Film: 5180

Education | 1960 | Sound | B/W

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Synopsis:

An earnest and idealistic documentary which extols the virtues of the (then) new education system from primary right up to 6th form. Despite the old-fashioned style of documentary-making and some outdated views as to the subjects which women ought to be taught, this is a film that is forward thinking in terms of its attitudes and the methods it praises, and it showcases in its best light an education system which, while it has now fallen into degradation, was conceived with all the best intentions and expectations, and in which ' the equipment is of the highest order and the schools are well-staffed with specialist teachers'.
Exterior shot of a large three storey Victorian-style school. Girls wearing gym-knickers and vests practice netball in the playground of the inner-city school. Pupils dressed in blazers and ties (boys and girls) walk outside a secondary school with more modern architecture, chatting. A mother pushes a child in a buggy past the railings of an urban primary school with children playing in the playground. In another primary school children play on a grassed area outside. Another school appears to be in the grounds of a church. A boy sitting on the steps outside a secondary school glances up as two girls walk past. View of an ornate and imposing brick building with carved stonework (a public school?). A group of primary school girls walk across a grassy bank with their female teacher who holds hands with two of them.
Inside a classroom a young boy smiles and points. A secondary school boy wearing a shirt, tie and blazer reads the temperature of liquid in a beaker. Young girls of infant school age play with sticky, messy craft dough. A child looks intently into a bowl containing water-weed and a newt. Another boy wearing uniform looks into a microscope. Someone inks a linocut with a roller.
The voiceover emphasises the need to view children as individuals and to 'provide a wide variety of courses' to bring out the best in children. (This is clearly a mild propaganda exercise to boost confidence in the new education system, and the activities displayed throughout the film are meant to emphasise the union between the practical, creative and academic elements of education.) We see young children dressing up, an older boy hammering the end of a screwdriver on an anvil, and a large group of primary school children in a playground running in the direction of the camera (presumably from play back to work).
There is a close-up on the 'primary record' of Jennifer James (a school report). The camera focuses on a personality record which suggests that while she is a good student she is somewhat withdrawn and introspective because her parents expect too much of her. (This is presumably meant to demonstrate a move away from the 'Gradgrindian' style of education, and into an era of children expressing themselves free from mere rote learning.) A youngish couple sit with their backs to the camera talking to a headmistress who sits behind a desk. They are (one supposes) the parents of Jennifer. The husband complains that the children appear to him to do no work; his wife, who sits demurely in her chair with her back straight and her hands crossed over her gloves in her lap, nods dutifully. The camera changes angle so that the couple are looking into it. The woman looks at her husband as he complains, then remarks herself that Jennifer was learning more when they were teaching her themselves at home. The headmistress, wearing an old-fashioned flowery dress and a string of pearls, smiles with understanding and reassurance and puts on her glasses. She assures the parents that heir daughter is doing well, but the man looks unconvinced.
There is a series of small scenes, particularly emphasising the creative education of primary school children (implicitly answering the criticisms of Jennifer's parents). Girls play with play-dough. Another child in dressing up costume dances. A young boy looks into the camera and laughs happily. Young children wearing only shorts jump from something off screen. The child in costume dances. Primary school boys in short-sleeved shirts (one in a tie) do woodwork. Young children in a gymnasium play on a climbing frame. Primary school children stand in front of a model village made of painted cardboard boxes, some of which a girl is painting. The child in costume dances, apparently a jig. The girls playing with play-dough get even more messy. Children play with animals on a model farm (presumably part of the model village). A boy and girl make a display of sea-shells. In a classroom with pictures on the wall, various activities are going on; a female teacher stands in the background. She is looking at a play book-shop that some of the children are 'running', and showing one of the books to a young girl.
A young female teacher in a simple flowery dress tied at the waist sits in a semicircle of young children who listen attentively; as one dark-haired girl sits down, a blond-haired boy stands up next to the teacher to tell the class about a trip he has recently made. The teacher listens carefully, responding to his story with somewhat exaggerated, but sincere, surprise or laughter, and asks him questions to draw out more information; this is apparently intended to give children confidence. Both the boy and the other children are happy and interested.
