James Lumsden was the first Inspector of Special Schools in England, appointed in 1931. As we see in notes of an interview by Maurice Bridgeland which is also presented on PETiTathon2015! Day Three [CLICK HERE], James Lumsden had definite views on many things, including Bodenham Manor School, which opened under the auspices of the Birmingham Society for the Care of Invalid and Nervous Children in 1948; and on David Wills, Bodenham's first Warden, hand-picked and head-hunted by the late Founder of the Birmingham Society, Frank Mathews [CLICK HERE].
In the notes of an interview Maurice which Bridgeland held with Mr. Lumsden during the course of researching his "Pioneering Work With Maladjusted Children", Maurice Bridgeland records:
"He also considered as a school too far out of touch with the requirements of society at large. He suggested, however, that D. Wills was less than fair in attributing its failure, to some extent, to administrative hostility." [For the full interview notes, CLICK HERE]
David Wills' response
In Part 3 "Fulfilment", Chapter 16 "Bodenham Manor School" of his unpublished Autobiography, held in the Archive and transcribed by volunteer Helen Moore, David Wills gives his view:
At Bodenham now was reconstituted the spirit and atmosphere that had animated Barns, but with better premises, better equipment, and with staff who were more highly trained and more numerous, with a hope of permanence which Barns did not have in its early days – and with girls as well as boys. I found the little girls to be charming creatures, even maladjusted girls, and they imparted to the place a sparkle and a flux that are entirely absent from a male community. I found them also more demanding than the boys, much more excitable, their noise much more insupportable than male noise, and in all a great burden to the spirit, bless them. They were also the cause of my first issue with the managers over a question of principle.
From the time the school opened I attended the meeting of the managers (rarely held at the school) as a matter of course, though this privilege was not extended to Ruth, and at a very early meeting we were told of a statement recently made by an official of the Ministry of Education. It was to the effect that if we were to run a co-educational school, the boys would have to leave at “eleven-plus”. I do not propose to discuss the pros and cons of this fatuous regulation – I have done that elsewhere [In “Throw Away Thy Rod”, Gollancz 1960]. Here I am concerned with the attitude of the Managers. Throughout the five years we had been in touch with the Ministry it had been clearly understood that our proposal was to run a school for boys and girls, and never at any time had they raised any objection or suggested any qualification. All our plans – duly approved by them - had been made on this basis, and now, suddenly, at the moment of starting, this bombshell fell among us. I was for opposing it forthwith. “Tell them”, I said, “That they should have mentioned this earlier. It’s too late now.
If they had told us before we would have made different dispositions – probably we should have made it a one-sex school. But now, our plans being made, and all with their full knowledge and approval, we propose to go ahead with them.” I was astonished and grieved by the attitude of the managers. The idea of doing anything except tamely submitting to the instructions of civil servants seemed to them to be the sin against the Holy Ghost. I tried in my diffident way to get them to see that even civil servants are men even as we are. They could not kill us or clap us into gaol. Indeed there was nothing they could do if we would but stand up to them and show them our mettle. They had given us thousands of pounds and were not likely to shut us down with all that money invested. They had, it is true, the power to dismiss managers, but they were hardly likely to take so drastic a step with all that right on our side, and I reminded them how much these people dreaded publicity. Resist them now, I said, and we shall win. Let it go by default, and we are defeated. But of course the issue was not real to the managers. Few of them cared tuppence whether we were co-educational or not. The Business Man urged caution. “Wait till we have a case in point”, he counselled, Oh so moderately, “and then take it up with them”. And because these dear suburban ladies knew that Business Men cannot be wrong about these “practical affairs”, and that I was a wild and unpractical visionary, this prudent course was decided upon. Who was it said, “Prudence, prudence, the deadly virtue”? It killed us all right. Instead of a short, sharp battle in which we should have won the day, the managers retreated to prepared positions and accepted a war of attrition which we were bound to lose and did lose. After six years we became a boys’ school, to the school’s great loss and my bitter disappointment.
This misfortune was brought upon us because of the undue deference that is paid to what is vaguely called “business”.
And thou shalt sell thy wares for thrice the Damascene retailer’s price
And buy a fat Armenian slave that smelleth odorous and nice
Some men of noble stock are made: some glory in the murder-blade
Some praise a Science or an Art, but I like honourable Trade!
Sell them the rotten, buy the ripe! Their heads are weak; their pockets burn
Alleppo men are mighty fools. Salaam Aleikum, Safe Return!
