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The First Reports of Owen M. Edwards on Welsh Intermediate Schools

J R Webster, National Library of Wales journal. 1958, Winter Volume X/4.

Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales

This is a complete extract of this article by Gareth Hicks  (Feb 2003)

The schools featured are in Caernarvonshire

The Welsh Intermediate Education Act was passed in 1889; the first county scheme to be established under the act was that for Caernarvonshire which received the Royal Assent on 6 May 1893. Included in the scheme were the two old endowed grammar schools at Bangor and Bottwnog: these continued to function without interruption although Bottwnog provided now for girls as well as boys. The first new intermediate school in the country was opened in February 1894 at Caernarvon in temporary premises previously occupied by the Caernarvon Training College. It was a dual school, that is, a school for both boys and girls but in two departments.

By the summer of 1894 these three schools were open to examination and inspection 'by competent Examiners unconnected with the school', as stipulated by the county scheme. Friars School at Bangor was examined by the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board, but the County Governing Body decided, in the case of the schools at Bottwnog and Caernarvon, to invite Owen M. Edwards, then Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, to act as examiner. It was thus that Owen Edwards came to visit these schools theirteen years before he became Chief Inspector for Wales. His reports to the Charity Commissioners 1  are of signal interest for the light they throw on the early days of intermediate education, and still more for the picture they provide of Edwards's educational ideas at this time.

Both Caernarvon and Bottwnog County Schools faced many difficulties in their early years. At Caernarvon space was very limited, and the number of pupils was increasing rapidly: when the school opened there were sixty-four pupils, but by July 1894 this number had increased to one hundred and ten (forty-four boys and sixty-four girls). The staffing ratio was, however, fairly adequate: in addition to the headmaster, John Owen, M.A. (Cantab.), there was one assistant master (an Oxford graduate) and three assistant mistresses who had been students at the University Colleges of Aberystwyth, Bangor and Cardiff respectively, and who had graduated with external London degrees. Music was taught by the organist of Christ Church, Caernarvon, and 'drill' was taken by a Sergeant Major Tomkins. 2  Owen Edwards was obviously sympathetic to the educational experiment being carried out at this school, and was impressd by the enthusiasm of the staff and pupils. One wonders if W. J. Gruffydd was one of the 'pupils who worked at his papers as hard as if the reputation of the school had to depend upon his exertions alone', for he was a pupil at Caernarvon County School during its first year.

Bottwnog School encountered all the difficulties inherent in a small rural school. On the register in July 1894 there were only twenty-six pupils (sixteen boys and ten girls). The number of pupils had actually decreased with the introduction of the county scheme. This was due partly to the introduction of fees for the first time, and partly to the discontinuance of the tradition, common in ...................

  • 1. Ministry of Education. I and T.E. Files 11210, Part 17 11:9:94. (Transcriptions)
  • 2. Ibid. (Report by W. C. Lefroy, Assistant Charity Commissioner) 2:10:94.

............... Wales in the nineteenth century, whereby pupils entered the school when they were eighteen or nineteen years of age. The school staff consisted of two members --- the headmaster, the Rev. E. P. Howell, M.A. (Oxon), who had held the post before the scheme came into operation, and a mistress who was apparently a non-graduate, despite three years spent at the University College, Bangor, and more than two years study on the continent.   1  Her contribution as a teacher, however, was at least adequate, as might be expected from one with such a wide experience.

Both schools claimed to include in their curricula all the subjects made compulsory by the county scheme 2 but obviously they could do so only with great difficulty. Neither school had a specialist staff to teach a wide range of subjects, and the accommdation and equipment in both schools were woefully inadequate, especially for scientific and technical subjects which the scheme specifically stated should be 'associated with sufficient experimental demonstration and practical teaching'. As Welsh was only an optional subject in the county scheme it was not taught in either school: a feature common to most of the early Intermediate Schools. 3  Perhaps the most interesting item in the schools' curricula was the inclusion of 'agriculture' at Bottwnog. This subject was taught at Bottwnog before the introduction of the county scheme, and when it was suggested after the passing of the 1889 Act that the school should be removed to Pwllheli, 4 one of the arguments put forward for its retention at Bottwnog was that it could become a centre for the study of agriculture. 5

Owen Edwards was just the right type of examiner for these schools. He had the necessary knowledge of local conditions and he could give the required incentive. His ideals are so well brought out in the reports that little comment is required. It is, however, worth while noting the stress which he lays, even at this early stage in the history of county schools, not only on the teaching of Welsh, but also on the teaching of other subjects through the medium of Welsh. We should also note his early interest in technical and practical education, his desire ..................

