The Parents’ Union in a Secondary School

The Parents’ Union in a Secondary School

Editor’s Note, by Art Middlekauff

When do children outgrow the Charlotte Mason method? The firm belief of Charlotte Mason and the PNEU was that they never do. However, Mason and her followers were realistic about the challenges faced by teachers who wished to apply the method in the upper years. These challenges were openly discussed and a variety of solutions were adopted.

Many of these same challenges confront Charlotte Mason educators today who wish to employ the method as much as possible with their teenage children and high school students. Fortunately, we don’t have to blaze a completely new trail on our own. We can look to the example of our predecessors and learn from their successes — and from their mistakes.

To support homeschool families and Charlotte Mason schools with students in the upper years, the Charlotte Mason Poetry team has decided to transcribe and record a number of Parents’ Review articles that address the upper forms from many perspectives. Many of these articles offer frank portrayals of serious challenges and how they were met. We plan to release these articles as a series culminating with a round-table discussion of how these articles offer guidance, lessons, warnings, and inspirations for Charlotte Mason educators today.

We begin our series with a report read by E. Perceval Horsey at the PNEU Annual Meeting on June 3, 1924 in Westminster. The agenda for the meeting included a general update on the Parents’ Union School, which refers to the broad community of homes and schools that had committed to using the Charlotte Mason method and the PNEU programmes. Abbreviated P.U.S. or P.U., it simply refers to the Charlotte Mason method in action.

The 1924 Parents’ Union School update was divided into three sections: the home schoolroom, the elementary school, and the secondary school. Within each section, two speakers in turn shared a report on the use of the method and the programmes within their school context. The update was concluded with a final report on the Parents’ Union School “as a whole.”

The second speaker in the secondary school section was Perceval Horsey, Principal of St. Mary’s College, Harlow, Essex. He spoke after Miss Hare, the principal of a private school for deaf children, and he noted the great encouragement offered by Miss Hare. Two years before, Horsey had told the story of how he had discovered the Charlotte Mason method and decided to employ it in his all-boys school. That story may be found here.

Now at the PNEU Annual Meeting, Horsey was giving his real-time update. His report, published in the August 1924 Parents’ Review, radiates a love for Miss Mason’s method. However, it also outlines the grave challenges faced by a principal of a school which included youth in the final years of their secondary education. His spirit both of love and of compromise set the stage for the articles that will follow in this series.

By E. Perceval Horsey, Esq.,
The Parents’ Review, 1924, pp. 553-555

Those of us who have had practical experience of P.U. Methods will have heard without any surprise of the remarkable success achieved by Miss Hare. We are astonished rather that those methods are not in more general use in our Secondary Schools; for though the P.U. proceeds from triumph to triumph in the Home, the Preparatory Schools, and the Elementary Schools, yet in the Secondary Schools—or I should say in the recognised Secondary Schools for boys, for this is the only type of school for which I am in any way competent to speak—it has as yet gained no firm foothold. Perhaps there has not been much missionary effort in this direction. All of these schools too, except six are under public control, and it may be more difficult to make new departures in state schools than in those under private management. Moreover we must remember that the curriculum in a boys’ Secondary School is to a great extent dominated by the School Certificate Exam. which it is now almost compulsory for the Upper forms to attempt. This is not the time to discuss the vexed question of examinations, but it would be foolish not to face plain facts, and we cannot deny that there are great practical difficulties in combining preparation for the examination and P.N.E.U. work; I strongly suspect that these difficulties deter some Heads of schools from joining the P.U.

At Harlow we solve the difficulty by a compromise. We work the full P.U. programmes in the lower half of the school only. I introduced Miss Mason’s methods a few years ago, after being converted by a day spent in one of Mr. Household’s wonderful Gloucestershire schools. If I may digress a moment, I should like to advise any new enquirers into the real meaning of the P.N.E.U. also to spend a day in one of Mr. Household’s schools; they will see and hear things there which will be an absolute revelation. The experiment at Harlow has been a great success. It has completely transformed the school. In fact, when I compare the school as it is now, with what it was before, I don’t know which feeling predominates in my mind, shame at the recollection of the wretched dry husks I was so long content to put before my unfortunate younger pupils, or gratitude to the P.U. for showing me the better way.

Nor must you think that the improvement is confined to the Lower School. For in truth the beneficial spirit of Miss Mason inspires the whole work of the College. It affects the Staff; for no teacher, from the Head of the School downwards can come into daily touch with P.U. work without having his whole attitude to education profoundly modified. It affects the methods of teaching; for we apply Miss Mason’s principle of the vital importance of reproduction to much of the work of the Upper School. I may mention especially that I have applied a modification of this process to the teaching of modern languages with gratifying results; and now, though I know on the highest authority that the standard of modern languages in Secondary Schools is so deplorably low, that even in good schools 100% of the candidates are often rejected at the School Certificate Examination in these subjects, we have no difficulty in passing any average candidate after a course of two lessons a week for four years in French and three years in German. Finally, and most important of all, there is the effect of the P.N.E.U. work on the senior pupils themselves. I believe that the boys who have had a preliminary training on P.U. lines are, on the average, more intelligent and capable than those who have not enjoyed this advantage. And I think I can show good ground for my opinion. For the last two years, the boys in the upper classes are for the first time those who have done P.N.E.U. work in the lower school. And for the last two years the examination results have been immeasurably superior to anything we have done before. I can hardly quote these results in detail,[1] lest it should be thought that I was trying to convert this occasion into an advertisement for the school. It must suffice to say that in each of the two years the public honours gained were six or seven times more than the average of previous years. The actual particulars I should be glad to show to anybody who wished to know them. Of course it is open to anyone to say that all this is merely a coincidence. It may be, but I can’t believe it myself. It proves however one thing most conclusively. If any Head Master is hesitating to join the P.U. lest he may jeopardise his examination results, he can put this fear aside once and for all with perfect safety.

I believe I have a minute left of the time allotted, so may I add a word about the supply of male teachers. It is undoubtedly a great drawback that there are no teachers to be found already trained in P.U. principles. Now the P.U. is a very remarkable society. It is remarkable too in this respect, viz., that unlike most educational societies it has a nice fat balance in hand. May I, in all humility suggest to the Council that they should employ part of this balance in training male teachers in P.U. principles, either by arranging holiday courses or by establishing a male counterpart of the House of Education. (Cheers). Then with a supply of teachers assured, I believe that the P.U. would ultimately play the same prominent part in our Secondary Schools as it already does in the elementary and preparatory schools of the country.

[1] The results referred to were as follows:—

School Certificate. Oxford Senior Local. 1st Class Honours 2; 2nd do. 6; 3rd do. 4.

London Matriculation. Passed direct 3; Passed by exemption 6.

Oxford Responsions. Exempted by School Certificate 12.

Cambridge Previous. Exempted by School Certificate 10.

Scholarships. Highgate School (open) £66 per annum. King’s School, Canterbury, £25 per annum.

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2 Replies to “The Parents’ Union in a Secondary School”

  1. Hi there! I am especially interested in the methods mentioned in this article regarding the teaching of modern languages that Mr. Horsey found to be so successful at the secondary level. I have read Home Education and see that Ms. Mason suggests oral language learning early and the use of Guion series – but I haven’t come across her recommendations for older students and I am having trouble understanding what methods Mr. Horsey refers to in this article. Could you please point me in the right direction?

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