Some men are naturally good at that sort of thing, but I have never been able to discover why it is so widely assumed that if he is good at that, it follows that he is good at everything else! I am inclined to believe, on the other hand, that it is very much a special ability like a good eye in a ball game, which a person may have and still be a great fool in other respects. But that may be just sour grapes. What does remain a fact however is that on every question that was discussed at manager’s meetings, the word of the business men was the authoritative word, and when that had been said there was no more to be said.
Hence it came about that no manager raised the slightest objection when one of these gentlemen (he called himself a “silk mercer”) habitually hectored and bullied me at manager’s meetings, without having ever the slightest provocation. They all understood of course that this was how the Great Man treated his shop-girls, and it seems never to have occurred to them to be ashamed to associate with a man who treated his shop-girls – or anyone else - in such a way. Neither did I protest, which might seem rather odd because when my immediate superior at the Ministry of Labour had displayed a tendency to treat me in that way I had given him such a blistering, in front of his entourage, that he never dared to do it again. The difference was that I really did not mind very much what happened to the Rehabilitation Unit, nor to me in relation to it, but I did care very deeply what happened at Bodenham Manor, and I felt that I could only hope to achieve the fruition of the plans laid by Frank and myself if I established with the managers the same happy and friendly relationship that I had always enjoyed with my previous committees. Unless I could achieve that relationship I feared that I might not be able to carry them with me in certain directions which might seem to them to be novel, experimental and perhaps even frightening. My line therefore was to offer no opinion on matters that I considered to be of no moment, disagree with nothing, argue about nothing, unless they wanted to do something that would interfere with my work in its integral essence. Only then would I venture to express any disagreement with them, but when I did my attitude should be clear and unmistakable – as it was over the question of co-education.
See that your feet offend not, nor lightly lift your head
Tread softly on the sunlit roads the bright dust of the dead.
Let your own feet be shod with peace, be lowly all your lives,
But if they touch the charter ye shall nail it with your knives.
It was bad luck that I had to start “defending the charter” so early (and so unsuccessfully) over the matter of the girls, but thereafter they had their head for a time. The Chairman hectored and I suffered it. They wanted to arrange at committee meetings all the admissions and discharges of pupils, and I suffered that – I know of no other principal who does. The poor dears would sit round a table simply littered with forms and documents and papers and reports, most of which they were quite unable to understand until eventually, after much confusion and tossing about of foolscap sheets the clever little creatures decided to admit (or discharge) exactly those children my colleagues and I had already decided to admit – or discharge. Very many decisions were reached which I considered fatuous or worse, or an unwarrantable infringement of my duties as head of the school, but so long as they did not “touch the charter” I took it all with a smile. They wanted to control finance by sanctioning in advance every petty little piece of expenditure, from a pound of sugar to a length of cloth for girls’ frocks, and as that was clearly not practicable I showed them how we could budget for a year ahead, and then each month compare expenditure with the estimate both for that month and cumulatively in each category, thereby keeping a close eye on what was happening to the money. They were delighted with this, the business man so much so that in a few weeks he had convinced himself (and probably his colleagues) that he had invented the whole thing, and I smiled up my sleeve. Later on, when a new business man swam into their ken they started sending him down to the school toward the end of the financial year “to help Mr. Wills with the budgeting”. I had prepared estimates, here and elsewhere, for many years without help, but never mind, if it pleased them! His way of “helping” was to take my draft and run through it lopping off £20 here, £50 there, which was very disconcerting the first time it happened because I was not prepared for it and had prepared the estimates with my customary accuracy and probity (if I may with modesty so describe it). In future however I let probity slide (in this respect at least) and just added the twenties and the fifties for him to lop off, and everybody was happy. This was not as easy as I have made it seem because my budget had to be related to our income, and that income was always a good deal lower than it should have been because of the managers’ pathological reluctance to increase fees. That was my perpetual quarrel with the business men. They said, “If you can’t make ends meet, cut your expenses”. I said, “If, after taking every care to avoid wasting money it is clear you have not enough money to do the job you set out to do, then you must get more money.” Their view was based on the customary assumption of business men that of course the staff are profligate wasters of other people’s money; mine on the knowledge that we were already practicing the utmost frugality – in which I had had a great deal of experience. I did on one occasion persuade them to ask the Ministry for permission to raise the fees. The Ministry, when they examined the circumstances, told the managers they’d better increase fees by twice the sum suggested (or was it three times? I forget.) The reader will not of course be so ingenuous as to suppose that I was no longer under the suspicion of being a profligate waster of the committee’s funds. He will know (unless he is very young and ingenuous) that the one sin that is unforgiveable is the sin of being vindicated, and that sin I had committed in the most flagrant way.
So then, I supported their ignorance, their fatuities, their baseless suspicions of incompetence, their attempts to do my job for me, strove my utmost to make friends of them – and defended the charter!
