1 FEBRUARY 1963, Page 22

Debatable Educati on

The Independent Progressive School. Edited by H. A. T. Child. (Hutchinson, 25s.) ON TUESDAY, January 15, 1963, the Central Hall, Westminster, was filled to hear a high-powered platform launch the 1963 Campaign for Educa- tion. Sir Geoffrey Crowther, impatient of the little done and undone vast so far as the recom- mendations embodied in his Report are con- cerned, was strong for full-time education for all children up to sixteen, for half up to eighteen, and for a fifth up to twenty-one. Investment in material resources, he thought, would not be enough without investment in the brains of the people.

Is so much faith in the educability of humans justified? Are we talking sense when we say that full-time schooling for all up to sixteen is not merely desirable but essential? I think the answers to both questions must be yes. But it's a hesitant yes—first, because the educationists' Panglossian optimism about the capabilities and potentialities of their human material invites blimpish reactions, and also because the rasping `no' which is Colm Brogan's answer to both questions is backed by plentiful painful facts and by his vigorous debating powers.

With typewriter at the ready, and emitting bursts of destructive fire from time to time, Colin Brogan advances against the thick ranks of the entrenched educationists. The ideologues, the starry-eyed, the non-believers in original sin, the Holbrooks, the Hoggarts, the Vaizeys, the egalitarians, the comprehensivisers who dig down into a long private sock in order to find enough to pay for Junior's five years at Winchester-

these are some of those whom he roughs up. There are times when his fire is a bit wild. Or- ganisation and teaching methods in direct-grant

schools, he says, `are not directed by coun- cillors who left school at fourteen and appear to have forgotten all they ever learned by the time they were fifteen.' What evidence has he that the proportion of empty-headed zanies is higher amongst councillors than amongst any other group of the population? None that I could find. And the implication contained in this sentence—that heads and staffs of maintained schools (in contrast to direct grant and indepen- dent) in Great Britain have to submit to outside dictation in the inside running of their schools —is wildly untrue. In no country are curriculum and teaching methods left in the hands of those immediately on the job as unreservedly as they are here. Let Mr. Brogan inquire of the proviseur of a French lycee to see how much of a hand he has in the educative processes going on in his establishment. Mr. Brogan also sings a dirge over the poor old secondary moderns as being dead on their feet before ever reaching their majority. `The failure of the secondary modern school has been almost complete,' he says. It's true, of course, that many of them have mis- takenly aped the grammar schools and spent too much time gloatingly counting up their ordinary level passes much as an oil king might tot up his Renoirs. And it's also true that in many of them that extra year, from fourteen to fifteen, has been for both teachers and taught a time of nail-biting frustration, with both sides waiting for the happy -release. But for all that a vast amount of vital, devoted work has been done in these schools since 1944, in rural areas and in the commuter belts particularly—work which Mr. Brogan would ha've done well to:take more fully into account. Given smaller classes, and, even more important, given some slowing-down of the everlasting va-et-vient of personnel which ham- strings their teaching staffs, these schools could still have a rosy future..

But when you are taking on all corners (Mr. Brogan's is very much of a lone voice) a few unfair blows must be expected. And his case, apart from these, is well worth stating. His cen- tral point is that education, the vast bulk of it anyway, is something the public pays for. And therefore it is reasonable that the results of the State's expenditure should benefit the public at large which, in this country, has opted for material welfare and The weekly spare pound for the pools. 'We live in a world of technical change which makes increasing demands on a skilled minority and perhaps decreasing demands , on the rest. As the prosperity of all depends on the skilled, it would seem to be plain common sense that the State should decide to lay its greatest emphasis on making the best of the best we have. It is more important that a boy with a first-class mathematical brain should get a first- class training in mathematics than that a boy with a fourth-class brain should get a first-class training in simple spelling and punctuation, par- ticularly as he is quite unlikely to make use of his simple skills in adult life.'

The alternatives here aren't as clear-cut as Mr. Brogan wants to persuade us they are. But none the less he provides some refreshing home truths for us to mull over. Do we overvalue the academic paper-chase? Aren't we making the same educational mistakes as emergent Africa, only on a much bigger scale? (Those eager,

numerous students from Kano or Khyber, pacing

the corridors of London University's white mammoth in Malet Street, with the Lyrical Ballads tucked under one arm and an essay on the Gordon Riots in a folder under the other— what are they up to? What thirst are these quick swigs out of an alien culture meant to allay?) Education must be for something. Are those concerned with the teaching of those of low ability between fourteen and sixteen (either theorists or practising teachers) as clear as they ought to be about what should be taught at that stage and at that level?

A careful and exhaustive compilation of facts about the attitude of parents and pupils to the final year at school and the first years in a job is offered in Home School and Work, by M. P. Carter. It does little to bolster up the confidence of those who say, 'Everything will be all right if we raise the leaving-age, and spend the money, and lay on the facilities.' Mr. Carter examines five secondary modern schools in Sheffield. He asks all relevant questions and omits no detail. 'Work is better than school,' said one boy inter- viewed,'-1 don't know why : it seems more friendly.' And parents were strongly anti-Crow- ther: fifteen was quite late enough to leave, thank you. 'They are not kept in check at school.'

The heads of the independent progressive schools who write with such high-minded in- tegrity about their individual ventures in The Independent Progressive School could profit from delving into Mr. Carter's vast slag-heap of solid,' unglittering fact. Fine work has been and is being done in these schools. But when will it be possible to see the conditions in which they

operate—small classes, devoted, expensively educated teachers, pupils from cultivated homes with Picassos on the wall—generally applied and

spread in widest commonalty? And until they are,' how relevant are these fourteen sincere and

enlightened credos? 'We must have faith in the essential goodness of the child,' says Mr. Mont- gomery, of King Alfred School, Hampstead. Do you definitively discourage the Old Adam by cutting him dead in the corridor?