  • 1. Ministry of Education. (Report by W. C. Lefroy, Assistant Charity Commissioner, 2:10:94.
  • 2. In addition to religious knowledge the county scheme stipulated that instruction should be given in the following subjects besides reading, writing and arithmetic:---geography and history, including scripture history; English grammar, composition and literature; mathematics; Latin; at least one modern foreign European language; natural science, with special attention to the industries of the district; manual instruction, either in working wood or iron, or in moulding, or in modelling in clay; drawing; vocal music; and drill. For girls, natural science and manual instruction, as above, were not to be taught--- unless the Local Governing Body so decided. The following subjects were included in their place:---Domestic economy and the laws of health; cookery, and needlework.
    Instruction could also be given in the following subjects :---Greek. Welsh grammar, composition, and literature; the principles of agriculture; navigation; shorthand; and for girls, cutting out and laundry work.
  • 3. In the first examination of the Central Welsh Board in 1897 only 31 schools out of 79 presented candidates for the examination in Welsh.
  • 4. See Gruffydd Parry, 'Hanes Ysgol Bottwnog', Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymm., 1958, p. 15.
  • 5. This is illustrated by the following extract from a pamphlet published in 1891 entitled Bottwnog Grammar School, Lleyn.   A plea for its retention as an Intermediate School under the Intermediate and Technical Education Act (Wales) 1889.  'The suggestion has reached us from more than one influential quarter that an eminently practical arrangement would be to establish at Bottwnog, on a similar basis to those existing in France, a School, one of whose strong points would be the theoretical and practical instruction in Agriculture, par excellence, and to place the school in immediate connection with the University College of North Wales, for the carrying out of that great scheme of Agricultural Education for the whole of North Wales, which is being promoted by that College, and which has just received the very highest commendation from the Government in the Annual Report of the Board of Agriculture.

......................... to make the school environment attractive, his insistence upon the appeal to first hand experience in every learning process, and his firm conviction that education should be a matter of 'training the mind rather than of getting the children to learn undigested facts by rote'. They were revolutionary ideas at a time when public education was still coloured by the effects of the policy of payment by results.



Examiner's Report

I visited this school on Monday and Tuesday July 23rd and 24th. I found present 44 boys and 64 girls.

The subjects taught are English, French, Latin and Greek; Scripture, History, Geography; Arithmetic, Alegbra and Euclid; Chemistry, Music, Drawing.

I looked over most of the papers written by the boys and girls as part of their terminal examination. I also set papers of my own, and examined many of the children, three or four at a time viva voce.

My first impression was most pleasing. The boys and girls, in their separate class-rooms, looked bright and intelligent, were under excellent discipline, and each of the pupils worked at his papers as hard as if the reputation of the school had to depend upon his exertions alone. Closer acquaintance with the children deepened this first impression. I selected the brightest and most backward; and a careful viva voce examination made me come to the conclusion, not only that these children have been most efficiently trained, but that Carnarvon possesses a school so promising that it would not be impossible, with a little effort, to make it the best intermediate school in Wales.

To take the boys first, I found among them much inequality of knowledge and of ability. Some of them among the brightest and most promising, of their age, of any boys I have ever seen. They nearly all think in Welsh, and translate mentally before writing their thoughts in English; and I am glad to be able to report that the staff is thoroughly capable of understanding the children's difficulties and of making use of their native language in teaching them others. Of some of their subjects, especially those taught in elementary schools, they have a fairly thorough knowledge, and the rapidity with which they had learnt the elements of new languages was a pleasant surprise to me,---this rapidity being undoubtedly due to the fact that they had received the training required for learning a new language when learning English. The thoughtfulness of some of the answers to the History and Geography questions was very striking, showing that the teachers aim at arousing interest and training the mind rather than of getting the children to learn undigested facts by rote.

Of the conscientious labour that has been bestowed upon the girls, I cannot speak too strongly. Their work I found excellently neat, in this respect they are much superior to the boys. Though the best girls are not all equal to the best boys, they have, perhaps, as good an average.

Their essays and answers showed clearly that their minds are trained in the right way,---their interest is aroused, they are taught to understand what they learn, and their progress in their new subjects has been very rapid.

I was very glad to find that their general knowledge,---outside their text-books,---was very satisfactory; this is the reason why their English composition was invariably so good.