Charity, Paul of Tarsus tells, suffers long and is kind. He does not mention that the longer one suffers the more difficult it may be, in the end, to be kind. If one is too long-suffering, as Ruth used to tell me I was, one risks an explosion, and I very nearly went up in the air when they tried quietly to dispense with Ruth’s services while she was convalescing after a hysterectomy.
In all this long catalogue of woes there was one aspect of the managers’ uncomprehending attitude which touched me at a deeper level and on a more sensitive spot than any of the others, and it was one on which I was constantly having to bite the bullet. It became clear quite early on that they had no conception of Ruth’s vital role in the whole set-up, as a loving mother-figure, herself the object of feelings the children transferred to her from their own mothers – feelings highly charged with a variety of emotions. This role, and the sensitive and skilled way in which she filled it, was much more important than any of the actual things she did, many and diverse though they were. I tried my best to explain to them how integral her position was, only to be asked, constantly, “But what does she do?”, until it was at length, incredibly borne in upon me that they thought she was as idle as I was extravagant. But I still smiled, provided catalogues of how she filled her very long day, though my failure to blow up at them made me feel so disloyal to my wife as to be downright treacherous. Even when it became clear that they proposed quietly to dispose of her services without providing a substitute I did not blow up, but I did react strongly. I reminded the secretary that according to the Trust Deed (so lovingly and carefully drawn up by Frank who must have foreseen this possibility) they could not get rid of Ruth or me without a specially convened meeting and a two-thirds majority, and if such a meeting were to be called I should resist the suggestion most strongly, reminding her of the business man’s offensive words when we were appointed …. “A joint job. If one goes the other goes.” No such meeting was called, and my explosion was deferred to another occasion.
That occasion I must recall if only for the pleasure its recollection gives me. It was when the school had been running about five years that I got a letter asking me to speak at a special meeting. New members had been appointed in recent years, she said, both to the committee of the Society, and to the managers. Some of them had never heard me describe my work, and had very little idea what it was all about, while those who did know something about it could do with a “refresher”. Both groups were therefore going to be summoned together so that I could talk to them about it.
It seemed to me quite intolerable that anyone should ever have been invited to join either body unless he had first a clear understanding of what it was all about and was strongly in sympathy with it. This evidence that no precautions were taken to see that only sympathisers with Frank’s ideals were ever given power over the work that grew from them exasperated me, and I decided that I would stage a deliberate explosion. I thought it over very carefully and discussed it with Ruth. We decided that it would be foolish to allow this unique opportunity to pass, and I must tell the whole boiling of them, clearly and calmly, exactly what I thought about them. I prepared a speech – no hieroglyphic notes this time – every word was carefully typed out, after which I put it away for a few days and tried to forget about it. Then I read it through as something fresh, to make sure that this was what I – and indeed Ruth – wanted to say; and it was. I spent hours rehearsing it so that there could be no fumbling or stammering, so that I could look at them and not my script; so that I could look steadily into the eye of anyone for whom a barb was specially intended. I have a good voice, and my love of poetry has taught me to read clearly and effectively, and, thanks to the rehearsals, I do not think a single dart missed its target. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would like to reproduce it all, but it is pretty stale now, and only parts of it - if any - are reproducible. But I cannot forbear to quote a few passages. Every time I said something that the chief business man found particularly hard to take, he gave a furious rattle of the keys and coins in his pocket, so I soon found myself listening for it as evidence that I had scored another bullseye…
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You have all been kind enough to assemble here for no other purpose than to listen to me, and I have been told what it is you want me to talk about. That you, who are all busy people, should do this, is an honour that I appreciate, but it is also an opportunity that is not likely to recur, and I should be very foolish if I did not make the utmost possible use of it. I propose therefore to exceed somewhat the terms of reference that you have given me, and so that you may not be led by the provocative nature of some of my remarks to imagine that I am speaking hastily, I have gone to the unusual length of writing it all down.
What I do not understand is this; I do not understand how this occasion comes to be necessary. On the one hand I cannot understand how anyone consents to serve the school as a manager without first informing himself of the principles for which the school stands. On the other hand I cannot understand why the parent body – the Society – does not take pains to see that it nominates as managers only people who are known to have a predilection for the kind of methods I was employed to use.
