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Corps of Army Schoolmasters

A change occurred in the Royal Military Asylum in 1846 as evidenced in the records. Taken as accurate, conclusions drawn from the records are open to many interpretations. With this caveat, the evidence points to preparations being made from as early as 1836 for changes planned for the institution. A decision to close the Southampton branch of the RMA meant that girls would no longer be admitted to the Asylum. This decision came from the Privy Council and was carried out by the board. At the same time, space was made available at the Chelsea premises to create an army schoolmaster training college. The result would be a revolutionary change in the whole system of education used by the Army, so it is worth reviewing the system in use for almost half a century.

Total Population

Table showing the reduction in entrants of females to the Asylum from 1836 to 1846

When the Asylum opened in 1803, the military authorities adopted Joseph Lancaster's monitorial system of teaching. Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838) was a member of the Society of Friends and, with other progressive intellectuals of the late 18th Century, was deeply interested in educating the masses. He wrote a convincing paper on monitorial teaching which gained him an audience with George III. The King, greatly impressed with Lancaster's treatise, persuaded his son Frederick, Duke of York, to join a committee of Quakers, Roman Catholics, non-conformists and secularists to foster education for the under-privileged mass of the population.

The Duke of York, as commander-in-chief of the Army, had among other innovative ideas created the Royal Military Asylum, Chelsea, as a haven for the children of fallen soldiers in the war with France. He laid the foundation stone in 1801 and the Asylum opened its doors in 1803. Being a member of Lancaster's committee as well as chairman of the board of commissioners of the new Asylum, it is not surprising that he should authorize the use of Joseph Lancaster's system of monitorial teaching. Under this system a teacher taught a select group of up to ten monitors who, in turn, delivered to their fellow students the lesson that they themselves had been taught; hence the name, monitorial teaching.

Dr. Andrew Bell (1753-1832), founder of the Madras system of education, arrived in London from India where he had been the superintendent of an orphanage in the city of Madras. Bell's system, which he had introduced in 1789, was similar to that of Joseph Lancaster. It promoted self instruction among the pupils of the orphanage. By 1807, Bell's Madras system replaced the system that had been in use in the RMA, Chelsea, from the year opened. Bell had the backing of the Bishop of London, who sat on the board of the Asylum. By the time Bell arrived on the scene, the Duke of York had become disenchanted with the Lancaster committee and left, so Dr. Bell found it easy to replace his rival in monitorial education.

Bell was also a shrewd entrepreneur. Through his powerful lobby through the Bishop of London, he established contact with parish church councils throughout the country, particularly in the midlands and the north. He used trained monitors from the Chelsea institution to help parishes far and wide start their own schools using his system. In fact, the army did the same thing to promote education in regimental units both at home and overseas. Boys of 12, 13 and 14 years of age were sent to regiments throughout the home and overseas commands to introduce the monitorial system of education. They were sent to units of the Duke of Wellington's Peninsular Army, safe in its winter quarters behind the lines of Torres Vedras (1810), to Upper Canada (now Ontario), India, Malta, the Caribbean and the West Indies. For how many years the dispersal of student monitors from the Asylum went on is not known. In any case, such was the deep entrenchment of monitorial teaching during the first forty-odd years of the RMA's existence. The winds of change, however, began blowing from the time the last girls left in 1845.

The force behind the drastic changes about to take place was Fox Maule Ramsay (1801-1874). After a spell in the army, Ramsay became the member of parliament for Perthshire in 1835, and quickly rose to a position of influence in the government. He was under secretary of state for home affairs (1835-1841) and, as a member of the privy council achieved a position of power. Ramsay it was who, as secretary at war (1846 to 1852) was the prime mover who brought about the changes that led to the creation of the corps of army schoolmasters. He addressed a number of questions on the subject of education to the RMA board of commissioners, questions designed to enlist the board's assistance in changing the climate of education instruction. The board's answers were not helpful and discouraged the idea of using the institution as a training establishment. These answers being given, the office of the secretary-at-war specified what changes were to take place.

