Early Days of Educational Research at Reading

In the 1880s, before the University Extension College became Reading College and before the latter became a University College, research was taking place in the Departments of Science and Agriculture; regular supplements to the College Journal reported the results of agricultural field experiments.

Educational Research

The first records of school-based research did not appear until 1910-11:

‘Mr. Wolters has conducted some interesting experiments at the Demonstration School with regard to Child Study; and Mr. A. W. Seaby tried some experiments with the older boys in drawing and design work. A short experimental study of fatigue in school was made by students preparing for the London University Examinations in Education.’ (Report of the Academic Board, 1910-11, p. 41)

The names Wolters and Seaby will be familiar to readers of this blog. Albert Wolters went on to found the Psychology Department and was Deputy Vice-Chancellor between 1946 and 1950; Allen Seaby became Professor of Fine Arts in 1920, and was Departmental Director from 1911. Both contributed to Teacher Education programmes and had experience teaching children (Wolters had qualified as an Elementary School teacher at Reading).

The ‘Demonstration School’ was Redlands School, and its three headteachers, including Eliza Chattaway, Head of Infants (see earlier post about the Farm School), were members of the College’s Teacher Education section. Redlands became a convenient focus for research activity, as shown by a report in the College Review under the heading of ‘Educational Experiments’.

Three such experiments were conducted in the Demonstration School ‘and other selected schools’:

    1. Spelling:  the relative success of class teaching versus private study in learning spelling (instruction was twice as effective at all ages).
    2. Imagination:  children were given the beginning of a story that they were asked to complete. It was found that girls tended to describe scenery, whereas the boys focused on actions. We are told that, ‘The London boys occasionally referred to common incidents of life in town, while the provincial children kept exclusively to Fairyland.’ (p. 22).
    3. Memory:  ‘A hundred boys were made to learn a series of twelve numbers, the number of readings required to obtain a correct repetition being noted. It was found that there was great improvement between the ages of seven and ten and practically no improvement later.’ (College Review, 1910, p.22)

The Logbooks of Redlands School show that, following the creation of a Senior Mixed Department in 1929, University Education staff immediately requested further collaboration and, within weeks, a certain Miss Campbell (Lecturer in Education – see below) arranged for her students to administer intelligence tests in the lower part of the school.

Redlands composite
Redlands Primary School, August 2022

Further information about educational research is hard to find. Projects probably took place that never found their way into College documents. I can find no evidence of any ‘experiments’ being published. Nevertheless, according to H. Armstrong’s overview of the history of the Education Department:

‘Investigations in teaching methods by members of the Education Staff were an important feature from the earliest days. It is interesting to record here an example of experimental work done by students themselves. Early in 1923, at St. John’s Schools, students tried out the Dalton Plan.’ (Armstrong, 1949, p. 15)

The Dalton Plan was a progressive scheme of learning designed by Helen Pankhurst in the USA. There was no formal class teaching; pupils worked at their own pace and designed their own timetables. The students at Reading concluded that:

‘…. class teaching must retain its decisive place in school administration, and could not be put aside.’

This and other ‘experiments’ raise questions about the extent to which the students were given free rein, how it was negotiated with the school, what preparation they received, and how parents, children and regular class teachers felt about it! Did anyone think about ethics?

Publications

The first list of staff publications appeared once the original College had acquired the status of University College, Reading. The list was published in the Official Gazette in 1903, and contains just 9 academic publications by 5 staff in the Letters and Science Departments, followed by a set of Technical Reports, mainly from Agriculture (e.g. ‘Practical Buttermaking’ by Mr Edward Brown). But it does also include an item titled ‘Blackboard Drawing’ by Allen Seaby (see above). This is the first record of a published contribution to the field of Education.

Subsequently, lists of publications appear only intermittently with Agriculture figuring prominently (‘The Value of Poultry Manure’ by Edward Brown & W. Brown, 1907).

In 1906, however, Education was represented again: W. G. de Burgh, Lecturer in Philosophy and Classics, published ‘The Development of Individuality in the Young:  an Address to Students of Education’ in the ‘The Parents’ Review’.  (Burgh became Dean of the Faculty of Letters in 1907 and was Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University from 1926 to 1934).

De Burgh wasn’t the only member of the College to publish in The Parents’ Review. In the Annual Report for 1909-10, H.S. Cooke, Lecturer in Education (later Master of Method and Head of Department), was author of ‘The Real Meaning of Children’s Play’.

