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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83

Overpressure in Education an Inevitable Consequence of Payment by Results: A Protest and a Warning to Parents

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Overpressure in Education an Inevitable Consequence of Payment by Results:

Hobart Printed At "The Mercury" Office, Macquarie Street.

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Overpressure in Education an Inevitable Consequence of Payment by Results.

As the whole question of education will be dealt with by the Government during next session of Parliament, and as it is whispered in more than one quarter that an attempt will be made to introduce the system known as payment by results, I desire, as one deeply interested in the welfare of the rising generation, to protest against any interference with our Education Act, which would be calculated to lead to over-pressure in education. As to whether the claims now being made for separate grants and separate denominational schools should be entertained I do not wish to express an opinion. In the remarks which follow I intend to deal only with the one question of overpressure, which I regard as being an inevitable consequence of any system which necessarily makes a portion of the teacher's income dependent upon the number of scholars he can bring up to any fixed standard of education.

When Mr. Robert Lowe, who has been described as "the first great apostle of the modern educational movement" in the home country propounded his scheme, he based it upon a principle best described in his own words, viz., "Once place a man's ear within the ring of pounds, shillings and pence, and his conduct can be counted on with the greatest nicety." In an article written for the Nineteenth Century he publicly expressed the opinion that when the money-motive comes in men's "deviations from a line of conduct which can be seen and predicted, are so slight that they may practically be considered as non-existent." That he correctly guaged human nature in this matter is, I think, sufficiently shown by an official letter of the National Union of Elementary Teachers to the Education department (November, 1883), which states that "the teachers are of opinion that so long as high grants can be obtained by over-pressure, ana in many cases in no other way, so long as human nature remains what it is, managers will demand, and teachers will be compelled to obtain, high grants." As an illustration of how a system based upon such a principle induces "cram," the following may be given as an example :—(I take it from a thoughtful article, written by Mr. Richard A. Armstrong, which appeared in the Model'll Review for April, 1883):—"Mr.————, head master of St.————School, felt very dissatisfied with the results of his arithmetical teaching, although his school passed very creditable examinations. The whole work seemed to him too mechanical, and consequently little helpful in developing the intelligence of his scholars. He changed his methods. He taught next on first principles. He was delighted to see the ingenuity shown by the children in inventing processes. The answers certainly were not always correct, but that was owing to mechanical drill having given place to rational methods, which might be a little less reliable for answers, but which were more fruitful of thought-life. The well-known book of Sonnenschein and Nesbitt was his vade mecum. The examination came round at last. If the 'intelligence' of his school should be now tested he was sanguine. But intelligence could not be tested by a dumb card with one or two arithmetical puzzles on it. The 'results' of the examination were bad. The grant was poor. Next year Mr. L——turned Sonnenschein out, and returned to the old and profitable plan, getting a good grant for his reward."

"Under the stimulus of this system of 'payment by results'" writes Mr. Armstrong "the average teacher has, for the past 20 years, been pressing his scholars page 4 for more and more remunerative response to his instruction. The motive appealed to by Mr. Lowe has been successfully brought into full and constant play, till in the minds of many it has outdone all others. Exceptionally able and ambitious teachers have driven their schools even harder than their neighbours, and have obtained results from which golden grants have flowed in."

In a speech delivered last year Canon Daniel, of the Battersea Training College, said "the ultimate causes of over-pressure are to be mainly sought for in the abuse of the principle of payment by results; a very good principle so long as we are dealing with results embodied in brute matter, but a most dangerous principle when indiscrimately applied to results produced in living children ior the benefit of others than children themselves. Pay a brickmaker for his tale of bricks, and you will not do much harm; bricks have no organisations, physical or mental to ignore. Pay a body of managers or a teacher for a tale of passes, and there is a risk that in the process some of the children operated upon may suffer irreparable injury in body and mind."

Attempts have been male to show that the over-pressure argument has been grossly exaggerated, and that the charges of overstrain in education under the working of the payment by results system cannot be sustained. I ask those who hold these views to consider the facts which I am now about to place before them.

The system known as payment by results first came into force at home under the Vice-Presidentship of Mr. Lowe in 1862, since which year two alterations have been made in the code with a view to reducing the temptation to over cramming. This in itself affords a very strong argument in support of the position which I am now contending for—that the working of the system has been attended with evil results.

