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SCHOOL NEEDLEWORK. School managers, and teachers of girls' schools, are often greatly perplexed about the state of this useful art, as practised in the school-room. It is with them all a matter of real difficulty to attain what they deem desirable in relation to the following points at least :-1. How to confine the operations of the children to the plain and directly useful branches of this art. 2. How to secure really skilful results in these branches. And, 3. How to do this in connexion with, instead of the almost total exclusion of, a sound mental as well as moral culture. Inspectors of schools are almost invariably asked either for their opinion on these matters, or for the results of their observation. It may not be unacceptable to those of our readers who are specially interested in these questions, if we devote a little of our space to a few words on the subject.
In relation to the first point it would be well, perhaps, as a rule, to exclude from the school all operations but such as are usually deemed “useful.” But if the rule be made, it should be adhered to impartially; or, if exceptions are allowed, their character should be clearly defined. There are schools which profess to admit no “ fancy" work of any kind, but where, however, such work does find admission, and is connived at in spite of the law. Many teachers have great difficulty in wholly excluding it, and there are instances in which the work of the children in this branch has been so distinguished for its excellence, that they have found a ready sale for it at remunerative prices, and have thus contributed to the family exchequer. If its total exclusion be either impossible or undesirable, perhaps it might be well to lay it under a few simple regulations, as the following :--1. It should be permitted only on a specified day. 2. It should be allowed only to those whose efforts at plain work are satisfactory. 3. Personal cleanliness ought to be an indispensable condition. Apd, 4. It need not extend generally beyond the teaching of a new pattern. Children who are fond of such work will fill up their spare time in working it out. In this, or some such way, a teacher may make this indulgence very materially assist her efforts in other directions.
Relative to the skilful performance of the art of needlework, the first thing which strikes us is, that only abundant and careful practice can ever produce skill. But how are the children to get this practice? Their parents, as a rule, do not like them to be always at work either for the public, or for the Committee, or for a Dorcas Society, and yet they furnish but a very scanty supply from their homes. On the other hand, the remark is far from uncommon, that ladies who take an interest in the school, and are much concerned about the needlework, do not supply the needful means of exercise because the work is not skilfully done. How, then, are the children to make the much-desired progress ?
There are three plans which have been found to answer well, according as they have been cheerfully adopted, and enthusiastically worked out. First–The children have been allowed to reap the pecuniary results of their labour where work has been “ taken in.” It has not been found necessary that one child should make a whole shirt, for instance, in order to realise this plan. The teacher can easily determine what proportion of the price shall be given for the stitching, or for the hemming, or for making the sleeves; and under such regulations a powerful stimulus has been given to the children's skill, industry, and interest, even in the much-dreaded "plain work." This plan is adopted with great success in the Girls' British School at Amersham, which is not a large one, the average attendance of last year being 49. The respected Secretary states—"The time given to this employment is one-and-ahalf hour daily, for five days in the week : one pupil reads an entertaining book while the others ply their needles. The best workers only have one hour's instruction
weekly in crochet and embroidery. The girls are allowed to take home the work they have in hand at school--a permission which is, of course, only given to those who are sufficiently advanced to keep it clean. The amount earned in the year ranges from £10 to £13, and is, in fact, about two-thirds of the sum paid as school fees.” The amount thus earned by these children last year was £12 3s. 60.*
Another plan, frequently adopted, and generally found to answer well, is the making up of various useful garments out of material supplied by the Committee. These are afterwards sold to the parents at a price slightly above the cost of the material, which secures the funds against loss, while the outlay is returned for a repetition of the process. An individual member of the School Committee occasionally takes this matter in hand, and the results are said to be satisfactory. The mothers are uniformly anxious to obtain what has been wholly or chiefly made by their own children. The elder girls and pupil-teachers thus acquire experience in the useful art of “cutting out," while the children engaged on the work are supplied with adequate motives to diligence and skill. An outlay of thirty or forty shillings in this way might be made of real and permanent serrice to our poor children and their families.