There is a single shot of a young boy in a white shirt unbuttoned at the neck. We see a maths class, with sums on the blackboard and boys and girls working in small groups; a teacher walks over to help a pupil. In another classroom a female teacher leads a reading class sitting in front of a group of primary-school children who sit on the floor. They call out the words she holds up on cards in front of them; the first child to call out the word is given the card, and the pupil with the most - a boy called john - is invited to get up and read a 'story'. He reads from large cards on the wall with simple sentences underneath an illustrative picture. There are various shots of a variety of activities; all the children are fresh-faced, with picture-book clothes and hair-styles. We see children doing sums (particularly one girl) and writing exercises (composing their own stories).
A female teacher leads a group of children reading 'Janet and John' books; first a boy with an east-end accent, then a girl with a more genteel voice, read. A group of children (briefly seen earlier) sit under a small group of trees on a grassy slope with their teacher, with modern school buildings behind them. Children in a classroom play with animals made of plasticine; a black child (one of two in the film in an otherwise all white cast) plays happily with the others, in fact taking the lead - his inclusion is a little hackneyed, but welcome nonetheless.
A large group of schoolchildren put on pantomime set in a circus; the children run through doors into a gymnasium and dance across the stage, while other children watch. A girl in a (ballerina's?) dress bows.
Junior school children sit a in a classroom in small groups at desks reading; one child takes a book from the shelf. She writes about plants in an exercise book. A collage of art and writing on a wall illustrates 'the story of our school in words and pictures'; children and a teacher add to the display, the teacher pinning up a picture (painted by a child) on the wall. Jennifer James, the child whose parents were unsure about her education earlier in the film, stands in front of a large group of children who sit quite neatly in rows, and talks about a play they have just seen. A male teacher sits next to her with his arm resting on a table which also holds a record player (?) and a vase of flowers. The children all applaud (though whether the film intends us to think they are applauding the sentiments of her talk (which praised the school for taking them to see the play) or only the fact that she has made a talk, is debatable. (Inevitably, the activities of the children throughout the film are intended not only to demonstrate the intelligence and creativity of the children and the opportunities they have to express this; the product of their activities is also largely concerned with highlighting their school system in its best light, from the collage of art and Jennifer's talk to the history lecture later on. This gives the film a rather wooden and earnest feel).
We see another school report, again for Jennifer James. Hands turn pages over and write more on the reports, which are a combination of hand- and type-written sheets.
A group of children (still primary school age, but older than those seen before) sit on a grassy hill with a male teacher looking at the view spread out before them, over the roofs of the school buildings and into the valley beyond. The teacher gestures to the view, talking to the children with his back to the camera; then the pupils split into two smaller groups and look at maps pasted on to boards (presumably which relate to the view). This is an idyllic view of academic work being taught in the open air. Then the same class is seen inside, in a classroom (there are constant contrasts made between the academic and the creative (or active) so that neither can be said to dominate the film (and by implication, the education system). The children put up their hands to answer a question and one goes to the blackboard and points at a map. The teacher holds a globe, turning it in his hands; again the children strain their arms to be chosen to answer his question, and the boy who is chosen points at a country on the globe.
Children are seen in a classroom, answering maths questions. The sum on the blackboard relates to old money (pounds and shillings). The teacher writes the answer on the board and the children copy it down.
An open day; teachers talk to the parents and show them books (in a classroom seen earlier, with the display of art on the wall). Various groups of parents observe: an exercise book with writing in it (presumably an English book), soft toys, books, and then walk out into the playground, being shown around by teachers. Some parents talk to the headmistress in a corridor. There is no longer any sense of parents being unsure about the system.
A bell is being rung to call children in from the playground, and they are going inside. In a classroom, the camera pans across a series of classical scenes on pictures on a wall - runners at the Olympic games, and people in classical clothing. At the bottom of the display is a model of triremes (not definite, but would fit with the classical theme) in the sea by a village; the boats are made of cardboard, the oars of cocktail sticks. A further boat is added to the display by a boy in school uniform; his blazer bears the school badge on the breast pocket ( a capital T and S). A boy, with the display behind him, leans over the shoulder of a girl wearing a skirt and dress, who points to something in a book.
A teacher walks past rows of desks with children working at them. There are pictures of musical instruments on the walls; the camera focuses on them in turn (strings, wind, brass and then percussion). A music teacher, seated, recommends a piece by Mozart for his students to learn to a colleague (his words emphasise the complementary nature of the various subjects in the curriculum). We learn that the class are studying Mozart's life in addition to his music, and we see an orchestra in uniform, sitting in rows, playing the piece on recorders. A man accompanying them on the piano plays with great gusto. We see close-ups on various children ( a trio of girls sharing a music-stand, a boy playing).
