Monday, 20 December 2010

Alec Clegg again

An article* by Sir Peter Newsam is one of several about Sir Alec Clegg (see posting Developing teachers: theory or example?) in an issue of Education 3-13 (2008, 36:2 pp.109-116). According to Clegg, there were two approaches to education: pot-filling and fire-lighting; a combination of both was needed but it’s clear Clegg thought that without the fire-lighting the pot-filling wouldn’t be very effective. Newsam writes:

“There was, in his [Clegg’s] view, no mystery about how ‘fire-lighting’ could improve the quality of work and behaviour in any school. And because his conclusions have so little to do with the preoccupations of today and so much to do with the distinctive quality of what was achieved in the West Riding, they need to be set out fully, so far as possible in words he used in speeches of the 1960s [thus I take it the following is a composite that Newsam has put together]:

What then are the conditions that bring about this change in the potential of the school community? First of course a teacher who has at least average concern to do his job well, is sympathetic, and loves children. This isn’t asking too much and most heads fit the description. Then, he must have an impulse to do something differently because he believes it will yield better results. This belief may be induced in a variety of ways: he may have read something, got an idea from his head or from a colleague, picked up an idea on a course, and so on. Then, what I think is perhaps one of the most important of all conditions is that what he wants to try out must give the child a deeply satisfying sense of success and achievement. After this comes the recognition of this success by other children and by teachers. This stage is the acceptance of the child as a significant person in the group in which he moves, it is something we all crave, a basic need of the human spirit. It is this which spurs the child on to greater endeavour, which with the wise guidance of a good teacher leads to further success, and this success in its turn is the impulse of the next forward step. Let us forget the child for a moment, and think now of the teacher. He has had an idea, he has tried it out, and it has seemingly worked on his pupils. His need then is often for confirmation of belief in his idea, he wants to talk it over with someone, and he too needs what the child needs, almost as much as the child needs it. He needs the recognition and approbation of those with whom he works and as it was with the child so it will be for the teacher a spur to renewed effort. In all the many examples I have seen of schools suddenly becoming alight, the original flame has been kindled by a creative subject – art or craft or expressive movement – and the conflagration has then spread. Now I know that this may have happened in this county because I have gifted colleagues in those fields who have sown the first seed, as it were, and this may be the explanation. It may be that if we had equally gifted folk dealing with mathematics the same vital seeds might have been sown. Certainly I believe this to be possible. But I, nevertheless, think that it is easier to start with the creative subjects as one’s achievement is more obvious – one looks upon what one has done and sees that it is good, and others whose approval matters see it rather more easily.”

There’s a terrific formulation by Sir Peter at the end of his article:

“There are some who strut and fret on the educational stage these days who appear to have little understanding of the range and depth of the tradition within which Alec Clegg worked and seem to envisage a curricular diet and procedures for motivating high performance more appropriate to a minor preparatory school than to the educational system of a great nation.”

*’What price hyacinths? An appreciation of the work of Sir Alec Clegg’

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