A study of some recent developments in primary education in England.
It has become a fairly common practice in Natal to borrow ideas from the English educational scene. No doubt this is to our advantage but perhaps not necessarily always so. It is possible that an idea is copied and pursued diligently here yet meanwhile, back at its source of development in England, the idea is fast loosing favour. It is necessary to sift the good from the bad before we borrow, and that can only be done by surveying the field thoroughly. The author of this thesis after spending a number of years in primary education was fortunate enough to receive a study grant from the Natal Education Department which enabled him to visit England and other countries, and study at first hand the primary schools there. The primary aim of this thesis. is, therefore, to examine some of the recent developments in primary education in England, to evaluate them and to consider the feasibility of adapting and utilising them in the primary schools of Natal. These developments offer an alternative approach to education and one that is closer to what we now know about children and the nature of the learning process. The English primary school offers hope to those who believe that because change is difficult, it is either an impossibility or it takes generations to bring about. This study should supply the answer to the question: "What is happening in British primary schools?", which Brian Young poses in Children At School - Primary Education in Britain Today (1). It may in addition minimise the chances of the merely faddish aspects being slavishly copied and avoid change for the sake of change. It may also be of assistance to those concerned with policy making in primary education, particularly in Natal, especially if they are seriously interested in exploring alternatives to existing patterns of instructions. The basic assumption underlying the whole study is that each child is an unique individual who is characterised by an unmatched set of gifts and limitations. While the approach adopted is a child-centred one, a confrontation with exclusive choices is avoided. It is not a question of the child or the teacher, children or subjects, subjects or an integrated programme, the individual or society, or freedom or discipline. The question: "How far do we need a concept of the educated man as well as the notion of the educated child?" (2), is very relevant to this study. Part One of this thesis is a discussion of. the various factors from which present-day practices have evolved. No historical account of the developments is undertaken, but a brief survey of the old elementary school is followed by a resume of the changing educational demands of a society which has undergone extensive changes in the last 75 years. Immense scientific and technological developments and the concomitant social and economic upheavals have called for new curricula, subject content and teaching methods. The role played by the progressives, a small group of avant-garde educationists whose views were considered eccentric in their time, is discussed in detail. The direct and indirect influence of educationists, philosophers and psychologists is more difficult to establish. This and the impact of official educational reports and Acts are also studied. Part Two concerns the purpose of English primary education. It is no theoretical dissertation on the aims of education. It rather attempts to establish what the primary school seeks to achieve for its pupils. The concept of 'being educated' is analysed and is followed by a discussion of what are termed immediate aims. Here attention is focused on the belief that primary education is to serve solely as a preparation for the education that is to follow and on the acquisition of skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic, and the ability to speak properly and listen attentively. Next follows a discussion of so-called long-term aims. Particular attention is given to the preparation of children for the society in which they will one day be adults; prerequisites such as adaptability and a critical mind are highlighted. The freedom of the individual and his place in society is examined. Finally, the opinions of teachers as reflected in a Schools Council exploratory study of aims, influences and attitudes, are briefly analysed. A comprehensive survey of every primary school in England by Her Majesty's Inspectorate revealed certain trend-setting schools. Part Three is a study of some of the recent developments that reflect the ethos prevalent in these schools. the blend of freedom and support where teachers and headteachers are relatively free to decide what to teach, how to teach it and the support they receive from a variety of sources, is discussed in detail. The move to what has become known as open or informal schooling and other features of these schools, such as the integrated day, team teaching and open plan schools are described. Part Four of this study concerns those aspects of English primary education that could with success be adapted and introduced into the primary schools of Natal. The features that are considered are the introduction of a more child-centred approach, the appointment of experts in primary education to decision- and policy-making positions, the in-service education of teachers, the fuller utilization of teachers' centres and the building design of primary schools.