‘The Parents’ Review’ described itself as ‘A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture’ and, between about 1890 and 1920, was distributed to parents and teachers engaged in homeschooling .

The following is an illustrative sample of  publications relating to Education, set out as they appear in the Annual Reports:

    • 1909-10:  ‘Mr. Cooke:- “School Practice Guide and Instructions” (C. Elsbury, Reading).
    • 1911-12:  The Principal [W. M. Childs] .. .. “The Essentials of University Education.” (Hibbert Journal April, 1912).
    • 1911-12:  Professor de Burgh .. .. “The Use and Abuse of Educational Theory.” (Parents’ Review), March and April, 1912).
    • 1912-13:  Miss Chattaway .. .. “School Nature Rambles.” (Oxford Elementary Schoolbooks, 1912, pp. 221).
    • 1913-14:  Professor Edith Morley  “Teaching as a Profession for Women.” (Educational Times, June, 1914).
    • 1918-19:  Professor Edith Morley … The Teaching of English. A Series of Papers read at a Conference at University College Reading, July, 1918. (Pamphlet 43 of the English Association).

Between 1903 and 1926, the year of the Royal Charter, just six members of staff produced literature on the theme of Education – a total of 17 publications. These were mainly practical guides or opinion pieces. None involved involving data collection and analysis, although Eliza Chattaway’s book is a (probably idealised) record of a year’s nature study with the children at Redlands Infants’ School.

Chattaway book
Frontispiece and title page of Eliza Chattaway’s book

Three of the contributors were based outside the Education Department. Of these, Edith Morley, as the most prolific, deserves a special mention. Over the course of this period, in addition to her research on English Language and Literature, she developed a reputation as an expert on the Teaching of English and organised a conference on the subject that took place in the Great Hall in July 1918. It was attended by over 300 people and was reported in the Journal of Education and The Times Educational Supplement. She edited the Volume of Proceedings that can be seen in the illustrative sample above.

Such was Morley’s interest in English teaching that two years later the Report of the Academic Board reported that:

‘Professor Morley gave evidence before the Government Commission appointed to report upon the study and teaching of English Language and Literature.’ (p. 14).

The outcome of this was the Newbolt Report of 1921 (see note below) in which Morley is mentioned as an Individual Witness.

Reports
The Reading Room at MERL:  Complete sets of Annual Reports and Accounts, 1892 to 1924, from the University Extension College, Reading College and University College, Reading.
On Becoming a University

The University took a more rigorous approach to recording publications. From 1925-6 onwards, the annual Proceedings combined the list of publications across departments and it contained only items that had been approved by the Research Board. The list is in three sections: I. Books; II. Articles embodying Results of Original Work; III. Other Publications. The list is longer than ever before, raising questions about how complete the earlier College lists had been.

We also find the first indication of a research grant for education from University funds:  E. Smith received £20 ‘for travelling expenses incurred in connexion with researches on the history of English education between 1660 and 1714’ (Proceedings, 1925-6).

The following year, Isabella Campbell (see above) was awarded £15 ‘for travelling expenses incurred in consulting literature bearing upon her research on temperament tests’. In 1943 Campbell became the first lecturer in the Education Department to obtain a PhD on  ‘A study of abstract thinking and linguistic development with reference to the education of the child of ‘average’ intelligence.’ In the same year, Charles Rawson became the first Education student to be awarded a doctorate for his work on the WWII evacuation.

Such events had been predicted by an article by Childs in Tamesis in 1926 which considered the implications of becoming a University:

‘Some of [Reading’s degree students] will, I hope, proceed to our higher degrees, Ph.D. and M.A., and the doctorates. Here comes in research, and all I need to say on this topic is that we intend to do our utmost to make our University famous for research and scholarship.’ (p. 86).
Educational Research Today

These humble beginnings may seem a far cry from the achievements of the present Institute of Education.    Nevertheless, thanks to the work of early pioneers, particularly those like Isabella Campbell and Albert Wolters who crossed disciplinary and departmental boundaries, a tradition was established that led to today’s internationally recognised research programme, with its valued contribution to theory and practice across the education, language and learning spectrum.

Toby
Using eye-tracking technology in the Institute of Education, August 2018
Note

The Newbolt Committee and its Report were named after its chair, Sir Henry Newbolt – a historian, novelist, poet and adviser to the Government of the day.