Quite recently Dr. Chrichton Browne, a medical gentleman, who achieved much reputation as superintendent of one of the largest lunatic asylums in the home country, and who afterwards held the position of Chief Lord Chancellor's visitor to Lunatic Asylums, was asked to speak at Bradford upon the question I am now discussing. Dr. Browne was unable to attend, but wrote a letter which contained the statement that he "would have been glad to have joined in the protest against the grinding tyranny of education with which we are now threatened." He also said in that letter, "It seems to me that it is high time for a declaration of rights on behalf of helpless children, and on behalf of future generations also, whom, if we are not careful, we shall load with a burden more grievous than the National debt; a burden of disintegration and disease." Shorty after this letter appeared in print Mr. Mundella, the vice-president of the Education department in London, had an interview with Dr. Browne and requested him to visit some of the elementary schools, and report as to the effect of the work done in them upon the health of the children. Dr. Browne in terms of the request forwarded a report of his labours to the vice-president of the council, and some attempt appears to have been made to bury it in the waste-paper basket for the obvious reason that it wai not in conformity with Mr. Mundella't views. But the Parliament of England called for the production and publication of the document, and, of course, the call had to be complied with. Mr. Munaella then instructed Mr. Fitch, the principal inspector, to prepare a criticism of Dr. Browne's report. Such an order could only mean one thing, and Mr. Fitch dealt adversely with the report in a document anything but courteous in its tone. Dr. Browne wrote his answer through the columns of The Times, and referring to this controversy the Westminster Review of January last writes (and this is the point which I wish to make clear)—"We cannot but admit that, on the whole, Dr. Chrichton Browne's observations go to establish the fact that there is overpressure in the elementary schools in London, and we cannot see that Mr. Fitch's unhandsome, and in some respects (as appears from Dr. Chrichton Browne's letter in The Times of the 18th September), misleading criticism has done anything to shake the substance of these observations. That over-pressure of the backward and nervous and stupid children is productive of much nervous disease, that headaches and sleeplessness and somnambulism and shortsightedness are more or less caused by the overwork to whfch these children are subjected, seems to be made out past the paltry cavil of the chief inspector, that Dr. Browne only examined 6,000 children, while there are some 4,000,000 children in elementary schools, and that Dr. Browne's method of enquiry was not scientific." I have only room for one quotation from Dr, Browne's report, "The schoolmasters of to-day," he writes, "have an uneasy time of it owing to payment by results. To all moderate men it will seem that the system of payment by results, that is to say by proximate or partial results, must be very cautiously applied, and surrounded by many safeguards if it is not to prove injurious to the masters and children. Every child that the teacher faila to pass is so much money out of pocket. It is unfortunately possible under the present system that the teacher who deserves best of his country might receive least from page 5 it, while he who is most damaging it might be most richly rewarded. It is possible that a cruel tyrant, who is ruthlessly overdriving teams of miserable children, and sowing broadcast the seeds of disease, might receive the merit grant, to be classed 'excellent,' while a humane and wise master, who is gently leading his flock along the path of progress, infusing strength and happiness into many lives, might be damned with faint praise, and cut down as regards his emoluments to the lowest point." Commenting further upon the report the Westminster Review writes:—"Now let us say at once, to sum up, that Dr. Chrichton Browne has proved what no one with any knowledge of human nature and red-tape system as bearing upon it could for an instant have doubted. There must with a hard and-fast system be overpressure. You must when you have standards have them for the average child. These standards must necessarily be too easy for the clever children and too severe for the stupid ones. If you have to get all the flock in at a door in a certain time, those which run fast require no herding, those that are lame must be hurried. This we say ought to have been obvious. What Dr. Browne has done is not only to show that that is the case, but to some extent to point out the results of the over-pressure. The most startling result, which he brings under the notice of the public, is the curious prevalence of headaches amongst children. He found that out of 6,580 children examined, 3,034 suffered from headaches, or a percentage of 46 1." I ask my readers to take this statement in connection with the statistics relating to Scotland, which I quote further on. "It must be remembered," continues the writer of the article I am now quoting, "that Dr. Chrichton Browne is not alone in the views which he has advocated or illustrated in his report. A large number of medical men have come to the conclusion that schoolwork in elementary schools is causing disease in the children who are subject to this strain. ... It is sometimes said, in answer to these complaints, that there are very few cases on record where overwork has resulted in the actual breakdown of the pupils. That may be true, but to anyone who has any knowledge of the subject, it is obvious that you may be producing a vast amount of mental and nervous disease amongst children without causing many deaths."

