The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."


A Forgotten Pioneer of a Rational Education and his Experiment.

by Rev. H. H. Moore, M.A.
Volume 15, 1904, pg. 181-189

H. H. Moore became Vicar of St John the Evangelist's Church, an Anglican parish church in Turncroft, Over Darwen, Lancashire, England, in 1869.

Dear Editor,--If you can afford me space in the Parents' Review I should like to give some account of the remarkable educational work of the Rev. Richard Dawes, M.A. (1793-1867), at one time Rector of King's Somborne Parish, Hampshire, and afterwards Dean of Hereford; because I think it is a matter for surprise and regret that he appears to be completely forgotten nowadays, although he was one of the earliest and ablest pioneers in devising and putting into practical operation a rational system of education suitable for elementary schools. Before explaining his system it will be necessary to give some particulars about the parish and its Rector. Mr. Dawes was a distinguished member of the University of Cambridge, having been for twenty years Fellow and Tutor of Downing College, when in 1841 he was appointed Rector of King's Somborne. This was a parish of 7500 acres, and according to the census of 1841 contained a population of 1125, of whom about 800 lived in the village, 160 in the hamlet of Upper Somborne, 2 1/2 miles distant, while the rest were scattered thinly over the other portions of the wide area of the parish. King's Somborne was a secluded place, not situated upon any high road, or near any large town. The parish was a purely agricultural one, and in a purely agricultural district, the people having no other employment but the growing of corn and feeding of sheep. The farms were large, many of them uniting what used to be two, three, or even four farms; and five or six farmers occupied the whole parish. The wages for a laborer varied from 6s. to 9s. a week, and the rent for a cottage from £2 10s, to £5 a year. There were no means of employing women and children otherwise than on the farms. There was no squire or other person resident in the place above the condition of the farmer, except the Rector. To build and organize a school adequate for all the requirements of the parish was the Rector's first work. A plot of ground on the open downs near the church, an acre in extent, afterwards increased by half an acre more, was given by Lady Mildmay, owner of the manor, and on it was built the school, according to the simplest and most economical of the plans of the Education Department. The cost of building and fitting up the school was met by grants from the Education Department, the National Society, and the Winchester Diocesan Board, and by subscriptions from the Rector (mainly) and others connected with the property of the parish. These first steps were of course only what hundreds of earnest, self-sacrificing clergymen both before and after Mr. Dawes have taken to promote the education of the children in their parishes. But that which gives to Mr. Dawes and his school an unique distinction is the fact that he carried out in it certain original ideas of his own on education which have not been surpassed in wisdom by any other theory, and have not yet been fully realized in practice in our national system of elementary education. Valuable lessons may therefore be learned by a careful study of the principles and methods of which the King's Somborne School was the embodiment.

One of the principles on which Mr. Dawes was from the first determined to act was that the school should be self-supporting, that the annual grant of the Education Department and the children's fees should meet all the expenses, and that there should be no dependence on subscriptions. This resolution he made for two reasons, one economic, the other moral. First, he wished to free himself from the wasteful expenditure of time and energy, and the wearing anxiety of the constant necessity of the country clergy suffered because of the constant necessity of soliciting subscriptions to maintain their schools. But his chief reason was to benefit the parents themselves. He conceived the idea of making the school an instrument for working out a moral reformation in the parish. When he came to it he found it thoroughly demoralized by the operation of the old Poor Law. * In fact there was no parish in the surrounding district that stood, in respect to the character of its inhabitants, so low. Mr. Dawes determined that there should be nothing of an eleemosynary [charity] character in the relations between the school and the parents that would tend to pauperise them. He trusted that, by appealing to their affection and sense of responsibility for their children, he would in time get them to recognise the duty of making sacrifices to provide their children with a good education; he wished to root out of them the pauper spirit which disinclined them to do anything for themselves, and to create a spirit of manly independence. This was a difficult task to undertake. It seemed most unlikely that agricultural labourers who received such low wages as those already mentioned should be willing or able to spare anything out of their small income for school fees, and the payment of the fee was not the greatest difficulty, but the sacrifice of the child's labour when he had a chance of earning a little money by odd jobs for a farmer. Notwithstanding these obstacles Mr. Dawes insisted that no child should be admitted to the school free of charge, and that no arrears should be allowed. The following was fixed as the scale of payments. For the labourer's children 2d. per week for one, and 1d. for every additional one in the same family; for the children of those above the mere laborer 6s. to 10s. per quarter. The children had also to buy all their own books.