It engaged two scholars to start an ecole normale (a teacher training school after a French model begun at the end of the 18th Century; hence the name ecole normale) and a 'model school' at which the student teachers could practice what they had been taught in the ecole normale. Dr Walter McLeod, a graduate of the University of Glasgow and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, was engaged to manage the model school and to introduce a new method of teaching. McLeod was a former headmaster of the Battersea Training School for Teachers and a strong advocate of the methods of Pestalozzi, an internationally recognized authority on education. McLeod had written a number of books including Exercises in Arithmetic for Elementary Schools, which was popular enough to run into many editions. He was required to work closely with Dr. William du Sautoy, an Anglican minister and scholar who was to run the student teacher ecole normale.

In addition to the ecole normale, Dr du Sautoy (St. John's College, Cambridge) was hired to replace the incumbent chaplain, the Rev. George Clarke, and headmaster of the Asylum for over forty years. Clarke was not easily persuaded to leave. He refused to quit his quarters and yield his post. The school authorities lacked the will if not the authority to dismiss him. As a result, it was well over a year before Clarke at last quit the field, leaving du Sautoy and McLeod to develop their programme for producing a corps of reliably-trained schoolmasters.

A selection board was formed to screen volunteers wishing to join the course, which was widely advertised in the national press. A year-long programme had been designed, which did not include long breaks at Christmas, Easter and for the summer period. Although the student teachers were civilians, they followed a military routine and were subject to a strong regimen of discipline. A condition of joining the course was that following graduation they were required to enlist for a period of ten years and be willing to be posted to teach at whatever military unit the authorities chose for them. Postings were to be decided by the office of the secretary at war. Postings could be in the Home Command (which by 1847 included Irish Command) or overseas.

The results of the selection board's screening efforts were not as successful as the authorities might have wished. Of the first 29 students engaged, ten were dismissed, one was publicly expelled; three absconded, one was withdrawn, and another student encouraged to withdraw. In short, of the original 29 taken on, only fourteen graduated to enlist and be posted to units; not a good performance by any measuring stick.

The fact is, going by the register of student (see the sample entries below) attainments, student knowledge of eight subjects listed was abysmally low. Applicants first sat an examination paper that could be taken at any recruiting centre in the country. That meant no standards of examination monitoring were applied; they varied from centre to centre. Hence, the chances of a student having someone else write the paper for him was fairly high. Notes entered in the student register bear out this observation. The register recorded each student's knowledge of the eight subjects on entering the course. They were reading, scripture, English history, ancient history, geography, arithmetic, geometry and algebra. It is not possible to tabulate the wide range of comments, but here is a typical record of subjective entries of what a student knew on joining the course:
Reading – Fair, reads with a Scotch accent (or Welsh or Irish brogue)
Scripture – Good
English history – Fair
Ancient history – Knows nothing
Geography – Poor
Arithmetic – Poor
Geometry – Nil
Algebra – Nil
Not one in twenty of the first seventy candidates accepted had any knowledge of geometry or algebra; few knew anything of ancient history or English history. [The sole candidate who did well, knew Latin and some Greek and had been to college, was permitted to leave when his father bought him a commission.] The general knowledge of geography was also poor. Reading had fair to good notations and those for scripture ranged from fair to good. Reports were sent regularly to the office of the secretary-at-war. Some candidates could not, or would not, find anyone willing to sign the bond required of them to start the course. The authorities needed some guarantee that students would not give up part way through. This problem was solved in time by attracting and selecting a higher quality of candidate. There is also evidence that students had their bonds signed with fewer blanks or exceptions.
Pages 9 and 10 from the Register of Candidates in Training at the Normal School Copyright: Duke of York's Royal Military School
Despite the problems of teaching, of bonding students and enlisting them for military service upon graduation, the programme became increasingly successful. The authorities soon leaned how to choose candidates for training and, over a period of many years, schoolmaster positions for about two hundred battalions, squadrons and batteries were filled.