Speaking of the dangers of overwork in schools, as a consequence of the payment by result system, before the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, Dr. Alexander Keiller said, "There are (and I know the best of them are of these opinions in this matter) 'commissioners of lunacy,' whose duty it is to see that facts are ascertained, and wisely and prudently met in regard to those who are brought under their special commissional scrutiny. The said commissioners in lunacy, and lunatic asylum superintendents, are entirely with us in the views now expressed; they do not hesitate to report against the maddening influence of undue educational efforts, especially in regard to the transmission of hereditarily acquired or more immediately aroused mental disturbance. It is indeed not too much to say of this educational disturber of required mental repose, that it is the crying evil of the age."

Mr. Brodie, an inspector of schools, defends the test by percentages of passes. "They attest," he says, "when high, to at least much solid hard work, dogged labour, and persistent every-day drudgery! "Alas for the children, when the system of education now in vogue can be defended upoa such grounds. What does such teaching amount to? Mr. Barrington-Ward gives his experience as follows :—"Too many elementary teachers, men and women alike, still fancy that it is sufficient to aim at mere mechanical excellence, to the exclusion of the development of those rational faculties which raise man to his noble rank above the brute creation. With some teachers whom I could name a parrot or a monkey would almost form as apt a pupil as his present charges."

Mr. Alderson, one of the best of inspectors, complains that he finds in too many of the schools "reading which does not expand the mind; grammar which does not leaven speech and writing; arithmetic, which does not form a habit of exact thinking; geography which does not interest the imagination; literature that does not improve the taste; physiology that has no bearing on the simple laws of health; domestic economy that does not contribute to the comfort of homes."

How far can the charge of over-pressure as a consequence of payment by results be supported by an appeal to statistics?

In a debate on the present education code, which took place in the House of Commons on 13th April last, Sir I. Playfair said, "In Scotland, where national education had been much longer established, and was of a higher kind than in England, and where there was also much more pressure, who ever heard of over-pressure?"

Well, let us take the statistics relating to Scotland, and what do we find? At one of the recent annual meetings of the Scotch Educational Institute Dr. Robert Beveridge, physician to the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, gave statistics of the increase of deaths from page 6 diseases of the brain among children of school age in eight of the towns of Scotland for the years 1872—81, when the Education Act was in force, compared with the years 1859—68. The comparison gives the following results:—

Per centage of Deaths from Diseases of the Brain to Deaths from all Causes during school age. Per centage of Deaths from Diseases of the Brain to Deaths from all Causes except Zymotic Diseases during schoool age.
1859-1868 1872-1881 1859-1868 1872-1881
Aberdeen 7.5 9.2 11.3 12.7
Dundee 5 8.4 8.4 12.2
Edinburgh 6.6 7.7 10.27 13.4
Glasgow 5.5 7.3 8.4 9.9
The eight large towns of Scotland 5.8 7.7 9.05 10.95
Mr. R. A. Armstrong has pointed out that as these figures cover about a third of the population of Scotland, and compare whole decades, they are on a scale large enough to exclude casual sources of fallacy. He also calls attention to the fact that the significancy of the figures above quoted is more apparent when converted into the following form :—
Increase of Proportion o f Deaths from Brain Disease to Deaths from all sources. Increase of Pr o portion o f Deaths from Brain Disease to Deaths from all sources except zymotics.
Per Cent. Per Cent.
Aberdeen 2267 12.39
Dundee 68 45.24
Edinburgh 16.67 30.48
Glasgow 32.73 17.86
The Eight Large Towns of Scotland 32.76 20.99

The returns of the Registrar-General, from which Dr. Beveridge takes his figures for the periods named, show that the chief disease of the brain or nervous system among persons between 5 and 20 to be cephalitis, or inflammation of the brain proper. Thus, out of 969 who died of brain diseases between the age 0—5,350 died of cephalitis—(of the balance 453 died of convulsions). Out of 267 who died of brain diseases between the ages of 5—20, 110 died of cephalitis.

The figures I have quoted speak for themselves, bat it may be as well to see how far the evidence they afford as bearing upon the question of over-pressure in education is borne out by a reference to individual cases, which may be taken as typical of others of the same class.

Dr. Alexander Keiller, in the address above referred to, mentioned a case in which he was earnestly requested by their parents to visit at their school two young ladies about 14 years of age, who had been for some time suffering from sleeplessness and loss of appetite. He had no difficulty in deciding that they were suffering from over-pressure. "In the evening of the same day," he said, "I met a well-known teacher whose very large experience of education lei to his being selected to fill one of the best educational appointments going, and I could not help asking him the question 'Are you not un-usually busy at this time of the year, and ii it not proving too much of a good thing to work on so very hard, as I suspect you and your staff are now doing? . . . The answer I got was in these unequivocal words, 4 Unusually busy. We are all at it now, working at killing pace; the examinations and prize competitions are right ahead, and there is now no rest for us until all is over.