* "It had been the habit, for a long series of years, to employ a large number of able-bodied men, thirty or forty at a time, upon the parish roads for six or seven months in the year (nominally for the purpose of repairing the roads, but in reality to run them on until the season of the year when they are wanted) at wages varying with the numbers of children each had to support. The influence for evil which a system like this exercised on a number of families in the parish may be imagined--it was to pauperise them." (Rev. H. Moseley, H. M.'s Inspector of Schools.) "The poor rate and road rate for the parish (the latter being equally a poor rate with the first, and no separate account kept) actually amounted, on an average of the seven years preceding Christmas, 1835, to £1600 a year, the population being 1040, according to the census of 1830, or upwards of 30s. a head on the whole population. This implies a degree of immorality and a state of things at that time which it is painful to contemplate." (Rev. R. Dawes).

Another principle which Mr. Dawes wished to embody as a distinct feature of his school was the inclusion of the children of every social grade in the parish. He attached great importance to this for two reasons. Firstly, his hope of making the school self-supporting depended largely on his being able to obtain higher fees from the parents who had a high social position and larger income than the common labourers. Accordingly, he charged fees varying from 6s. to 10s. per quarter for the children of farmers, bailiffs, shop-keepers, publicans, tailors, shoemakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, and the like. Who were to be considered farmers and to pay the highest fee, and who tradesmen and labourers, Mr. Dawes claimed the right himself to decide, as no one was better acquainted than he with the worldly circumstances of his people, or more certain to be just and considerate to all equally; but all were placed within the walls of the school on terms of perfect equality, and precisely the same advantages of instruction were offered to all. His second reason for wishing to intermingle the children of the farmers, tradesmen, and labourers, in the same school and classes, was that he thought that feelings of mutual goodwill, respect, and neighborly considerateness would thereby be promoted and be likely to affect their mutual relations in after life. Moreover, by this mixture of classes he expected that the children of the lower classes would be improved in their tone and manners by contact with the children of a superior grade who had the advantage of better home influences, as the experience of the world shows that every class above another teaches that below it. But the attempt to graft this mixed system on the school appeared very unlikely to succeed, on account of the prejudices and opposition of those above the rank of labourers. When it was announced that the school was open to their children to receive the same education as laborers' children were receiving, on condition of their paying for the privilege a higher rate of remuneration, great was their astonishment. Some were ungenerous enough to object altogether to giving education to the laboring class. Some employers resented the prospect of their labourers' children obtaining by Mr. Dawes' action a better education and at a less cost than their own children had hitherto been receiving. Some disliked the idea of their children being associated with those of the lowest class. But Mr. Dawes calculated that in time their prejudices would give way, when once they realized that it was for both their own and their children's interest to take advantage of an education provided close to their homes, which was both cheaper and better than that which they could obtain by sending the children to distant boarding schools with higher terms. The alternative which Mr. Dawes set before them was this-- would they pay £2 a year for the better education given at King's Somborne School, or would they pay £30 or £40 a year for an inferior education at a distant private-venture school? This attack on the side of economy won the day, and Mr. Dawes' sagacity and moral courage were justified by the attainment of his object.

But the most important of the objects which Mr. Dawes set before himself to attain in the organization and conduct of the school was to give to the children the best possible education that his resources permitted--the best in regard to its kind, that is, its suitableness to the needs and circumstances of the scholars--and also the best of its kind, that is, in regard to the quality of the teaching. On his success in this respect would depend the success of the rest of his scheme; because the apathy of the poorer parents about their children's education would only be overcome by convincing them that it was worth their while to make some sacrifices in order to obtain for their children the advantages which the school could impart; and the support of the parents of higher rank and larger income, who were able to pay the higher fees, could only be obtained by convincing them that the education given in the parish school was both better and cheaper than they could get elsewhere.