A third mode is the encouragement of the mothers to send their family mending to school. Our poor have commonly much more to mend than to make, and, of the two, a fair degree of skill in the former is of even more consequence than in the latter art. This plan is more or less adopted in several British schools. The excellent mistress of one of these has devoted herself to this matter with praiseworthy diligence, and with deserved success. She thus states the results :
“Much benefit has already resulted from the plan of encouraging the children to bring stockings to mend, and old clothes to be patched.
“ The girls are allowed to bring their own work on Mondays and Thursdays, and to have it cut and fixed in the school, which has induced the parents to send nearly treble the quantity, so that now the pupil-teachers have more practice in cutting than formerly, when the rule of sending all work ready cut and fixed was strictly adhered to. The girls have made for themselves or friends, during the past year, 200 pinafores, 20 pairs of stockings, 20 pairs of children's socks, besides new feeting many pairs, and mending 80 pairs of stockings. In addition to the above, more than an ordinary amount of work has been done for the Dorcas Society.
“Of the 160 girls who sew, 30 can mark, 17 darn, 10 make button-holes, 12 stitch, and 70 knit."
On the last point referred to it will be sufficient to say that in the school to which the above account refers, no inordinate amount of time is devoted to this branch of industry, and it will be found that the mental and moral progress of the children is quite equal to the industrial. The real secret of success is that the children have a sufficiency of work to do, a specific time for doing it, and an adequate motive for its skilful performance.
How far either of these plans can be adopted will depend on various local circumstances. The "cutting and fitting" of the work is a very serious matter, especially where it devolves solely upon the teacher, and it is not improbable that this
* The following is the Scale of Charges at this school for making; when the work is sent not cut out, a small additional charge is made:8. d.
8. d. Fine shirt and front...
per pair 0 6 Plain ditto
per doz. 06 Boys' ditto 1 0 Children's frocks
6d. to 10 Shift
per doz. 1 6 Night ditto 1s. to 16 Plain ditto
1 0 Pocket handkerchiefs
per doz. 06
1 6 Sheets
per pair 0 10
preparatory labour has not always been duly considered when strictures have been made upon the results attained. Our female teachers, like others, and more than many, require physical exercise and open-air relaxation from toil, and leisure for the cultivation of their minds and the preparation of their lessons ; to say nothing of their need of intercourse with persons beyond the precincts of the school-room, and the cultivation of their social sympathies. It is, however, a fact that, in too many cases, little or no opportunity is left to the teacher for such purposes. Fitting” the children's work often consumes the teacher's only leisure, leading to results which can but be disastrous both to the school and to the teacher too. Still the question is one of real and permanent importance, and if school managers will look into the matter in all its aspects, and ladies' committees give it their ever-ready aid, no doubt the grievance may be greatly reduced, and better results attained.
We shall be very glad to insert letters from any Correspondents who have suggestions to make of a practical character on this interesting subject.
MINUTES OF COMMITTEE OF COUNCIL, 1855–6. From the miscellaneous correspondence which is prefixed, as usual, to the volume containing the reports of her Majesty's Inspectors, we extract the following particulars :
I. Scholars' Certificates.—The Committee of Council have prepared engraved certificates, which are intended to be given to children of creditable attainments and good conduct, who have attended school regularly for three consecutive years. The conditions under which these certificates are granted, are detailed at length in a circular letter of September 19, 1855. They may be briefly summed up as follows :—The teacher must be certificated or registered. The scholar must be twelve years of age, and must have attended school, during three consecutive years, 176 days, exclusive of Sundays. The scholar's character must have been good, and his acquirements of the average class. The Inspectors are only empowered to authenticate the certificates with their own signatures, when all these conditions have been fulfilled, and when the managers of the school have certified the correctness of the statements made in the document.
