Education – A short account . . .

Children in Britain today often moan and groan about setting out on a winter’s morning to spend the day at school.  Education is, of course, compulsory to the age eighteen now.  Teenagers’ hormonally altered sleep patterns make early rising difficult.

There have been challenges to the `norms’ of education and then challenges to the things that replaced it.

One of the biggest influences on the school experience in my lifetime is probably the abandonment of corporal punishment in 1986 in State Schools.  The practice was generally in some decline during the preceding years, it always added a frisson of fear whilst there.

My mother recalls teachers throwing (wooden) blackboard rubbers in the fifties rather randomly.  In the eighties there were still pupils sent to the heads office for a caning as a last resort after detentions had failed to alleviate behavioural issues.    Certainly, there are people who believe that discipline in life and school would be better if this practice returned.

The earlier schools existed in a harsh environment were education was a privilege (perhaps a sign of privilege) and not a right or duty.

Most children traditionally learned the crafts of their parents by their side.  The writer of the famous `Horrible Histories’ series Terry Deary is still a proponent of this view.  This worked as long as British craft guild system and inheritance practices remained in place.  As cities grew during industrialisation and the old ways of life broke down the whole thing collapsed.  In the eighteenth century there were many children living on the streets in towns who often regarded as a nuisance.

This was all changed by a humble Portsmouth resident called John Pounds from about 1780 onwards.  He was a poor disabled cobbler injured in a work accident as a teenager.  His long life and slender income was given over to helping poor disposed children.  He took them to his workshop and taught them how to read and write, fed them and even took them to church.  There was a tract written about him, and, likely shamed by the selfless example, `Ragged Schools’ grew up often sponsored by much richer people and institutions.  These were important in changing the perception of the poor and also gave a glimmer of hope to those in desperate circumstances.  The separation of children from parental control had reached its zenith elsewhere with children working uneducated in many unsafe places including Cotton Mills and Coal Mines.

A social conscience was developed and nurtured by writers like Charles Dickens and things began to change.  Compulsory schooling began in 1880 and was gradually extended.  The school leaving age was fourteen until 1964 for those not passing the right exams.

Education gives us choices, aspirations and life-enhancing skills.  I hope mine doesn’t end.  In the meantime, I would propose one of the Pink Floyd’s famous 1979 piece from their album “The Wall”.