The Newbolt Report was often quoted by educationalists and linguists when Michal Gove, Secretary of State for Education (2010-2014), reformed the English curriculum for Primary Schools and Introduced tests of Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation (SPAG). A particular favourite of those opposed to the reforms was Newbolt’s reference to the unpopularity of grammar as the most hated part of the curriculum – an inspector’s report of 1894 is quoted, stating that, ‘English Grammar has disappeared in all but a few schools, to the joy of children and teacher.’ (Para. 51)

For the benefit of cricket lovers:  in his role as poet, it was Sir Henry Newbolt who penned the famous line, ‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’

Sources

Armstrong, H. (1949). A brief outline of the growth of the Department. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 9-17). University of Reading.

Board of Education (1921). The teaching of English in England [The Newbolt Report]. London: HMSO.

Childs, W. M. (1926). Our University. Tamesis, Vol. XXV. No. 7. Summer Term, pp. 83-6.

Holt, J. C. (1977). The University of Reading: the first fifty years. Reading: University of Reading Press.

Rooke, P. (1991). Redlands: a hundred years at school, 1891-1991. Reading: Redlands School Parents’ Teacher Association.

The Journal of the University Extension College, Reading, Vols 2 & 3, 1895-96 & 1896-97.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. III, 1910, pp. 21-22.

University College, Reading.  Accounts and Annual Reports, 1906 to 1925.

University College, Reading. Official Gazette. No. 31. Vol. II. 10th December, 1903.

University College, Reading. Official Gazette. No. 51. Vol. V. July 3, 1907.

University of Reading. Proceedings of the University, 1925-26 & 1926-27.

The Farm School: an Innovation in Teacher Education

Sometimes referred to as ‘the experimental outdoor school’, the Farm School at Shinfield was set up in June 1912 and continued until 1926. It was the brainchild of Herbert S. Cooke, Master of Method in the Education Department.

The motivation behind this initiative is explained in the College’s Annual Report for 1911-12:  Cooke was trying to counteract a longstanding trend for student teachers to prefer employment in urban rather than rural schools and wanted to impress upon his students the opportunities afforded by education outside the school classroom. The Farm School took place during the weeks reserved for Teaching Practice in the summer term and at first involved second-year male trainees only. Female students were eventually included in the scheme following a suggestion from the Board of Education, although initially their involvement was just for one week, later extended to two.

The first group of pupils consisted of forty thirteen-year-old boys from Redlands Council School, the College’s ‘demonstration school’, who attended daily for two weeks. Lessons took place in the barn which was equipped with desks and teaching materials.

According to Cooke (1913) there had been a growing realisation during previous years that the curricula of urban and rural schools needed to be different, and a Rural Curriculum was devised that centred on nature study and rural science. Pupils engaged in agricultural arithmetic, measuring distance and volume, and studied cattle, crops and soils as well as fruit growing, pruning and grafting in the College’s experimental gardens. They learnt folk songs and dances, studied the architecture of the nearby church at Arborfield and sketched the landscape and barn under the guidance of Allen Seaby and Mr Pearce from the Department of Fine Arts.

Cooperation between the Education Department, the Faculty of Agriculture and Horticulture and the staff of Redlands Council School ensured the success of the venture. Reports in the College Review and Annual Reports give a special mention to Mr Cooke, to Mr Sweatman, the head teacher of the Boys Department at Redlands and Mr Pennington, a Lecturer in Agriculture who became the Farm Manager in 1914.

But perhaps the most telling testimony comes from the Annual Report referred to above:

‘The Board of Education Inspector of Training Colleges paid a special visit to the outdoor school and expressed the opinion that it was one of the best experiments he had ever seen in the training of young teachers for their future scholastic careers.’ (Annual Report, 1911-12, p. 41).

His Majesty’s Inspector of Training Colleges, Mr J. F. Leaf, suggested further that the two weeks be extended to three. This resulted in an extended curriculum where individual topics could be dealt with in greater depth and drew on the expertise of any trainee teachers who had specialist knowledge in relevant areas such as practical geography, plants, animals or gardening.

Two summers later, in 1913, the College Review reported the inclusion of girls as well as boys, and the participation of St John’s School in addition to the Demonstration School. The three weeks were further extended to four. The Farm School was now firmly established:

‘…what was once regarded as an experiment has now become an important factor in preparing the students for their professional career.’ (p. 186).

