School standards – a perspective from 1949 and 2011.

An Old Boy of the School recently sent me a letter which his parents had kept. I copy it in full below. It was from the Headmaster, Mr Reynolds, to all parents and was sent in January 1949. I thought it is worth sharing with a wider audience.
At first reading much of it is fairly shocking to a modern audience in that the Headmaster is clearly stepping into the territory of telling parents how to run their family lives. It suggests that they should be going to church and it also tells them how to organise their son’s time in the evening.
However, there are a number of themes though which do still ring true for a modern audience. It started with a plea to boys not to let down the good name of the School. As Mr Reynolds said: “If only a few boys misbehave, the good name of the school suffers.” This remains true to this day and all schools rely on their pupils to enhance their reputation. This is as true today as it was in 1949.
He goes on to stress the importance of self-discipline. This lies at the heart of any code of conduct and again this is incredibly relevant to schools in our own era. Far too often there are times when a pack mentality takes over and this sense of self-responsibility is lost. Those that develop this self-discipline are fortunately the vast majority in my own school.
The section on catering is clearly less relevant today yet with talk of the effect of rationing and food price increases it perhaps gives us a sense of perspective on how lucky we are today.
He goes on to talk about school uniform. We are far more tolerant today but the smart dress and appearance that we insist upon does play its part in setting the tone for our work here at school. In schools more generally there has been a return to uniform in recent years and whilst we all have to work at ensuring that uniform is worn correctly it does give a sense of pride in the School, perhaps not in terms of the everyday uniform, but certainly in the various school-branded items of kit which the boys wear for their sport.
Finally there is a plea for the boys at the time to spend more time on their homework. This was the case even before the widespread availability of TV, computers, Playstations and the like. I guess though that this message does still ring true today. So too does the plea for more time to be spent on reading. This lay behind our Year of Reading last year. It also shows though that what goes around, comes around in education. Sadly, this year with higher university tuition fees on the horizon it has never been more important for pupils to gain the best possible exam results and competition for university places is intense. Thus, there is a real imperative for students now to heed this message above all others.
Schools and society in general have clearly moved on in so many different ways but the basic message of the importance of hard work, self-discipline and the importance of shared core standards remains as valuable today as they were back then.
I hope that you will find the letter interesting, as always I welcome your comments…

Dear Parent,
At a time when press and pulpit join in lamenting the manners and morals of the youth of today, there is some ground for misgiving about the behaviour of our own boys. Without doubt they bear comparison with those of other schools, but with the advantages they enjoy this is only to be expected, and parents will agree that we must not be satisfied with a relative standard of morals and conduct.
This problem is the concern of all parents as well of the School. Though the latter may seem to be chiefly concerned with school hours, the most important school rule states that ‘conduct at any time or place likely to bring discredit on the school is a breach of discipline’. If only a few boys misbehave, the good name of the school suffers, and every boy is affected, since there is a lasting advantage of belonging to a school of high reputation. On the other hand, a good home influence is felt by other boys besides those living in the home.
For some time I have been disappointed by the bearing of some boys when passing through the streets; both their appearance and their behaviour have left much to be desired. Experience has shown that the dinner hour is a time when boys are specially liable to get into mischief, and the reputation of the school has suffered through recent misconduct.
When in the Prep. School, boys who stay for dinner are under continuous supervision, but as they rise up the school more freedom is given, for sooner or later they must learn self-discipline. It is evident, however, that too much liberty is given in the dinner hour, at any rate to juniors, and steps are being taken to apply a measure of control, as indicated in the accompanying circular.
It is not practicable to compel all boys who do not go home at mid-day to take dinner in the school dining room. In the first place the accommodation is limited and it is difficult to serve more than 400 boys on any day. Secondly, some parents may not be able to afford it.
The dining room has made a loss in two successive years; reductions in the allowance of rationed food and increases in the costs of other foods and of services now compel us to increase the daily charge in order that we may maintain the standard and quality of the diet. On occasions the boys describe the dinner served at school in unfavourable terms, which are too readily accepted by parents. Like the meals served at home, the school dinners have their limitations, but the twenty masters who daily take exactly the same dinner as the boys are quite sure that the meal is excellent value in both quality and quantity.
The standard of turn-out is much worse as a result of the temporary relaxation for seniors of the rules of school uniform, and it is time to tighten these again. Some boys come to school in showy sports coats, in bright coloured pullovers up to the neck, and in trousers that are certainly not grey, though smart and durable grey tweed suits are not obtainable. Other boys seem singularly reluctant to wear the school cap, possibly because they are vain about their hair which they wear at ridiculous length. Caps and cap badges are frequently dirty and require the attention of cleaners, whose charges are very moderate; younger boys are seen with their stockings around their ankles for lack of simple wool or elastic garters. In general, boys could well take more pride in personal neatness, which in turn would give them more pride in their school.
Finally it seems to me that many parents, especially those of the seniors, are not exercising sufficient control over their sons in the evening. It is evident that some boys are not spending as much time as they should on their homework, and are frittering away their evenings at clubs, cinemas and entertainments, or are at liberty to go where they like. The school’s curriculum of work, games and societies is designed to occupy most of a boy’s time during the term. One evening a week is enough for outside amusements, and much more time might well be spent at home on general reading or on hobbies.
I feel it my duty to add that in my personal opinion regular attendance at a place of worship, preferably with his parents, helps to equip a boy to meet the problems and temptations which he cannot avoid during school life and beyond it.
In the past parents have shown in no uncertain way their readiness to work with the school in such matters, and the purpose of this letter is to strengthen this co-operation. I trust that you will welcome these suggestions, and act on them where necessary.
Mr C. L. Reynolds January 1949