The Elementary Education Act came into effect in 1870. It was the first nationally financed education system. That a national act had not been legislated before was due to the serious religious differences prevailing in the country during the mid-19th Century and the insistence of the Established Church that children be taught the Anglican catechism. This was not acceptable to the Roman Catholics, the Quakers and some non-conformist groups. There were other reasons, too, why the country was not ready for a national system of elementary education until 1870. Not the least of these was the resistance of working people to have their children attend school when they were needed to help contribute to the family's income as soon as they were old enough to work.

The British Army had made its first foray into education for its rank and file soldiers and their children with the monitorial system of Lancaster and Bell at the beginning of the 19th Century. With the creation of its teacher training school and the model school in 1846, the military authorities pioneered teacher training long before the idea occurred to civil government with enactment of the 1870 Act. The public schools (private schools in the U. S. A.) had long since developed their own education curricula, each to its own standards. Nothing had been attempted on a national scale. It should therefore be no surprise that with the introduction of a national education system trained teachers should be in high demand. Therefore, once those who had been trained by the army and had completed their military service assurance of employment in the national school system was guaranteed.
Non-commissioned officers of the Northamptonshire Regiment in 1896 at Secunderbad, India, where the battalion was then stationed. Schoolmaster D. Gould (on the left) is shown with Sergeant-Major Noon and Bandmaster Pepperell.
The regimental school managed by Schoolmaster Gould with the help of Miss Pinsent, schoolmistress assistant. The munshi in turban shown at the rear right, would have been present to teach Punjabi
Photographs taken by Colour-Sergeant J. Hull
For the first twenty years of their existence, army schoolmasters enjoyed a privileged position. They enjoyed the benefits of belonging to the Sergeant's mess of the unit in which they served, but had no military duties outside their responsibilities for educating soldiers and their children. These privileges did not stop the more vociferous among them from complaining about a variety of conditions that affected their lives and work. Between 1850 and 1900, The Times alone published more than 80 letters from schoolteachers complaining about something.

For example, writing to The Times in July 1861, one correspondent wished to bring to the public's attention an injustice inflicted on army schoolmasters, whom he described as 200 "...zealous, though humble, servants of the crown and country." Humble, however, would not be an adjective one would use to describe the average schoolteacher at any time in the history of the calling. The correspondent wrote to complain that the military authorities were to cancel the Royal warrant issued under Army School Regulations (c1852), which would "reduce army schoolmasters to the position of staff-sergeants, and to treat them as sergeants in every respect." He regarded the cancellation of the warrant as an "...anti-progressive movement to dishonour the instructor..." that would place "educated men" in an invidious position, which would be an indignity to them.

We know from the records that the 200 schoolmasters to whom the correspondent referred were far from 'educated gentlemen' by any standards when most began their course of teacher instruction at the army's expense. They had received the equivalent of a college education in return for ten years of military service, which is not much different from the contemporary practice of requiring military service in return for higher education funded at the public expense.

The Corps of Army Schoolmasters (CAS) became the Army Education Corps (AEC) and was later renamed the Royal Army Education Corps (RAEC). The RAEC was disbanded in 1992. Its officers were transferred to the Educational and Training Services branch of the Adjutant-General Corps (AGC). They retain their links with the RAEC through the ETS/RAEC journal Torch and by the 'torch' emblem on their dress uniforms. The ETS branch is responsible for teaching young soldiers (under 18), giving promotional courses for potential NCOs and courses for officer cadets at the RMA, Sandhurst. In overseas garrisons, ETS staff offer a wide range of educational study to soldiers and their families. All are qualified teachers at the time of their selection or are expected to gain their PGCE(HE) during their first posting. In essence, the contemporary ETS officer is no different from his or her predecessor in the RAEC.

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