II. School Floors.--On this point, a slight modification of the stringent rules which were formerly enforced has been made by the Council. Boarded floors are not to be insisted on in all cases, provided that due warmth, dryness, and ventilation can be secured without them. The letter to the Inspectors, dated March 13, 1856, states at length the nature of the precautions which must be taken in all cases when the original requirements of the Council are not complied with, and will be read with much interest by the managers of those schools to which the regulation applies.
III. Sanitary State of Schools.—The inspectors are instructed, in a circular letter, dated August 7th, 1855, to make more stringent inquiries than heretofore with respect to the sanitary state of the schools under inspection, and to the sufficiency of the playground accommodation. The object of their inquiries is to bring more immediately under the notice of school managers any circumstances strikingly prejudicial to the health of the children, either in the state or the rules of the school. The following points are enumerated :
“Floors which admit of no body of air beneath them; a few small windows low down in the walls and kept closed, instead of many large windows near the ceiling and freely opened; excess or deficiency of warmth; the omission to establish a thorough draught of air in the rooms for a considerable time etween morning and afternoon school, more especially if, as is often the case, a certain number of the children dine in the same rooms during some part of the interval,—are all points to which you might call attention."
The Reports of the Inspectors contain, as usual, many valuable suggestions, but are somewhat less harmonious than in former years. On two or three questions of fact, such as the general efficiency of the pupil-teachers, the evils of irregular attendance and early removal from school, and the necessity for attaching more importance, in preparing schoolmasters, to teaching ability, as distinguished from mere acquirement, the testimony of the Inspectors is pretty uniform; but the advice which they offer, on these and other points, differs this year even more widely than the varied experience and habits of thought of the seventeen Inspectors would have led us to anticipate.
Mr. Watkins says, concerning the attendance of schools in his district" Nearly 79 per cent of the children in Yorkshire schools are under 10 years of age, and not five in a hundred are turned 13.
"I find that in schools which have come under my inspection during the year, where accurate returns have been made, 19,006 children have been admitted in twelve months, and 16,851 have left in the same time, i.e., nearly 88 out of every 100 have gone away!”
Mr. Bowstead's experience on this point is still more discouraging :"The returns made by the managers and teachers of the schools which I visited between September 1, 1854, and the same date in 1855, compared with the returns for the preceding twelve months, show that the per centage of children on the registers under ten years of age has risen from 65.13 to 66.94, whilst the per centage of those over ten has fallen proportionably from 34.87 to 33.06. The greatest evil, therefore, with which education in this country has to contend, the premature transfer of children from school to work, from learning to earning, appears to be on the increase in that part of the island to which my labours extend."
Mr. Marshall sums up the results of the inquiries of himself and his fellowinspectors in the following brief formulæ :
“Nearly one-half of the children in elementary schools are under eight years of age; and nearly one-third of their number have only been one year at school.
“Adding the whole attendances together and dividing by 16, we obtain the following general averages for the sixteen districts :
“That is to say, of 382,236 children in daily average attendance
About 156,000 are under 8 years of age.
And about 5,800 are over 14. “Of this number also it appears from other data that about 114,000 have been one year at school, and about 15,000 have been in attendance four years.”
In accounting for this unsatisfactory state of things, the Inspectors do not all concur in opinion. Mr. Kennedy, who visits the Lancashire schools, refuses to attribute the early removal of pupils to the excellence of the teaching, and in controverting the rather prevalent theory on this subject, makes the following remark :
“I totally disbelieve the doctrine that, where a school is well taught, and the children are early proficient, they are taken away from school so much the earlier in consequence. In the first place, I find by experience that the children actually do remain longest in the best schools. I have directed my attention to this question during the past year, and I have no doubt on the point. And secondly, it appears to me to be à priori improbable that the ignorant parents of the poor children should be able so to form a judgment about their children's attainments, as to come to the conclusion that they may now take away a child at 11 years of age, whereas, if he had been at the inferior school of former days, they would have had to allow him to stay till 12 or 13 years old. Moreover, I think it likely that the few parents who might perhaps be sufficiently intelligent and cultivated to form such conclusions, would be the very persons who would value the better education their children were receiving, and would wish not to take them away just at the very time at which they would be deriving most advantage from their instructors."
