The Passing of a Country Grammar School
Two Cultures of Schooling: the case of middle schools
Andy Hargreaves 1986
London: Falmer Press
257pp., Hardback: £15.95; paperback: £8.50
Review by Derek Gillard
© copyright Derek Gillard 1987
This is an important book for anyone interested in education today and, in my view, essential reading for those, like myself, committed to middle school education. In it, Andy Hargreaves discusses the implications of educational policy for school practice, using the case of middle schools as his example.
The book is divided into four sections, Part 1 deals with educational policy and, right from the start, it paints a depressing picture. Middle schools, Hargreaves suggests, were conceived not for educational reasons but were, 'to a large extent, a direct result of comprehensive reorganisation at the secondary level under conditions of severe economic stringency'. The Plowden Report of 1967 (which recommended transfer at 12+) and ROSLA (implemented in 1972/73) provided further justification (on economic grounds) for the introduction of middle schools.
Middle schools quickly became important, catering for over 20 per cent of children of middle school age, but suffered from an identity crisis caused by vague ideology and the uneasy mix of ex-secondary and ex-primary staff with their own views and styles of education.
Part 2 (School Organisation) uses two case studies of West Riding schools: 'Moorhead' and 'Riverdale' (pseudonyms). This section looks at the year system (with its lack of continuity and often an obvious break at 11+), setting (often practised even more than in the equivalent age groups in secondary schools), and subject specialisms (one of the middle schools' greatest problems being to resolve the tension between specialist and generalist teaching).
In Part 3 Hargreaves discusses the 'two cultures of teaching': the academic/ elementary style practised by ex-secondary teachers whose main preoccupations are their subjects, firm discipline and a transmission style of pedagogy; and the developmental style of teaching promoted by Plowden and seen in the work of the ex-primary teachers who are more concerned with processes of learning and relationships. These primary teachers were mainly younger and less experienced than their secondary colleagues, and female. They therefore had little influence on the schools as a whole, the academic/elementary style of teaching has thus held sway.
Interestingly, the teachers who had been trained specifically for the middle years (at the time of the case studies there were few) tended to have experience of a wider age range, a greater breadth of curriculum expertise (though fewer specialisms) and a greater commitment to middle-school education.
In Part 4 Andy Hargreaves concludes with a review of middle schools past, present and future, and suggests that, if middle schools are to survive at all, they should increase the proportion of generalist teaching, develop a strong curricular advisory system, break down the isolation of the year group system, reduce the amount of setting and increase the use of mixed-ability groupings. He also suggests that there should be greater collaboration of heads and teachers between schools.
Much of the book is profoundly depressing, painting as it does a picture of schools created for the wrong reasons and lacking any clear vision or purpose, which have suffered disproportionately from recession and falling rolls and which have been much criticised by HMI - though Hargreaves does not accept many of their conclusions: 'HMI do not appear to have allowed their evidence to cloud their judgement'.
The book is thoroughly researched and very thought-provoking: I found myself constantly comparing and measuring my own policies and actions against those of the case- study schools. It is fascinating and extremely readable, and I commend it strongly to all committed middle-school teachers and to all those who are concerned about what is happening to our schools today.