A headmaster sits behind his desk talking to a husband and wife (reminiscent of the earlier scene with Jennifer's parents, but involving different people). This time the mother is more dominant. The headmaster suggests that their son could go on to the 6th form and then to university, but the mother is unconvinced by the quality of teaching at the 'new school'. The headmaster - a genial, portly man - reassures her. The husband is (very woodenly) enthusiastic about the opportunities for practical work at the new school, and the description by the headmaster of an academic and also practical schooling pleases the parents, and is apparently perfect for the particular child under discussion. The parents look at each other, relieved, reassured and happy. We see the headmaster's hands writing an application to the secondary school and the form is stamped; the voiceover praises the advice offered by headmasters.
We now see Jennifer James' admission slip, and then Jennifer herself in uniform at a school fair. She wears a blazer, striped skirt, white socks and black shoes. She eats candy-floss. At a stall, Jennifer and other children are given handfuls of small bean-bags; they throw them at pyramids of empty tin-cans stacked on shelves. We see a school assembly, with 'To be a pilgrim' being sung. The camera pans down a board painted with the names of pupils who have achieved scholarships to the school. The pupils in the assembly finish singing and sit down.
Jennifer is seen taking books out of her desk. She is wearing a uniform of a dress with a white collar and cuffs. We learn that she is at a grammar school; Jennifer has obviously made good, despite the uncertainty of her parents. The voice-over (a plummy voice) tells us what subjects are covered and we see a series of classrooms; maths, art, 'the girls of course have housecraft and needlecraft' - shots of a home-economics room and a girl at a sewing machine. Then PE; girls in the gym, then other girls playing netball in gym-knickers and vests. Jennifer throws the ball; we see it fall through the hoop. In a classroom, girls are seen being taught Latin. We see older girls writing (perhaps taking an exam), and then clustered around a science bench watching a practical. A dark liquid is observed bubbling. One girl gets up and collects a clear liquid from the apparatus in a measuring cylinder, then examines it studiously. Other girls are seen painting and, studying snails crawling over lettuce leaves in a biology lab. We see the faces of various girls, presumably as they think or listen attentively in a lesson. A girl writes music onto manuscript paper. A teacher points to music written on a blackboard, which the girls then copy down (this appears to be a single-sex school). Students are seen working in the library; a girl takes a copy of 'Ancient Greece' by Cotterill down from the library shelf and opens it; a plate of a Greek vase in the book spins, and becomes...
Clay turning on a potter's wheel is shaped by a pupil's hands. Gradually it takes the shape of a pot. This is a contrast with the academic work in the girls' grammar school; we see boys doing metalwork, welding and carpentry. We see a design room with wood-shavings on the floor, with various boys in uniform wearing aprons or overalls working at the benches. Other students do plasterwork (making a cast of a door-knocker) and bricklaying (building parts of a wall in the playground). Boys are evidently taught different subjects to girls.
A small group of students are seen walking past the high brick wall of an inner-city school; cars are parked on the opposite side of the road and there are residential houses in the background. A tree grows in the playground. Inside, students study technology (in this instance, draughtsmanship with T-squares and drawing boards), chemistry and trigonometry - the emphasis is now on the sciences. A maths teacher in a lab coat writes trigonometry on the blackboard and a handsome student with neat handwriting copies it into his exercise book.
Secondary-school students read and exchange books, working in groups in a classroom. The emphasis has shifted again, from science to the humanities. A close up of the title-page of the book they are reading shows that it is 'A Tour of Great Britain' by Daniel Defoe - the voiceover emphasises both the interrelation between history, English and geography, and the way in which the subjects are made relevant to the pupils' own area. A boy places his finger on the page, pointing at the word 'Greenwich'. In a geography lesson, the students look at a map of Greenwich; and in history, the teacher discusses the book by Defoe, reading the passage on Greenwich aloud. The pupils listen wistfully; the teacher's voice becomes a voice-over and we see boys running up a hill with a grand stone building spread out in the distance behind them. The teacher strides up the hill, following them. Some of the students lean against a railing, looking out over the Thames; the teacher comes up behind them and places his hands on their shoulders. They follow him away, and we see a ship sail past the industrial landscape across the river. The pupils walk towards the 'Cutty Sark' (a contrast between the modern and the historical ships). The voice-over declares idealistically that 'learning becomes a voyage of discovery'.