Mr. R. A. Armstrong, whose name I have mentioned more than once, made it his business to acquaint himself by correspondence or conversation with the experience of a large number of head teachers of wide experience, and of these 75 per cent, reported that they themselves, or members of their staff, had suffered from the pressure of Code requirements. "Some of the statements which have reached me," writes Mr. Armstrong, "deserve a more special reference. The headmaster of a brilliantly successful school in Liverpool writes to me that, though he is enthusiastically fond of his work he is, at 39, prematurely grey, and has undergone a surgical operation for a disease brought on by overwork. . . He adds that the master of a neighbouring school died of disease of the heart at the age of 42, brought on, in the words of ha physician, 'by the worries and anxieties of school work.' 'Only those,' says the head master of one of the largest board schools is the East of London, 'who know the anxiety of the teacher for a few weeks before the inspection can fully enter into the strain upon the mind, the excessive nervousness, and even sometimes irritability caused by the desire to do well on inspection day.' The teacher of a church school in a thriving midland town tells me—' two years ago I had to exercise the greatest care, or the doctor said the mind would collapse.' The page 7 late headmaster of Lower Mosely-street schools, Manchester mentions two teachers of his acquaintance, both of whom were paralysed, and says that they always attributed their breakdown to the harassing and unyielding conditions of the code regulations, combined perhaps with the constant inhalation of vitiated air. My medical adviser, says a Bristol teacher, has distinctly warned me of the result of this pressure, going so far as to assert that, if not stopped, I should materially shorten my days. A friend of my own whose school stands foremost in its town has been at the pains to place in my hands a statement which derives great weight from his long and wide experience. In the course of a review of the effects of the system on the physique of teachers he says the nervous power of the digestive organs fail first generally. Head affections prevail. Paralysis, apoplexy, dementia supervene. Were it possible to get at the vital statistics of the great body of certificated teachers during the last 25 years, a sad history would be revealed. I judge of the mass from my actual knowledge of seven teachers whom I knew best during my college life. Of the seven only two survive, and these have had since passing their fortieth year very severe and protracted illnesses. Their lives are no longer such as a careful insurance office would accept at ordinary rates.' A few days since a successful mistress told me of one after another of her successful pupil teachers who had found their way to the asylum or otherwise utterly collapsed. She herself suffers acutely from chronic nervous strain, and describes how at night, not sleeping, but awake, sbe will enter into some explanation to her pupil teacher to find after many minutes that there is no pupil teacher there, and that it is the walls of her chamber not those of the schoolroom that surround her. An accomplised headmistress in Suffolk reports :—'After the honest work ot nine months, and the overstrain of the three in which the examination falls, I often feel as if I had been put upon the rack—bruised and sore in body as well as mind. About five years ago I had a complete breakdown, when I became very deaf, and my memory seemed suddenly to have failed me. A long rest restored the hearing, but the memory has never regained the old power. . . . When I go to bed there is still the array of children to torment me in my sleep.'"

Many such experiences as those above mentioned might be quoted, but I will merely add as regards teachers that, according to the Schoolmaster, the mortality among school teachers amounts to 2 per cent, per annum, as against ½ per cent, among police and sailors.