I beg to suggest to the Governing Body in what ways, as far as I can see, the efficiency of this promising sehool may be made still greater.

i. In order to help to arouse the children's interest, and in order to make the master's work much easier, the school-rooms should be provided with as many models, maps and pictures as possible. For example, there should be globes, embossed maps, miniature reproductions of important localities, models of ships, a mariner's compass, good pictures of historic scenes, objects illustrative of the geology and botany of the nighbourhood, etc.

The interests of true education require that the class-rooms should be made as attractive as possible. I noticed that the girls' class-room have flowers, and that the mistresses offer prizes for the best holiday collections of wild flowers.

ii. In order that all subjects mentioned in the Scheme may be taught at this important school, the time and labour of the masters and mistresses should be economised as much as possible. The examinations for scholarships should be held in all localities at the same time, at the end of June if possible, in order that the scholars of one year be all in one class. If possible, it would be better for the interests of the school if the scholarships were given to the best boys and girls, irrespective of locality. Now, some of the most backward of the children are scholars. 1

iii. The school should be strengthened, as soon as possible, on the Science side. As soon as possible the boys should learn the elements of Geology and Physics as well as of Chemistry.

iv. It is of the greatest importance that the technical side of the school should be speedily developed; it would be an easier means for arousing the minds of many of the children. The Chemistry Laboratory should be extended, apparatus for teaching Physics should be introduced. A little carpenter's workshop and metal room should be added to the school, and rooms for the teaching of cooking and laundry work.

v. I believe that the teaching of Welsh, and the occasional teaching of subjects like History in Welsh, would greatly tend in developing the children's minds.



Lincoln College Oxford.

August 3 1894.



Examiner's Report

I visited this school on Wednesday July 25. I found present 16 boys and 8 girls, there being I was told, a great temporary reduction in the number of scholars on account of the fees that are now charged for the first time.

The subjects taught are,---English, French, Latin; Scripture, History, Geography, Physiography, Arithmetic, Algebra and Euclid; Chemistry, Physics, Agriculture.

Among the boys I found less inequality of ability than at Carnarvon, owing possibly to the fact that the Bottwnog children are nearly all farmers' children, and not drawn from such a variety of professions and occupations. But the inequality of attainments is much greater, the difference between the lowest boys in the Lower School and the best boys in the Upper School being very great. The boys who have only just come in can hardly put an English sentence together or correct the most evident mistakes in English composition; while the senior boys express their thoughts in English with comparative ease, and their answers to the questions I set in Scripture and Agriculture were very creditable. This shows the difficulties under which the masters labour, and it shows at the same time what excellent work they are doing.

I set papers in English Composition, in Mathematics, in Latin and French, and found the boys' answers correct and fairly full. Some of the best boys can read an easy Latin author and write good original essays.

  • 1. This problem was aggravated by the fact that no schools had been built in the Penygroes and Llanberis districts, Of the 11girls from Penygroes attending the school in 1894, 8 held scholarships.

Among the girls I found less inequality of attainments. Their work in English composition is, I believe, almost the best work that the school can show. All their papers were very neat, and exceedingly correct. Their Arithmetic and Euclid papers were excellent; their English essays grammatically written, some of the best were thoughtful; and their knowledge of Latin and French grammar is very good, considering the shortness of the time they have been learning these languages.

The girls as well as the boys are evidently encouraged to read at home. I told the girls that, in correcting idioms literally translated-e.g. 'to keep a sound',---they might if they liked explain the mistakes by reference to Welsh. I found from their answers that they could write excellently in Welsh. This, of course, they must have been taught at home.

The discipline of the school is excellent, and the boys and girls evidently take an interest in their work.

I venture to make a few suggestions about the future conduct of this old school.

i. It should be provided with apparatus for the teaching of elementary Chemistry and Physics. This is very important in an agricultural district, where agriculture is taught with marked success. At present the masters have to teach chemistry to boys who have never seen a retort, except in a picture; they have to teach them to describe a thermometer without having one to show. Though Agriculture is taught, there are no specimens of grasses and soils in the school. The girls have not even maps.

ii. It would be a great boon if a small library were attached to the school. In a purely Welsh district, it is impossible to teach the children English unless they are interested enough in books to read them out of school hours. A little library of English and Welsh books, interesting to children and bearing upon their studies, would greatly further the efficiency of the school.

iii. The sooner the technical side of the school is developed the better. A little carpenter's workshop and metal room would be a very efficient means of real education. The child would be taught to develope his whole mind, and not his memory only.



Lincoln College Oxford.

August 3 1894.



University College, Swansea.