Spotlight on the NUT donation: “The education of the adolescent” by Ernest Salter Davies

Last winter we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which included 380 archive boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

Over the last year, we have checked and sorted these resources, discovering many interesting publications during the process. Among these, we have picked a few ‘gems’ and decided to share what we have learnt about each one.

Today is the turn of a paper titled The education of the adolescent, which was presented at a Joint meeting of continuative, adult and rural school teachers by Ernest Salter Davies in 1927.

Education of the adolescent

This address, whose author worked as Director of education for Kent during the 1920s and most of the 1930s, focuses on the education of pupils aged 11 and older, while also discussing some of the challenges facing policy makers and offering ideas for possible solutions.

The starting point is a report published by the Consultative Committee of the Board of Education not long before this address was given, which talked about the complexity of post-11 education and stressed that this phase of instruction should be such to encourage the children to continue to be in school up to the age of 15 (at the time, this was only compulsory until the pupil was 14 years old).

While broadly agreeing with the conclusions reached by the report, Davies feels that a suitable curriculum must be developed before the school age can be raised. Also, instead of obliging children to wait until they are 16 to start working (what some of his contemporaries advocated), he is keener on the idea of full-time education lasting until the age of 14, followed by four years of part-time education.

The author also realises that any re-organisation of the system to better cater for adolescent pupils presents some challenges and he highlights two obstacles in particular: an arbitrary division between the various phases of education (primary, secondary and technical) and a system of dual control.

In regards to the first, Davies acknowledges that such division has existed for some time (from before the Education Act of 1902) and artificial barriers that are hard to remove are now in place. In terms of administration, for example, he finds it absurd that two different Local Authorities should be responsible for primary and for post-primary education and instead he proposes a system like the Scottish one, where County Education Committees are in charge of all schools within their area of responsibility, thus striking a balance between over-centralisation and excessive decentralisation.

The second obstacle refers to the fact that voluntary schools (which can be influenced by a trust or foundation when it comes to how they are run) are sometimes unwilling to cooperate with Local Authorities on a variety of matters, therefore changes can be hard to introduce.

The second part of this paper looks at what should be taught in an ideal post-primary school, starting from the premise that education is “a spiritual growth which is never completed, a condition of the spirit developing as the individual develops” and that the curriculum should be a “means of helping pupils, according to their capabilities, to realise themselves”(p. 8).

Davies believes that positive changes are only possible with the support of both parents and employers and once again, he feels that a compromise must be reached, in the sense that education should prepare both for life and for livelihood. Practically, this means developing pupils’ capabilities as much as possible (as stressed by educationalists) but also equipping them for employment by including practical activities. This approach can have two positive consequences: making part-time education past the age of 14 more appealing to pupils, as the gap between Day School and Further Education becomes narrower, and developing ambition and imagination, two qualities that are highly valued by employers.

If you’re interested in finding out more on post-primary education around the time when this address was given, both in the UK and in other countries, the IOE Library collection includes many relevant resources, which are either on the open shelves or can be fetched for you upon request.

The education of the adolescent, like all other items included in this donation, is currently uncatalogued, although this will be the next step in our project. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the contents of the donation, please check our LibGuide.

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