What Mr. Dawes' scheme of instruction was will be explained in detail at a subsequent stage of this article. Suffice it here to say that the parents soon found out that beside the usual subject of elementary school routine another kind of instruction was given which was specially adapted to the circumstances and needs of their children, and calculated to fit them for their future occupations. The practical usefulness of this kind of education, not to be found in other schools, soon won for King's Somborne School an unique success and popularity.** We have the impartial testimony of H.M.'s Inspector to prove that the school was successful, not only from a business point of view, that is, in regard to its finances and numbers, but also, and above all, in that which constitutes the chief object and merit of a school, viz., its educational and improving effects upon both the children and their parents. ***

The success of Mr. Dawes' bold and original experiment was indeed very remarkable, considering the difficulties and disadvantages he had to deal with--the apathy of the parents about education, their miserably low wages and pauperized spirit, the social prejudices of those above the laboring class, the absence of the influence of resident gentry, and of subscriptions to supplement the parents' payments, and also the distance from the school of many of the children in so wide a parish. Mr. Dawes and this school became famous, and deservedly so. Other clergymen were stimulated to enquiries about the principles and methods on which he conducted the school, and many were encouraged to imitate the example he had set. In order to make his system more widely known and better understood Mr. Dawes gave lectures and wrote pamphlets both before and after he became Dean of Hereford. A special and exhaustive report on the school was written by H.M.'s Inspector of schools, the Rev. Henry Moseley, M.A., and when Messrs. Groombridge, publishers, applied to the Committee of Council on Education for permission to reprint and publish this report for sale, their lordships not only readily consented, but expressed their opinion that "it is very desirable that the attention of persons interested in the improvement and extension of elementary education should be drawn effectually to the real character of the causes which have combined to render the National School of King's Somborne a model worthy of imitation." Of course one explanation of the unprecedented success of the school that was sure to occur to those who did not know Mr. Dawes was that he must be possessed of extraordinary gifts and graces, and that therefore the like results could not be attained in other parishes. But Mr. Moseley, referring to this suggestion, gave it an unqualified contradiction, and expressed his conviction, in which Mr. Dawes himself concurred, that the chief element in the success of the school was that the education offered in it was so well adapted to the wants of the people. The chief superiority of Mr. Dawes which distinguished him from other men engaged in education was his possession of the genius of common sense. When he came to King's Somborne, a parochial school was to him quite an unaccustomed place, and the teaching of young children an unknown experience. But he carefully considered the condition and wants of his people, and devised an original scheme of education which would be most effectual in interesting and benefiting them. Mr. Moseley in his report says of it:-- "That feature in the teaching of the King's Somborne School which constitutes probably its greatest excellence, and to which Mr. Dawes attributes chiefly its influence with the agricultural population around him, is the union of instruction in a few simple principles of natural science, applicable to things familiar to the children's daily observation, along with everything else usually taught in a National School." This feature of Mr. Dawes' scheme has a permanent interest for all who are engaged in the elementary education of young children.

So far I have treated of the King's Somborne School mainly as an interesting example of the bold and original experiment carried out with remarkable success in spite of great obstacles. Some of the problems, however, which it had to solve, such as the best means of making a school self-supporting, and of intermingling children of various social grades in their schooling, have now been finally settled for us, for good or evil, by recent educational legislation; but it will ever be an open and disputed question what subjects should be taught to children, and on what system, and it is one which is sure to be regarded as of great importance by the parents and teachers connected with the P.N.E.U. Seeing that Mr. Dawes gave such deliberate and sustained attention to this subject, and also subjected his opinions and conclusions to so severe a test of experiment, it may be well not to throw away the advantage of his sagacity and experience, but to try to learn some lessons helpful for our own guidance.

(To be continued.)

** "It may be interesting here to trace the steps of the progress made year by year in the number of scholars attending, and in the money received by fees and sale of books. The School opened in October, 1842, with 38 children, which number, at the end of the School year, Michaelmas, 1843, had increased to 106. The following table exhibits its subsequent progress during the eight years of Mr. Dawes' tenure of the parish:--

TABLE: School Years (ending Michaelmas).
1st year to 1843 . . . No. of Scholars. 106 . . . Received from School Fees £49 11s. 10d. . . . Received from Books Sold. £7 5s. 5d.
2nd year to 1844 . . . No. of Scholars. 110 . . . Received from School Fees £60 11s. 1d. . . . Received from Books Sold. £8 0s. 6d.
3rd year to 1845 . . . No. of Scholars. 144 . . . Received from School Fees £73 0s. 10d. . . . Received from Books Sold. £11 5s. 3d.
4th year to 1846 . . . No. of Scholars. 158 . . . Received from School Fees £87 17s. 5d. . . . Received from Books Sold. £15 8s. 0d.
5th year to 1847 . . . No. of Scholars. 219 . . . Received from School Fees £120 8s. 5d. . . . Received from Books Sold. £24 18s. 1d.
6th year to 1848 . . . No. of Scholars. ? . . . Received from School Fees £116 1s. 6d. . . . Received from Books Sold. £30 2s. 1d.
7th year to 1849 . . . No. of Scholars. ? . . . Received from School Fees £125 14s. 0d. . . . Received from Books Sold. £39 2s. 7d.
8th year to 1850 . . . No. of Scholars. 219 . . . Received from School Fees £133 3s. 1d. . . . Received from Books Sold. £41 1s. 8d.