The scheme went from strength to strength and during its final three years sixty boys and sixty girls aged eleven to fourteen were invited. The children were from the poorer parts of the Borough and had all failed to qualify for secondary (grammar) schools.

The Timetable

Over the years, there was considerable variation in the makeup of the pupil groups and in the format of the school day. And for at least part of the time, the curriculum, number of weeks and transport arrangements differed between boy and girl pupils.

The most detailed account of the Farm School is to be found in an article by H. S. Cooke published in the College Review in 1913. From this and other sources such as Isabella Campbell’s and Albert Wolters’s retrospective accounts written in 1949, we can reconstruct an approximate format of a day for the boys. I can’t claim this to be a ‘typical day’, but it is certainly a possible one:

    • The children walked or cycled from Silver Street in town. Some arrived as early as 8.30 and took part in what Isabella Campbell referred to as ‘much intensive cricket practice’ (p. 34).
    • 9.30:  School opened.
    • 9.45:  Assembly at the barn, prayers and exercises.
    • 9.50:  Each pupil recorded weather observations.
    • 10.00:  Pupils divided into groups for Farm Arithmetic.
    • 10.55:  Break.
    • 11.10:   Outdoor geography, nature work, e.g. walk to the River Loddon to measure variations in the speed of flow and the reasons for them (on one occasion a child had to be fished out of the river!).
    • 1.00:  Midday break – the College Farm provided milk; lunch was eaten under the trees; the students organised games of cricket and football while College staff congregated in the ‘Black Boy’ (now the ‘Shinfield Arms’) where they conducted what Albert Wolters referred to as ‘vigorous and animated discussions’!
    • 2.15:  The trainee whose turn it was to be Headteacher blew the whistle and pupils and students moved to the farm for lessons on topics such as soil, cattle, fruit trees, pests, ploughing, farm implements, etc.
    • 4.15:  Tidying up, prayers and a hymn.

The curriculum for girls appears to have concentrated more on areas such as dairy produce and poultry keeping, together with training in first aid. There was daily folk dancing.

Sadly, the Farm School was discontinued after the transition from University College, Reading to the University of Reading in 1926. The priority for the Education Department moved from primary schools to postgraduate secondary training, and for practical reasons teaching experience could no longer be delayed until the summer term.

Writing in 1949 to celebrate fifty years of Teacher Education  at Reading, Professor Albert Wolters, by then Head of the Psychology Department, described the Farm School as ‘our greatest experiment‘. Quite an accolade from one of the most distinguished scholars in the University’s history!

Composit
Plan showing the London Road Campus in relation to the College/University Farms (Edited from Childs’s memoir, pp. xii-x).
On Reflection

I am struck by the coincidence that, as well as being the beginning of the Farm School, 1912 marked the publication of Eliza Chattaway’s ‘School Nature Rambles’. At the time, Chattaway was head of the Infants  Department at Redlands Council School and had already been taking pupils on educational visits to the Shinfield Farm, details of which are documented in her book.

In the preface she gives thanks to H. S. Cooke for checking the proofs and I can’t help wondering to what extent Cooke was inspired by this pioneer of outdoor learning in developing the concept of the Farm School.

The compilation of a first academic biography of Eliza Chattaway is currently being supported by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) under the leadership of Dr Rhianedd Smith (University Museums and Special Collections Services). The research is being conducted by Leah Rashid. On completion, the biography will appear on the website of the Berkshire Record Office.

I can’t guarantee that the images below of Eliza Chattaway with her pupils from Redlands School were taken on the College farm, but it seems likely.

Eliza on farm
Eliza Chattaway (second adult from the left) with children from Redlands Infants School (reproduced with permission from the Berkshire Record Office).
Eliza at farm
Eliza Chattaway (front centre) (reproduced with permission from the Berkshire Record Office).
Note

There is a discrepancy about the continuation of the Farm School during World War I –  the Redlands School logbooks show it to have been suspended between 1915 and 1918, whereas H. Armstrong of the College states that it took place every year except 1918. This inconsistency might be explained by the fact that Redlands was evacuated in 1915 when its buildings became a temporary military hospital. Presumably the Farm School continued with pupils from elsewhere during this period; the College’s annual report for 1916-17, for example, states that:

‘The outdoor school was held in June on the College Farm. A new feature of this year’s work was the preparation and cooking of the midday meal by the students and school-pupils.’ (p. 20).

