Newbolt (1921)

1921 Newbolt Report (text)

The Newbolt Report (1921)
The Teaching of English in England

Background notes

Historical context

In May 1919 the President of the Board of Education, HAL Fisher, appointed a Departmental Committee:

To inquire into the position occupied by English (Language and Literature) in the educational system of England, and to advise how its study may best be promoted in schools of all types, including Continuation Schools, and in Universities, and other Institutions of Higher Education, regard being had to
(1) the requirements of a liberal education;
(2) the needs of business, the professions, and public services; and
(3) the relation of English to other studies.
The Chair of the Committee, Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938) (pictured) was a barrister with a complicated family life: he and his wife, Margaret Duckworth, were both lovers of another woman, Ella Coltman.

He is best known for his poetry, mostly patriotic nautical ballads. His most famous poem, Vitai Lampada (The torch of life), describes how a young soldier learned his sense of duty during school cricket matches. It begins: 'There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night'.

In June 2013, retired English lecturer Peter Higginson launched a campaign to have a statue of Sir Henry erected at his birthplace in Bilston.

The thirteen members of the Committee, who also included the prolific writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944), sat on 42 days, and a sub-committee met on 18 days. They presented their report to Fisher in 1921.

Other reports on the teaching of English include:

Bullock (1975) A language for life;
Kingman (1988) The Teaching of English Language;
Cox (1989) English for ages 5 to 16;
Warwick (1994) Implementation of English in the National Curriculum; and
Ofsted (2012) Moving English forward.

Summary of the report's main recommendations

The report listed 105 recommendations including:

  • every teacher is a teacher of English;
  • elementary schools should teach all their pupils to speak standard English using phonetics;
  • oral work is the foundation on which proficiency in the writing of English must be based;
  • children should be practised, not only in the art of speaking and reading, but also in the art of listening;
  • up to the age of 12 at least one period a day should be devoted to English and pupils should be made familiar with a body of fine poetry;
  • between ages 14 and 16 the study of English should not be subordinate to that of science or foreign languages;
  • from 16 to 18 some study of the growth and development of the English language would be preferable to a course in Old English;
  • pupils specialising in maths or science should be taught to use English accurately;
  • advanced courses should offer more opportunities for studying English;
  • senior English teachers should have the same powers as senior teachers of maths, science, or modern languages;
  • the needs of business are best met by a liberal education - 'commercial English' is objectionable and unnecessary;
  • in junior evening courses the study of English should be broadly interpreted;
  • day continuation schools should have lending libraries and the teaching of literature should include reading aloud, recitation, and dramatic performances;
  • in commercial and technical schools there should be greater emphasis on the teaching English;
  • local education authorities should provide courses on the teaching of English for supplementary teachers;
  • the standard of English required for admission to training colleges should be raised and selected students should be encouraged to make a special study of English in a third year course;
  • more elementary school teachers should have a full university training;
  • local education authorities should promote English courses and establish central libraries for teachers;
  • in university examinations the status of English should be raised;
  • English should be a qualifying subject in all matriculation examinations;
  • a Standing Committee should be appointed to co-ordinate the various stages of research in English and the degrees awarded, and to promote the use of the great libraries;
  • if the exportation of early printed books and manuscripts cannot be prevented, photographic facsimiles of them should be kept in the principal libraries of the United Kingdom;
  • more readerships, fellowships, and lectureships in English are needed;
  • local education authorities and universities should cooperate to promote adult education in English;
  • the grammar taught in schools should be pure grammar closely allied with phonetics, the terminology used should be that recommended in the Report of the Joint Committee on Grammatical Terminology, and no attempt should be made to teach 'English' grammar as distinct from 'pure' grammar;
  • the examination system should focus on English as a means of communication rather than on tests in grammar, analysis and spelling;
  • in the First School Examination a comprehension test should be compulsory, candidates for the Second School Examination should be tested in the understanding and use of English, and University Scholarship Examinations candidates should not be allowed to sacrifice competency in the use of English to the attainment of a high standard of achievement in other subjects;
  • literature teachers should be free to draw up their own syllabuses and adopt their own methods;
  • the reading and acting of plays should be encouraged in schools of all types and in training colleges;
  • universities should consider offering a Diploma in Dramatic Art and establishing Chairs in Dramatic Literature;
  • public library committees and local education committees should cooperate to ensure the availability of good literature;
  • every elementary school should have its own library;
  • in secondary schools the provision of a good library is at least as important as the provision of a good laboratory;
  • in all schools the reading of the Bible should not be confined to the time set apart for religious instruction.

The report online

The full text of the report (including the Appendices), from the 1926 reprint, is presented in a single web page.

I have corrected a handful of printing errors and removed the hyphens from time-table, to-day and class-room. Otherwise, I have left spelling and capitalisation as printed - including various inconsistencies (recognise and recognize, connection and connexion, university and University etc).

I have modernised (and corrected) some of the punctuation. Extraordinarily for a report on English, there is confusion between direct and reported speech, with examples of the latter sometimes incorrectly enclosed in speech marks. I have left these as printed.

I have added explanations to a few archaic words. Anything added by way of explanation is shown [in square brackets].

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 19 February 2011; they were revised on 11 November 2012.