The following was the state of the School at Midsummer, 1850:-- Of the 219 children, 164 paid weekly pence, 24 paid 6s. per quarter, and 31 paid 10s. per quarter. Of the 55 quarterly paying children in 1850, 14 were children of farmers and respectable tradesmen, who lodged in the village from Monday to Friday night, then going home, and returning the following Monday morning. During the first year 38 scholars were sent or taken away because the parents would not conform to the rules, but after a time all gladly availed themselves of permission to return."

*** Extracts from his Report "The popularity of this School is unprecedented. Everywhere else the Inspector is accustomed to be told of the indifference of the poor to the education of their children. Here he finds them manifesting an earnest desire to obtain for them the benefit of it. Agricultural labourers send their children from other parishes, from three to four miles daily, to the school, and one-seventh of the resident population of the parish daily assembles it. Wherever he goes, the Inspector's ear is familiar with the complaint that funds for the maintenance of the school are deficient; that the fees are wrung with difficulty from the hands of the parens, who are too poor to pay them; that the landlords and farmers cannot therefore be provided, or sufficient in number. Here, in a district where the rate of wages is at least as low as in others, and where, if the people be not as poor, it must be due to the operation of moral causes, he finds a self-supporting school, having more than the usual staff of teachers, adequately paid. At other schools one-third of the children are generally absent, and if the fee be insisted upon, the inability of the parents to pay it is generally assigned as a principal reason of this irregularity of attendance. Here the payment of the school fee is strictly enforced, and the average daily attendance is more than eight-ninths of the children on the books. In other schools nothing so discourages the Inspector as the inadequate supply of school-books, the injudicious selection of them, and their miserable condition; for all this the poverty of the school is given him as the explanation; and if he is desirous to preserve the character of a discreet man, he will not venture to hint, as a possibility, that the children might be induced to buy proper schoolbooks for themselves. Here he finds every child in possession of as many schoolbooks as it wants, of the best kind, well bound, and in a sound condition; and he find moreover that the child has purchased them all for itself, the school providing none. Elsewhere the early age at which the children leave is spoken of as fatal to the success of the school. Here, although the very goodness of the school has a tendency to produce this result (the parents persuading themselves that their children get to know enough in a good school sooner than in a bad one), there is evidence that a laborer is capable fo making for his child sacrifice of the weekly wages he might earn if sent to work, that he may send him to the school. In other schools only 23 percent of the children remain after they are 11 years of age; here 32 percent. In other schools 4 percent of the boys and 10 percent of the girls are above 13 years of age; here 10 percent of the one and 19 percent of the other. Here, finally, the average age of all the children in the school is nearly that of the monitors in other schools. To complete the contrast of this school with all others known to me; whilst I have found the success or failure of other schools attributed to the personal influence of the clergymen and other respectable inhabitants over the parents, by a moral violence compelling the children to school, here there is obviously, on both sides, the most complete independence; the school offered on the one hand, and accepted on the other; an education provided such as the parents think likely to benefit their children, and the parents availing themselves of it for their benefit; the father consenting that out of his week's wages the school fees should be paid, and the price of the schoolbooks; the mother yielding to the school the daughter's labour in the household; and both, that the child may enjoy a privilege of which they themselves have no experience, submitting to the privations which must be endured when the small weekly earnings fo the family are diminished by the 1s. 6d. or 2s. 6d. which that child might have earned." Of the moral reformation in the parish which Mr. Dawes effected by means of his school and system the report says:-- "From a state which gave to it an unenviable notoriety as the opprobrium of the country round, it has emerged into a village remarkable for the orderly deportment of its inhabitants, their regular attendance at the parish church, the neatness of their abodes, the cleanliness of their children, the punctuality with which they send them to school, and the sacrifices they make that they may do so."

Typed by Blossom Barden, April 2023; Proofread by LNL, June, 2023