Haunted by a century-old fear

27th November 1998 at 00:00
Much may have changed in education since 1900, but Nicolas Barnard finds a common fear - pay by results NO CIGARETTES, no ice cream, no mixing with the opposite sex and no leaving town for the weekend. That, The TES can reveal, is the teachers' contract for a new century.

The 20th century, that is. Those were the conditions of service that teachers - female teachers at least - endured in the early 1900s. And that's after they got rid of performance-related pay.

With Labour preparing a Green Paper to rewrite the teachers' contract for the 21st century, some are talking of a return to the practices of 100 years ago with payment by results. That could be the least of the profession's worries.

Rules for Women Teachers in London, issued in 1915, suggested teaching was more like domestic service. Teachers had to sweep the classroom daily and start the fire at 7am. But there was worse.

"You will not marry during the term of your contract; you are not to keep company with men; you must be home between 8pm and 6am; you may not loiter in ice cream parlours," the rules stated.

Leaving town was banned as was any chance of light relief: "You may not smoke cigarettes; you may not dress in bright colours; you may under no circumstances dye your hair; you must wear at least two petticoats and your dresses must be no shorter than two inches above the ankles."

The no marriage rule persisted until the Second World War. Married women were expected to be supported by their husbands, and relinquish their jobs to those who needed the income. Unsurprisingly, some married in secret.

Schools at the turn of the century were run by local boards - another "innovation" which may yet return. Elementary schools were open to all and, according to education historian Dr Phil Gardner of Cambridge University, to teach there was the height of ambition for the working classes. (Grammar school teachers were graduates who looked down on their colleagues.) Yet despite the respect they were given, they felt isolated - although ironically that gave them more autonomy. Parents took little interest, as did councillors and Government ministers.

Classes could reach 100, but attendance was erratic. A survey of 112 schools in London found more than 2,000 children working 20 hours a week - many doing more than 40.

As for payment by results, it died unloved in the 1890s, but remains alive and feared as "a kind of folk memory", says Dr Gardner, who has documented the oral history of teachers from the 1920s and 30s.

"When the people I've spoken to joined up there were others still teaching who had lived through payment by results and spoke of the horror," he said.

Pay was tied to attendance and performance in the 3Rs in annual tests carried out by hated and feared inspectors. "If a child was absent on the day of the examination, that was a disaster," Dr Gardner said. "Children with flu or broken legs would be dragooned into school.

"It had a catastrophic result on teachers because they simply taught to the test." Plus ca change.

Analysis, page 22

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