Plus Ça Change

These extracts are taken from “A Social History of Education in England” by John Lawson and Harold Silver.   The authors are writing about the “Payment By Results” system introduced in 1862. Grants to schools were determined by the proficiency of children from six years old as tested individually by the inspectors.

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“…. As T H Huxley later put it: ‘the Revised Code did not compel any schoolmaster to leave off teaching anything; but, by the very simple process of refusing to pay for many kinds of teaching, it has practically put an end to them.’ Matthew Arnold, poet and HMI, was the inspector most responsive to the effects of the code. Under the old system a good inspector heard selected children read and questioned whole classes on all their subjects: ‘the whole life and power of a class, the fitness of its composition, its handling by the teacher, were well tested.’   Under the new system, however, he was unable to test any of these: ‘he hears every child in the group before him read, and so far his examination is more complete than the old inspection.   But he does not question them; he does not … go beyond the three matters, reading, writing, and arithmetic.’

“The result was generally an increase in rote learning, and even inspectors not opposed to the principle of the revised code reported on its deadening and disheartening effects.   The need to drill the children to meet the inspection requirements was reflected in the schools’ activities throughout the year. Frequent testing became common. Some of the improvements of the 1850s in curriculum and method in many schools were cut short. Even religious instruction was sometimes dropped as the inspection approached.

“…. The possibility of new thinking about educational methods and about the curriculum became paralysed by the operation of the code.

“…. Payment by results was a view of the nature of elementary education from which it took the system generations to recover. Edward Thring looked back at the experience of payment by results and the inspection of minds like ‘specimens on a board with a pin stuck through them like beetles’, and appealed to teachers to get rid of the vestiges of the system: ‘strive for liberty to teach, have mercy on the slow, the ignorant, the weak’. A former inspector looked back in 1911 at the thirty or more years of ‘Code despotism’ in which he had been involved, and thought the efforts were still being felt of ‘that deadly system … which seems to have been devised for the express purpose of arresting growth and strangling life, which bound all of us, myself included, with links of iron’.”

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