Thanks

To Dr Rhianedd Smith (University Museums and Special Collections Services) and Mark Stevens (County Archivist, Berkshire Record Office) for their help.

Sources

Armstrong, H. (1949). A brief outline of the growth of the Department. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 9-17). University of Reading.

Campbell, I. E. (1949). The farm school, 1912-1926, and the development of courses in rural science for intending teachers. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 33-6). University of Reading.

Chattaway, E. (1912). School nature rambles. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Childs, W. M. (1933). Making a university: an account of the university movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

Cooke, H. S. (1913). An outdoor school. The Reading University College Review, Vol. VI, No. 16, pp. 56-66.

Curtis, S. J. (1949). Early days. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 23-5). University of Reading.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. IV, August 1912.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. VI, No. 18, Aug 1914.

Rooke, P. (1991). Redlands: a hundred years at school, 1891-1991. Reading: Redlands School Parents’ Teacher Association.

University College Reading, Annual Report and Accounts, 1911-12, 1912-13 & 1916-17.

Wolters, A. W. (1949). Early days. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 18-20). Reading: University of Reading.

 

The Day Training College and the Master of Method

In my post about the Normal Department I noted that the origins of Teacher Education at Reading University could be traced to the founding of the University Extension College in 1892. In 1898 this became Reading College, soon followed by recognition as a Day Training College. This extended its field of operations and laid the foundations for what would eventually become today’s Institute of Education.

According to Carol Dyhouse’s ‘Students: a gendered history‘, day training departments in colleges and universities were introduced by the government in 1890 and were responsible for a significant increase in student numbers, particularly of women. Reading and Southampton followed in the steps of 13 other institutions in gaining recognition in 1899.

 

Shows college recognition
Reading College Calendar 1899-1900: Childs was still Lecturer in History & English Literature; he became Vice-Principal in 1900, Principal in 1903 and Vice-Chancellor of the University in 1926

By the time of Edith Morley’s appointment in November 1901, the Day Training College was preparing 80 full-time students for the Elementary Teachers’ Certificate on a course lasting two years. These students formed the bulk of full-timers in the arts and sciences.

The provision was innovative in at least two ways. First, from the outset most students were accommodated in halls of residence (rendering the phrase ‘day training’ inappropriate). And second, thanks to the cooperation of heads of the other departments, they were admitted to degree courses. The latter initiative raised some eyebrows in Whitehall but it seems to have been a success in as far as the trainees became fully integrated members of the student body and helped to secure the future of a group of subjects that became the nucleus of the Faculty of Letters. In other words, Education was at the very centre of academic activity.

A half century later, in 1949, Sir Frank Stenton, the University’s third Vice-Chancellor, paid tribute to the role of this early Education department in helping to overcome fears that the College was doomed to provide little more than technical instruction:

For this, all who are interested in the University of 1949 owe gratitude to the little group of teachers and students who formed the miserably housed and infelicitously named Day Training College of fifty years ago.‘ (p. 4)

Admission to the Day Training Department

Those eligible for admission were:

    1. Candidates who had obtained a first or second class pass in the Queen’s Scholarship Examination;
    2. Certified teachers who hadn’t received 2 years training;
    3. Graduates;
    4. Candidates over the age of 18 who had passed an examination approved by the Government Education Department.

Candidates in categories 2 and 3 only had to complete one year of the course.

Acceptance was subject to a health check conducted by the Medical Officer, Dr J. B. Hurry, and a declaration that it was the candidate’s bona fide intention to teach in a state school.

The College received £20 per student in fees (£10 from the student and £10 from the Government Education Department). Grants for maintenance for Queen’s Scholars consisted of £20 for women and £25 for men. Students not living at home paid a maintenance fee of £15 (women) or £12 (men).

The Course

As the first-year timetable below suggests, students were kept busy six days a week with a combination of subject knowledge and lectures on teaching method. These were interspersed with just four short slots for private study or tuition.

Illustrates timetable
The first published timetable for the Day Training Department (Reading College Calendar 1900-01, p. 119)
The Master of Method

The creation of the Day Training Department also marked the appointment of the first official Lecturer in Education. As can be seen from the first Calendar extract above, this was J. H. Gettins who served as ‘Master of Method‘ until 1907 when he was succeeded by H. S. Cooke.

