distract”children from reaching the arbitrary academic targets set out in the current testing regime – in order that they become “secondary ready”, and even, “ready for the world of work”.
Clearly the Hadow committee wished to offer a very different opinion as to the purposes of the Primary school and the true nature of its engagement with children aged 7 to 11.
Man is a social animal, and the school is a society. The school, being organised and equipped for the purpose, is able to offer fuller and more varied opportunities for activity than is possible for a single family. The teacher, with his special knowledge and experience, is in a position to see that the activities are fruitful, and that the child is helped to pass from one to another as he is ready for it. A good school, in short, is not a place of compulsory instruction, but a community of old and young, engaged in learning by co-operative experiment.
Approached from this angle, the problem of the curriculum is seen in a somewhat different light from that in which it was envisaged even as recently as a generation ago.
It has passed in the last hundred years through three main phases, which of course overlap. In the age before the establishment of a public educational system, when even some of those who agreed that it was desirable that children should learn to read, ‘if only for the best of purposes, that they may read the Scriptures,’ were doubtful if it was desirable to teach them to write, since ‘such a degree of knowledge might produce in them a disrelish for the laborious occupations of life,’ questions of curriculum were naturally not a burning issue.
In the period immediately preceding and following 1870, the period of the Revised Code and the early school boards, the dominant – and, indeed it is hardly an exaggeration to say, the exclusive – concern of most schools was to secure that children acquired a minimum standard of proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic, subjects in which their attainments were annually assessed by quantitative standards, with a view to the allocation to schools of pecuniary rewards and penalties.
During the last forty years, and with increasing rapidity in the twelve years since 1918, the outlook of the primary school has been broadened and humanised. Today it includes care, through the school medical service, for the physical welfare of children, offers larger, if still inadequate, opportunities for practical activity, and handles the curriculum, not only as consisting of lessons to be mastered, but as providing fields of new and interesting experience to be explored; it appeals less to passive obedience and more to the sympathy, social spirit and imagination of the children, relies less on mass instruction and more on the encouragement of individual and group work, and treats the school, in short, not as the antithesis of life, but as its complement and commentary.
[3Di italics and underlines]
To be continued . . .