Pupil Guidance in the 1970’s and 80’s

by Jean Cosslett on 8 November 2017


Jean Cosslett
Matriculated 1971
B.Ed. 1972

I was a very early Lucy Cavendish attendee, from 1971-2, when I gained my B.Ed. following 3 years of teacher training in Essex.

Filling in the details of what I have been doing since leaving Cambridge in 1972 has made me look at my past educational experiences and my efforts in the 1980s to devise a method of guiding and supporting pupils who were entering the changed environment of life in a secondary school.

Writing out the title of my M.Phil at Kings College London sent me into a hunt for documents. Its title was ‘Opinions regarding the theory and practice of imparting information to the lower orders from 1830-1862’. I stopped at that date because The Revised Code was then introduced and I recalled that Matthew Arnold, poet and school inspector, reported that teachers were ‘teaching to the tests’, with the result that what he deemed ‘an effective education’ was not taking place. We still suffer problems stemming from this practice today.

Two significant books were published in 1984. In ‘Readings in School-based Curriculum Development’, edited by Malcolm Skilbeck, comprised the ideas of many teachers concerning the curriculum in both primary and secondary schools – note that in the 1970s and 80s teachers were consulted. I was one of those teachers and my ideas on how to guide pupils were outlined in chapter 13. At the book launch I talked to Malcolm Skilbeck about the number 13 – he considered it to be ‘very lucky for some’! At that time, I had not read his other 1984 book, a companion to the ‘Readings’, covering his great knowledge of the reports and ideas that had been developing throughout the 1960s and 70s in response to a widely perceived need for changes in the education system. Notably, there was the Great Debate on Education in 1976, which led to the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988. There was plenty of debate – and also many criticisms – about the need for ‘higher standards’.

This history of educational ideas concerning reform is essential for present-day students who would like some background to our current systems – and pressures – of which I despair. These books inspired my decision to send my ‘Pupil Guidance’ and Chapter 13 (above) to Lucy Cavendish College. Although they were from the 1980s it would be interesting to know if, in this scientific and technological age, the principle of guiding young learners through the tutorials I have devised in ‘Pupil Guidance’ would be helpful as a method today, to bring more colour and less stress to the classroom. Since it is quite a time since I was in a classroom, perhaps those who are teaching now may find the summary helpful.

In a brief scan of the introduction to the guidance tutorials, the words of William Ellis jump out:

‘The human understanding is not to be treated as a rubbish corner with a notice posted up: Knowledge Shot Here’ (1851).

In the small number of schools who at the time used a different system, pupils were encouraged to question, to take nothing on trust, to ask for explanations from their teachers and to question each other. These schools produced well-educated young people. One of these teachers, W.A. Shields, master of Peckham Birkbeck School, was called before the Royal Commission of 1861 which was reporting on The State of Popular Education in England and Wales. In the Newcastle Report vol. 6, which followed his interview, Shields also submitted written evidence of his teaching methods, which were far from the ‘Facts, facts, facts’ of Mr Gradgrind in Hard Times.

In fact, Dickens was the first inspiration for me when choosing the subject of my M. Phil. thesis; he was passionate in his criticisms of the ways in which young people were educated. I set out to find people who despaired of the ways that they had been schooled and looked at how teachers like Mr M’Choakumchild had been trained. Of course, Dickens became part of my ‘Pupil Guidance’. In the halcyon days when an English teacher could choose the topic for a lesson, I sometimes used the opening chapter of Hard Times. This could lead to a discussion of Gradgrind’s statement:

‘You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them’.

I would ask my pupils if this were true and we would discuss Mr Gradgrind and his schoolroom and would look at why he was in the position to make such statements. I would tell them about Hard Times and Dickens’ plea for young learners to be educated so that they appreciated the beauty of the world: nature, music, art, entertainment and the importance of relationships in the understanding of other people. I told them how the ‘lower orders’ were working in desperate conditions while the industrial revolution was viewed with much pride by businessmen, factory and mill-owners, who were flourishing.

Sometime during my teacher-training we were given the mnemonic PIES – Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Social. For a balanced education, all four had to be part of the schools’ aim in making sure that their learners were effectively educated. Creativity must be fostered in the curriculum too: art, music (especially singing), and drama, which can lead to children entertaining the local community with their performances. These activities are joyful and lead to greater emotional and social development.

I recognise that nowadays teachers have technological problems to overcome in the shape of mobile phones and tablets, which are in the hands of extremely young learners who may become addicted to them. None of these devices existed when I was designing tutorials, which encouraged pupils to talk to each other, to debate and to use their imaginations. I am hopeful that necessary adaptations could be made to the tutorials, using the rich resources brought to us by television and social media. The videos that already exist in the Guidance can be updated and improved in order to enrich the programme.

Finally, I would like to thank Lucy Cavendish College for contacting me as part of the College’s celebrations of 50 years of growth and achievements. It gave me a great lift to have the opportunity to put my ideas under a modern spotlight; it was a great delight, for which I’m very grateful. I’m mindful of the fact that in 2017 we are 500 years from the beginnings of the Reformation and it is 100 years since the Russian Revolution. We can all appreciate how humanity, through history, has brought us to where we are now.