I should not like to be misunderstood about this. I do not imagine there are dozens of people already familiar in detail with those methods, standing by with their tongues hanging out waiting to snatch up such an invitation. What I mean is that the principles on which the work is based imply a certain philosophy of life, quite apart from any technical considerations. The kind of person who is likely to be a supporter of these principles belongs to a certain well-defined category. His political philosophy – and of course I am not thinking about party politics – his political philosophy is likely to be libertarian and radical rather than authoritarian and conservative. In religion he is likely to incline to humanism or mysticism. He is the sort of person who sees education as the development by natural growth of what is already there rather than in the attempt to mould human beings into a preconceived pattern. I often meet such people, and when I attempt to explain our work to them they can meet me more than half-way, saying “Just so, that’s right, that’s what I feel, that fits in with my philosophy of life,” – even if they have never heard of maladjusted children. They do not need to be converted. They do not need technical knowledge. Such a man was Frank Mathews, such a man was your late president Harrison Barrow. What I find it difficult to understand is why the Society does not seek its managers from among that type of person. Perhaps it does. Perhaps I cannot see the wood for the trees. But if it does, there are many things that are inexplicable to me, including this meeting today.
There are many other schools for maladjusted children, and their number is increasing. Many of them are simply boarding schools instead of day schools and that is all that can be said of them. The usual subjects are taught in the usual way with perhaps a special accent on craft work. The children are kept fully occupied and not allowed to get into mischief. They are subjected to a discipline that is not by ordinary standards objectionable. It is firm, authoritarian, but not repressive. The children seem happy and it is hoped that they will form good habits and go home cured.
They do not begin to touch the problem. I cannot prove this with figures because there are none; the schools are too new. But if I did not hold that conviction with the utmost firmness I should certainly not have had the strength to persist in our more arduous way. The head of one of these school said to Howard Jones, our former head teacher, “I’ve read Wills’s book. I believe every word he says. That is the way I should like to run my school, but it is too hard for me”. The more such people can see it being done the hard way the more likely they are to overcome their fear and lethargy.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
At the heart of the problem is the lack of love. Therefore love must be at the heart of the cure. Whatever else we do we must make each child feel that he is loved. We, who have no blood relationship with the child, must provide what in many cases the parents failed to provide. To put it in another way, the maladjusted child has never learned to form relationships – what the psychiatrist calls affective relationships – with other people – with other people. That is what he has to learn while he is with us, and he can only learn from experience.
That is why I regret that we have to call our institution a school. First and foremost it is a home in which my wife and I are surrogate parents. We are trying to provide a substitute for the home that failed, not for the school that failed. That is why we do not need a teacher – why in my view it is better not to have a teacher – for the head. This does not mean that the head needs to be any less qualified for his job, than are his teaching colleagues for theirs. Of course he must be equally highly qualified, but the qualifications are different, and I think you will feel, with me, that it is a gross injustice if such a person, who also carries the heaviest responsibility, is less highly valued in terms of cash than his teaching colleagues. To be told – as I was – that in being paid less than my immediate subordinate I was very generously treated, is an offence against good manners as well as against equity.
I must say something about the general internal policy of the school, which differs from many and which we believe to be superior to most, and I must begin with some reference to my wife’s place in it. In spite of efforts that have been made to remove it, I cannot escape the impression that my wife is regarded, at least by some people, as a kind of appendix which could be removed without serious harm to the organism as a whole. No such surgical operation has yet been attempted, but there has been one serious attempt to disperse the appendix. Let me now try to disperse any misconceptions about my wife’s job.
I am not the head of Bodenham Manor; my wife and I are its joint heads. At the very beginning it was impressed upon us, in an almost threatening way, that ours was a joint appointment, and I ask for nothing better. We are the right and left hands of the organism, but we try to defy the well-known injunction about right and left hands. We have always worked thus, and until we came to Birmingham it had always been assumed by our employers that my wife’s contribution was different but equally valuable with mine, and her presence was required at committees. Indeed she was usually a member of the committee concerned.
I hope I have not been talking like a man with a chip on his shoulder. I do not think I am naturally the chip-bearing type, but I could not resist this opportunity to compare my hopes and expectations of nine years ago with the somewhat disappointing realities. In doing so I’m sure I’ve over-emphasised the disappointments because, ladies and gentlemen, whatever flaws may lurk, whatever warpings past the aim, we have done something not only for the fifty-odd children that have passed through our hands, but, as I said before, for all unhappy and maladjusted children everywhere. Your school is famous. Famous not only in this country, but throughout the world. From the five continents people of nearly every race and colour and creed have visited Bodenham Manor in the last five years to see the things that are being done there. They will continue to come. Let us see to it that what they see when they come will fill them with enthusiasm to do like things in their own country and for their own children.
Whether any discussion followed these stirring words I do not recall, but I should surely have remembered if it had been of any significance. My impression is that they just sat there in stunned silence. What I do recall however is that a few days later I received a letter from the secretary to the effect that the committee took the strongest exception to the tone of my remarks and that, in short, I was not to be impertinent again.
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