Professor Albert Wolters, the subject of a previous post on this blog, had been a student in the Day Training Department in 1902. Nearly half a century later, he still had fond memories of Gettins:

The staff consisted of Mr. J. H. Gettins, who, harassed but cheerful, worked from morn to night, giving lectures and supervising school practice, knowing all the time that by reason of the training being concurrent with academic studies his Department was a nuisance.‘ (p. 18)

During Wolters’s time as a student, teaching practice was a mere three weeks per session and took place at the Swansea Road Board School. Further schools became involved later, including Redlands.

The Next 50 Years

In the half century following its establishment as a Day Training College in Valpy Street, the Education Department went from strength to strength and was responsible for a number of key innovations. A previous post has already mentioned the Department’s early contribution to educational research and to the schooling of evacuees during World War II, following which it was fully engaged in the government’s Emergency Training Scheme.

One particular initiative excited wide interest.  This was the University College’s ‘Farm School‘ at Shinfield, an experiment that took place between 1912 and 1926. It was attended by as many as 120 children annually from the borough including pupils from Redlands School (by then the Department’s ‘demonstration school’). Sadly, the scheme was abandoned as priorities changed when the University College became the University of Reading, but the tradition of Outdoor Education is still maintained today through the work of Dr Helen Bilton, Professor of Outdoor Learning at Reading’s Institute of Education.

Post Script

There were Mistresses of Method as well as Masters, though none of the lecturers in education at Reading ever had the title.

In Edith Morley’s chapter on women at universities, she includes training teachers as one of four kinds of opening available to women:

These posts, which are remunerated on about the same scale as other University lectureships are well suited to those whose interest lies mainly in purely educational matters. Girls who have obtained good degrees, but do not wish to devote themselves entirely to scholarship, will find here an attractive and ever-extending sphere of influence.’ (p. 19)

And:

Mistresses of Method are well aware that the ideal type of training has not yet been evolved: they are seeking new ways of carrying on their work and experimenting with new methods at the same time as they are guiding others along paths already familiar to themselves.‘ (p. 19)

During the 50 years between 1899 and 1949 there were 32 full-time Education staff at Reading. Seventeen were women (these figures omit academics such as Edith Morley who were in other departments but contributed subject-specialist expertise to Education courses).
Sources

Armstrong, H. (1949). A brief outline of the growth of the Department. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 9-17). University of Reading.

Barnard, H. C. (1949). A note on the term “Day Training College. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (p. 8). University of Reading.

Campbell, I. E. (1949). The farm school, 1912-1926, and the development of courses in rural science for intending teachers. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 33-6). University of Reading.

Dyhouse, C. (2006). Students: a gendered history. Abingdon: Routledge.

Morley, E. J. (2014). Women at the universities and university teaching as a profession. In E. J. Morley (Ed.), Women workers in seven professions: a survey of their economic conditions and prospects (pp. 11-24). London: Routledge. [Edited for the Studies Committee of the Fabian Women’s Group].

Morley, E. J. (2016). Before and after: reminiscences of a working life (original text of 1944 edited by Barbara Morris). Reading: Two Rivers Press.

Reading College. Calendar, 1899-1900 & 1900-01.

Reading College. Report of the Academic Board, 1898-9 & 1899-1900.

Stenton, F. (1949). Vice-Chancellor’s foreword. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 4-6). University of Reading.

Wolters, A. W. (1949). Early days. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 18-20). Reading: University of Reading.

Teacher Education, Albert Wolters and the ‘Criticism Lesson’

It comes as no surprise that Education students experience feelings of apprehension when starting their School Experience (formerly known as Teaching Practice). But at least they no longer have to undergo a form of torture known as ‘the Criticism Lesson‘.

I first learnt of this phenomenon from a short memoir written by Albert Wolters in 1949, part of a volume marking 50 years of Teacher Education at Reading.

Albert Wolters (1883-1961)

The name of Albert Wolters is widely known across Reading University thanks to the Albert Wolters Distinguished Visiting Professorships. These prestigious awards have been held by the following scholars of international acclaim: Ellen Bialystok (2015), Steven Pinker (2016), Noam Chomsky (2017), Elizabeth Loftus (2018), Daniel Dennett (2019) and Alison Gopnik (2021).

Wolters’ many talents and achievements have recently been extolled by Ingeborg Lasser in The Psychologist. He was a pioneer in the field of Psychology and responsible for enabling Psychology to become an independent department in 1921. He was its first head, was made Professor in 1943 and became Reading’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 1947.