We see a montage of exam papers and results-certificates. We are shown a 'recap' of the exteriors of the schools we have seen so far; the secondary school with the tree in the playground, the modern primary school surrounded by grass and trees, the church school, the modern secondary school, the Victorian-style school from the beginning, the girls still playing netball, and finally the ornate brick school.
A comprehensive school, with modern buildings, is shown in the background behind a patch of grass and a playground with children playing. The voice-over favourably compares comprehensives with grammar schools in terms of quality of education and the variety of courses offered. Pupils are shown arriving at school and going into the 'morning act of worship'; they sing a hymn in this assembly, then file out (the film is careful to show that the more modern schools have not deserted the religious foundations of the older education system). Students are seen walking around the school; into the playground in a large group, boys in blazers, shirts and ties walking down a spiral staircase, girls wearing dresses and carrying satchels walking down internal stairs. Students are seen in art class, painting abstract pictures (reminiscent of Mondrian). Other pupils are shown sculpting (and modelling for same - both girls), and making pottery (boys). A collection of the students' art is seen on a bench by a window, left to dry; two boys bring over the head seen being sculpted out of clay. Pupils are next seen working in a chemistry lab ( this is definitely a mixed school, unlike the grammar school), and then we see a pupil drilling a hole through a piece of wood and shaking off the shavings. A boy looks through a microscope at a slide; another draws carefully onto a map.
Pupils in a geography lesson go to the front of the class while the teacher indicates a globe. Pupils study maths while the voice-over assures us that the 'equipment is of the highest order and the schools are well-staffed with specialist teachers'.
Outside, in a display of the more physical side to the curriculum, boys dressed only in shorts run forward carrying javelins and throw them; we see one of them landing at an angle in the ground. In the gym, other activities are going on; we see boys swinging from ropes, vaulting and trampolining. On a football pitch, boys are playing soccer; then there are brief shots of older boys carrying a boat for competitive rowing away from the water, girls playing hockey, a goal being scored on the football pitch and boys throwing the discus.
Once again emphasising the combination of physical and intellectual pursuits (presumably, given the classical elements, an exposition of the principle of 'mens sana in corpore sano'), an elegant female teacher in a simple flowery dress wearing a string of pearls (this seems to be the uniform of the female teachers in the film, so reminiscent is it of the headmistress seen earlier) is reading from a book about Odysseus. She reads a passage describing him throwing the javelin (an explicit link o the earlier scene). Her female students listen, spellbound. Then we see other girls involved in various academic activities; one takes a book out from a large, well-stocked library (it is stamped by the librarian) and others do science.
In a smaller group, sixth-form students are being taught history. They learn about the Industrial Revolution; one of the girls answers a question on the international implications and is looked at (in fact, a little jealously) by other students. Another girl also contributes. The discussion moves onto war, with the teacher opining that education is one of the only ways to reduce the risk of war (a particularly significant observation to make to an audience for whom the second world war was a recent memory). The only male student in the room answers a question, then admits haplessly that he cannot answer the next one; the girls laugh musically and one answers for him (perhaps reading from a book). This scene basically gives a potted history of education from the industrial revolution to the present, describing the rise of secondary education.
We see a series of scenes, in quick succession, recapping the subjects depicted. Pupils (in all subjects both boys and girls, with a few non-white students) are shown doing design, chemistry, metallurgy, academic work, woodwork, geometry, engineering, technology, cooking (the girls, in aprons, making dough and looking enviously at a boy in chef's uniform who is adding the finishing touches to an extravagant dessert), typing (presumably preparation for secretarial work, but boys are doing it too), metalwork, art (lino-printing), printing with a press, chemistry and chess. A black pupil is seen working happily alongside a white student; girls are seen sewing and studying, and one is seen looking thoughtfully (wistfully?) into space.
A girl walks towards a display labelled 'Careers', takes a pamphlet and begins to read about nursing. A boy is seen sitting at a table opposite a male teacher in glasses, being given careers advice. He is given a pamphlet called 'Looking Ahead', and they stand up and shake hands. This new education system not only takes you from infant school to 6th form, it evidently prepares you for life after school as well, through the resources offered by the school and the help of teachers. The teacher shaking hands with his student emphasises the move away from mere Victorian rote learning and obedience into a new era of cooperation and mutual respect.
The credits come up for the orchestra which has played the film's instrumental music. Then the orchestra itself appears, and the camera focuses on various players in turn (in a scene reminiscent of the pan across the pictures on the wall of the music room): violins, French horns, double bass, bassoons and clarinet, then the whole orchestra with the conductor. The end credits appear over the top.


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