Philip Magnus, Victorian Educational Pioneer Frank Foden (Vallentine Mit, chell 50s) Having myself written a biography of a nine- teenth century figure I am well aware that the Victorian age was dominated by giants of men largely self-made and not particularly lovable but possessed of the virtues of in- dustry and duty and filled with a belief in progress.
This book describes at length and at times in great detail the life and achievements of perhaps the greatest educational reformer of the later Victorian age. His influence on the teaching of science and technology was pro- found. The 1851 Great Exhibition had shown the dominance of the United Kingdom, the 1867 Paris Exhibition in- dicated that France, Germany and other European countries had surpassed us in technical competence. Many people were worried but it was left to men like Sir Philip Magnus to do something about it and emphasise the need not only for science teaching to be at a high level of competence but the absolute necessity to train tens of thousands of workmen to higher standards of technical efficiency.
When Sir Philip Magnus, after a distinguished university career at University College, London, and _fourteen years as a minister at the West London (Reform) Synagogue, became Secretary and Organising Director of the City and Guilds of London Institute in 1880, he had already made a name for himself in education, in teacher training, as a student and reformer of ex- aminations, as a writer of textbooks and as a zealous attender at the Convocation of Uni- versity of London whose meetings and dis- putations would have worn out a lesser man.
In his thirty-five years at the City and•Guilds he was probably the most influential man in technical education despite the fact that for a period he lived in dynamic and acrimonious tension with his executive committee. The number sitting City and Guild examinations rose from some 400 to 20,000 a year and he controlled the schools and colleges with ministerial authority. He also lectured round the country, encouraged the development of polytechnics, was a Royal Commissioner and published a book which was highly regarded.
Sir Philip Magnus, not content with being the first educational knight, spent seventeen years (1905-1922) as a Unionist member of the House of Commons representing Lon- don University, and few Parliamentary can- didates must ever have given so much space in their manifesto to education. He never failed to speak in the House on educational issues and his views are fascinating—all our present controversies are mirrored there.
He opposed the eleven plus, realised the need for vocational training to interest the young and -felt something must be done to raise the status of the teaching profession. He believed that the curriculum must be modi- fied and held that the 'fossilised' classical cur- riculum itself began as strictly utilitarian sub- jects at a time when Latin was the essential base of mediaeval law, science and adminis- tration. Magnus followed Herbert Spencer in putting the needs for utilitarian education on which our whole civilisation depends before fine arts and belles lettres. He would have little sympathy with the new progressives who talk about 'liberating' the personality of the children in the primary school whilst they keep many children functionally illiterate.
Magnus opposed the 1902 Act because he considered the grammar schools would fit their pupils 'rather for the clerk's desk than the workman's bench'. This country has never really taken technical education seriously—it is always second best, as were the secondary technical schools. Recent ex- hortations by Dr Dainton to• teach all our Sixths mathematics while we have hardly enough graduate mathematicians to cover the existing Science Sixths solve nothing without a general change—of general attitude. The latest fashicin is to call for computer courses for all at universities when many haven't '0' level mathematics. Magnus would have realised the exasperation of those of us in the schools!
Sir Philip Magnus was a self-helper and he agreed with Samuel Smiles: 'Duty only is true; there is no true action but in its ac- complishment'. Yet he favoured increased state aid and, like many others, by his ad- vocacy destroyed the self-help age. One feels that the author favours the changed climate but this is no reason why he portrays the evils of the Industrial Revolution without realising the horrors which went before of the handloom cellar dweller of Bolton and the wretched agricultural labourer. Nor would all agree with the author that 6. . . so many classic Victorian attitudes such as laissez-faire and self-help were . . . a rather low view of human behaviour'. The Vie- torians were triers and doers and realists—they realised the dangers of 'fallen human nature and didn't advocate a socialist system which encourages the idle to prey on the workers. The author, however, does see with commendable clarity the strengths and weakness of his subject and portrays him often in the words of his contemporaries. His strengths of 'efficiency, order and economy', could well be the watchwords of the new Conservative government: our country would 6enefit from the presence of a few of the fearless if humourless Victorians. "