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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The Inspectors' Conference

The Inspectors' Conference.

The following resolution formed part of the report presented to last year's meeting of Council by the Executive of the General Institute:—"That examination of primary and secondary schools should be placed under the Central Department, and meanwhile, that a Conference of Inspectors should be arranged."

Acting on this suggestion of the Executive, the Hon. Minister for Education invited the Inspectors to meet in conference at Wellington during the first week of February, 1894. The invitation was accepted by all the Inspectors in the Colony; and matters of the greatest interest to teachers were discussed.

The Hon. Minister for Education, with his usual courtesy, supplied the Institute with copies of the minutes of the Inspectors' Conference. These were sent to Branches, and your Committee, after considering the Branch reports, sent to the Executive of the General Institute a series of resolutions dealing with the matters discussed by the inspectors. With the great majority of the inspectors' recommendations your Committee heartily agreed, but, for reasons given below, they strongly opposed the following motion passed at the Conference of Inspectors:—"That arrangements be made for revising the classification of teachers on some such basis as the following:—If for three years in succession a local inspector assigns to a teacher lower marks for efficiency than he has before received, the Inspector-General of Schools, or another inspector acting as his deputy, shall see the teacher's work, and decide whether his marks are to be lowered or left unchanged, when if his marks are lowered by the Inspector-General or his deputy, the teacher's classification shall also be lowered."

With regard to the above motion the following resolutions were sent to the Executive:—"That the Institute thoroughly disapproves of the recommendation to lower teachers' certificates as proposed on page 9 of the report for the following reasons:—(1) That the Education Department by means of its regulations for the classification and promotion of teachers provided numerous page 6 safeguards against hasty or undeserved promotion. Under these regulations the inspectors already have it in their power to withhold marks to prevent a teacher from reaching the highest division of his class, although he may have 30 or 40 years' experience as a public school teacher. (2) That no sufficient reason has been given for an increase in the discretionary powers of the inspectors. (3) That the inspectors' annual reports to the Boards of Education disclose no reason for supposing that there is any marked inefficiency on the part of teachers, calling for any interference with the existing system of classification and promotion; on the contrary, the inspectors speak in the highest terms of the character and work of the teachers in their various districts. (4) That the proposal to give the inspectors power to lower the grade of a teacher's certificate, if carried into effect, would give rise in the minds of most teachers to an undesirable feeling of insecurity and anxiety that would inevitably prove detrimental to the teaching profession, and to the cause of education. (5) That the fear of being reduced by the inspectors would be most keenly felt by the best teachers, who require no further stimulus to do their work well, whilst it would have no practical effect on the kind of teacher it is intended to reach, who is supposed already to be dead to all sense of duty. (6) That by means of unfavourable reports to Education Boards endorsed on the teacher's certificate, the inspectors have at present sufficient power to prevent inefficient teachers being promoted in the service, and that as under the present system there is power to remove or dismiss incompetent teachers, the Institute hopes that the Minister for Education will not impose any further restrictions on the rights of teachers in the way proposed by the recommendation referred to."

In his opening address at the Inspectors' Conference the Inspector-General spoke as follows:—"I have the strongest possible sympathy with the proposal for a considerable increase in the number of reading-books. Modern school-readers are very small books, printed in large type, with much space devoted to illustrations, words selected for spelling, and so on. The allowance of one such book for a year's reading is absurdly small and inadequate. The ordinary treatment of the reading-lesson is too laborious and slow to afford much practice in reading, or to allow the pupil to experience any of the satisfaction that cultivated people find in reading for information or for recreation. New or difficult words are selected for definition or for spelling; the drift and scope of the passage are explained; the reading of a sentence is criticised or it is corrected by the teacher's own reading, which has afterwards to be imitated; the passage is so short, that when a few pupils have read a few sentences each the end is reached, and the page 7 others have to go over the ground a second or a third time, after it has ceased to have any interest for them except as a reading exercise, and so on. I have no fault to find with this method if it is not exclusively employed, but I hold that, taken by itself, it neither affords sufficient practice, nor tends to create or foster a love of reading. One or two lessons a week of this strict kind may be necessary for a time at a certain stage of progress, and an occasional lesson of the same type is useful even in advanced stages, if the passage read is highly rhetorical and is worthy of minute study as a piece of literary work. But for the other reading lessons of the week I hold that it would be better to supply constantly fresh interesting matter, to be read continuously with few interruptions by way of correction, and to be read as much for the pleasure of reading as for practice in reading. Four or five books instead of one would be required in the course of a year. One book might be of the customary type of our ordinary school-readers, and this might be used for the strict and orthodox reading-lesson. The others might be exchanged about once in three months, being passed on from school to school. Biography, descriptive geography, historical tales and records of brilliant episodes, natural history, fairy tales, New Zealand history; and for very young classes, simple stories of cats and dogs or of children might be read quarter by quarter in rotation. The books on my plan would belong to the Education Board, which would arrange for the periodical exchange of parcels. The first cost in these days of cheap books would not be great. The books would last very much longer than those which belong to the pupils, and which are worn out not so much by use, as by being rammed into pockets or satchels, or thrown under hedges during play-time, or saturated with rain and scorched by the sun. The demand for uniformity is based almost entirely on the question of cost, and would soon die out under the influence of an interesting and instructive variety cheaply secured. And our children would, as a rule, learn to read."

Your Committee adopted the following resolution dealing with the matter referred to by the Inspector-General:—"That the members of the Otago Educational Institute, being impressed with the importance of inculcating in the minds of their pupils a desire for reading healthy and pure literature, are of opinion that the present requirements in reading do not tend to produce this effect; and think that some change like that suggested by the Inspector-General of Schools in opening the Inspectors' Conference would be both practicable and advantageous. This Institute, therefore, strongly recommends this matter to the attention of the Executive."