With regard to the effects of over-pressure on children, Mr. Armstrong says, "The most common symptoms of the injurous consequence is the talking of lessons in sleep, to which a chorus of inspectors, teachers, and parents bear united witness. 'Dozens of instances,' says Mr. Quayle, of Liverpool, head master of St. Thomas' and St. Matthew's, 'of complaints from parents concerning their children :—loss of appetite, talking in sleep, languor, nervous state, indifference to childish sports, etc. Wo robustness or energy.' Mr. John Steedman, of Nottingham, says that, in his former school, where much hard work was done continuously, and where the population was settled, the regular boys were very small.' 'The children would be better,' writes a mistress, 'both in body and mind, if their school life was happier; the strain of the code prevents this.' 'The children's health is placed, unfortunately,' writes a master, 'in competition with the schoolmaster's means of living.' 'About a week ago,' said a Lancashire mother, 'they began to cram my little one, and she not seven years old, for examination. It was lessons morning, afternoon, and night, and you never saw her without her books. I don't understand all this learning, but at last I saw that they were killing her. So I went to the school, and said that I could not let her work so hard. But they would not let her 8top. They said she would do grandly. But I wanted to keep my child. So at last, with no end of difficulty, I got a medical certificate, and now I mean to keep her at home till the inspector's been and gone, I do.' In Nottingham not long since the parents of a little girl, seeing her overdone and talking of lessons in her sleep, gave notice that they would keep her from school for a time. The teacher promptly called and offered a present if the child attended regularly ! A mistress in Yorkshire was called before a committee of her board for unmercifully beating a girl 8 years old on the head, because she failed to work a problem in arithmetic (Standard III.) When the mother complained the answer was that the child was clever enough, and could do the sum if she chose. The parents pleaded that she was delicate, and that they would much rather she did not pass the examination till the next year if any severity had to be used. To which answered the teacher, 'But I want my money and I'll make her pass.' That teacher put the whole system of payment by results in a nutshell. Mr. Sykes, the president of the Teachers' Union, says, 'The pale faces, lack-lustre eyes, aching brains of the little children, and the repeated page 8 complaints of brain fever, loss of eyesight, and bodily depression and weakness plainly evince the cruelty as well as senselessness of the system.' 'Some two years ago,'says a Liverpool master, 'a very intelligent but delicate boy entered the school anxious to compete for one of the scholarships established by the Liverpool Council of Education. After being in the school less than six months he died, the immediate cause of death being rheumatism of the heart; but during the delirium of the last few days he moaned sadly about his school work.'" A lady teacher relates to Mr. Armstrong the case of a parent objecting to her having put forward one of her children on the ground that "last year but one my other girl was served the same, and the very week after the examination she was taken ill and died." A Bradford master writes : "I have heard of many instances in town of permanent breakdown or death resulting from the strain of school work. A few years ago a girl committed suicide owing to depression of spirits caused by her inability to do the home work prescribed at school."* Mr. Girling at a recent meeting of the executive of the National Union of Elementary Teachers, referred to the case of a child who had then just died of brain fever whose continual cry, in his last delirium was, "I can't get it right ! I can't get it right!"

And now, sir, to bring the matter more closely home to those for whose benefit I have written this paper, let me refer briefly to our own experience of the system of "payment by results," for we have had some experience of that system in the working of our so-called higher education. Of the number of lads who have taken the scholarship more than one has been consigned to the lunatic asylum. I could point to quite a number who have suffered in body and mind from over-pressure. One candidate for the scholarship broke down before the day appointed for the examination and for a time I was his close companion. I shall never forget how much he suffered, and the poor, moping, helpless object the bright boy of former years had become. By entire cessation from mental work and careful treatment, he was sufficiently restored to go up and win the prize he had worked so hard to gain. In another case a lad, after complaining that his head was bad, fell senseless upon the floor and remained unconscious and hovering between life and death for several days—another victim to over-pressure.

If all the boys who have to study did the work allotted to them fairly, fewer would ass, or more would break down, go mad, or ie. But, instead of doing this, they come down to the Public Library and make use of the translations, from which they copy page after page.

A gentleman told me only the other day that when he came to Tasmania and saw the curriculum which boys have to go through in order to win the prizes to be gained under our system of higher education, he resolved that none of his sons should risk the loss of bodily and mental health by competing.

The competition between our present private educational establishments is doing more harm in our community than many are aware of, and I have ample proof of this fact. I will only relate one instance as an illustration of the way in which children are subjected—in many cases through gross ignorance on the part of the teacher of the simplest laws of physiology—to over-pressure even in our private schools. A lady said to me the other day, "A short time ago I sent my grandchild to school. She is only 8 years old. For a time her lessons were a pleasure to her. I never had to press her to learn them. She is a bright intelligent child and after a very short time was advanced to the next class. Then I often noticed that her cheeks were stained with tears. She often complained of headache. One day she came to me and said, "Grandma, I can't do it." I took the book from her hand, and to my horror found that my darling was expected to learn for the next morning a page of statistics, which would puzzle an adult brain to remember. Next morning I sent for the teacher, and when she came, told her that I wished my child to be educated, and not crammed. I should be obliged if she would put her back to her first class again." Would that every mother would follow such an example.

"On entering the Dome Saloon of the New Capitoline Museum at Rome," writes Mr. Armstrong, "the visitor may see on his left-hand side the tombstone of one Q. Sulpicius Maximus. The subject of this monument was no hero of the camp or the Senate, but a little fellow not 12 years old, whose title to fame was the defeat of 52 competitors in the improvisation of Greek verses. Specimens of his pretty skill are graven on the marble. But the pathetic epitaph relates that death was the price of the over-stimulation of the boyish brain. Such, as far as I know, outside of China, was the first case of death from competitive examination. When will be the last?"

Printed at "The Mercury" Office, Hobart.

* A suicide as a result of overpressure also occurred in April Last.—A.J.T.