Before the establishment of the Psychology Department, Wolters had contributed to the training of teachers following his appointment to University College Reading in 1908. He is listed among the staff of both Education and Philosophy where Psychology was located during this period. His involvement with teachers continued beyond 1921 and he is recorded by Charles Rawson, a PhD candidate, as contributing to the in-service training of teachers evacuated to Reading from London during World War II.

What is less well known is that in 1902 Wolters became a student at Reading’s Day Training College, preparing to be an Elementary School teacher. It is from this time that he recalls the ordeal described below.

The Criticism Lesson

In Wolters’ own words:

One feature of the course was pretty generally disliked. Once a week some twenty children were drafted into the College Hall for a “criticism lesson”. … Then one of us had to stand up and “give a lesson” to that class, while forty students looked on knowing that they had to comment on it afterwards, perhaps to be told that criticism need not be abuse. The children enjoyed it; they were out of school. We sometimes suspected that the Master of Method [J. H. Gettins] enjoyed it in a sadistic moment otherwise quite foreign to his character.’ (p. 19)

According to S. J. Curtis who was an Education student from 1911-14, the assembled staff of the Department and the head of the school were also present:

One ordeal dreaded by every student in the Department was the criticism lesson given before an audience consisting of the staff of the Department, the head-teacher, and, what was worst of all, before one’s fellow students. As one who passed through the fire, I can say that the actual experience was not nearly as terrifying as it appeared in prospect. This was entirely due to the way in which it was handled by Mr. Cooke [see photograph below]. However weak and faltering the lesson, providing the teacher was really serious about the business, Mr. Cooke would always find at least one praiseworthy item in it…‘ (p. 24)

The hall that Wolters mentions was the main hall of the College in Valpy Street (see previous post for map and photo). The events referred to by Curtis most likely took place in the Great Hall on the London Road Campus.

S. J. Curtis went on to make his mark as Reader in Education at Leeds University where he became a renowned expert on the History of Education and Moral Philosophy.

The Education Department in the time of Albert Wolters

The present Institute of Education at London Road can trace its origins back to 1892 with the training of Pupil Teachers and preparation of Uncertificated Teachers in Elementary Schools for the Certificate Examination (Armstrong, 1949). It was only in 1899, however, when Reading College obtained recognition as a Day Training College, that the real foundations of today’s Institute were laid. Edith Morley recalls that by the time she was appointed in 1901, things were well under way, with 80 full-time students pursuing a two-year course to become Elementary Teachers. In 1902, Albert Wolters enrolled as one of about 40 students in his year group, two-thirds of whom were women.

The photograph below shows the Education Department in the year before Wolters arrived. Many of these lecturers would have been his tutors. Some, like W. M. Childs and  H. S. Cooke,  would later become his friends and colleagues after his appointment to the Department in 1908.

The College Education Department, Valpy Street, 1901
Staff Identified by name in H. C. Barnard’s History of the Department
  1. H. J. Mackinder, College Principal.
  2. W. M. Childes, Vice-Principal; later Reading University’s first Vice-Chancellor.
  3. H. S. Cooke, Headmaster of the Pupil Teachers’ Centre; later Head of Department.
  4. J. M. Rey, Lecturer in French.
  5. Miss Bolam, Education Tutor and Warden of St Andrew’s Hostel.
  6. F. H. Wright, Registrar.
  7. J. H. Sacret, Lecturer in History.
  8. A. W. Seaby, Lecturer in Fine Art; later Professor of Fine Art.
  9. W. G. de Burgh, Lecturer in Classics; later Professor of Classics.
SOURCES

Armstrong, H. (1949). A brief outline of the growth of the Department. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 9-17). University of Reading.

Barnard, H. C. (Ed.). (1949). The Education Department through fifty years. University of Reading.

Curtis, S. J. (1949). Early days. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 23-5). University of Reading.

Morley, E. (2016). Before and after: reminiscences of a working life (original text of 1944 edited by Barbara Morris). Reading: Two Rivers Press.

Rawson, C. P. (1943). Some aspects of evacuation. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Reading.

Wolters, A. W. (1949). Early days. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 18-20). Reading: University of Reading.

University College Reading. Calendar, 1919-20.

THANKS TO:

Dr Gordon Cox for telling me about Professor Barnard’s book and lending me his copy.

Professor Carmel Houston-Price (Head of the School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences) for clarification about the Visiting Distinguished Professorships and biographical information about Albert Wolters.