On the other hand, the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, Durham, and Westmoreland reveal a different state of things, and induce the Inspector, the Rev. D. J. Stewart, to express himself in rather disheartening terms. He says
“I have no hesitation in saying that in the counties which I have visited in the year to which this report refers, I have not met many instances of that laudable anxiety for education which is at times so flatteringly ascribed to our working classes. I have found the parochial clergy in many places tending to relax their efforts to make schools effective, on account of their inability to orercome the indifference of the labouring people. I could also point out examples of schools built in anticipation of a large attendance of children which are almost deserted. There are cases where parents have refused to allow girls of tolerable age to attend school, except each girl was permitted to bring a baby, and where a clamorous outcry was raised because the clergyman of the parish hesitated to keep open a school for such abuses.”
Mr. Cook's report contains some acute and able remarks on the pupil-teachers, their present employment and future prospects. His observations on this head are the more valuable, because he has evidently studied this subject with especial care, and his experience has extended over a considerable range both of time and space. As to the rank in life from which the female apprentices come, he makes a very satisfactory statement.
“The principal officers of all those training schools for mistresses which have been under the same superintendence since the commencement of the present system, inform me that the Queen's scholars are better trained, better instructed, and have more gentle and cultivated manners than in former years, and that there is no indication of their having been brought up in less respectable homes. This entirely coincides with my own observations."
A hint as to the training of the apprentices generally, may be quoted here with advantage :
“While their progress in arithmetic, geometry, geography, and general information is not less than might have been reasonably expected, their knowledge of the laws of the English language, and still more their practical ability to speak and to write correctly, is generally unsatisfactory; the reasons are obvious, and have been frequently noticed. The best remedies will be to make them read more books written in a good style, to require written and oral accounts of the subject matter of those books, and to insist upon their committing large portions of good prose and poetry to memory. The neglect of this last exercise is most remarkable; it may be accounted for by the re-action from a mere mechanical system. At present it is generally admitted that, both as an exercise of the memory, and a means of filling the mind with useful knowledge, and elevating the character by noble thoughts, the system of learning passages from our best authors at school ought to be introduced to a considerable extent.”
In several recent parliamentary discussions on the subject of the supply of well. trained teachers to public schools, it was stated that a large proportion of the apprentices quitted the profession altogether at the expiration of their five years' term. We cannot quote here at length the precise details by which this statement is rebutted in the volume before us, but it may be useful to some of our readers to know that two of the Inspectors, Messrs. Tinling and Mitchell, have been at the pains to examine carefully into the matter, and that they report a considerable per centage of pupil-teachers as entering the Training Colleges, and pursuing teaching as the business of their lives. We refer to the reports of those gentlemen for some very interesting statistics on this subject.
Mr. Arnold offers some valuable remarks in reference to the extended course of instruction now required during the various stages of training for teachers, and in answer to the objection that teachers themselves are being over-educated.
“It is sufficient to say, that the plan which these objectors recommend, the plan of employing teachers whose attainments do not rise far above the level of the attainments of their scholars, has already been tried. It has been tried, and it has failed. Its fruits were to be seen in the condition of elementary education throughout England, until a very recent period. It is now sufficiently clear that the teacher to whom you gire a drudge's training, will only do a drudge's work, and will do it in a drudge's spirit,—that in order to ensure good instruction, even within narrow limits in a school, you must provide it with a master far superior to his scholars, with a master whose own attainments reach beyond the limits within which those of his scholars may be bounded. To form a good teacher for the simplest elementary school, a period of regular training is requisite: this period must be filled with