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Slate - Slates in Schools 

AT a meeting of the Norfolk Education Committee held on the 23rd ult, a discussion arose on a paragraph in the minutes concerning the proposed abolition of slates in Norfolk schools.

Mr. W. N. Ager said that at a representative meeting of over 500 teachers of Norfolk they were unanimous in condemning the proposed abolition of slates. When slates were properly employed they were of great use. The objection of parents that children wore out their sleeves with their slates only applied to the days when the filthy habit of spitting on the slates obtained. The change would involve an extra expenditure of from £400 to £500 a year.

Mr. H. J. Waters remarked that as an old pupil teacher—(applause)— he felt there was a place for the slate and also for the exercise book.

Ultimately the paragraph about the slates was referred back for further consideration.

In the course of the discussion it was urged that children put lead pencils and penholders into their mouths and though the inspectors objected to slates, the Board of Education had never prohibited their use.

The habit of putting everything capable of accommodation into their mouths is common to all children, and following the same line of argument as the objecters to school slates to its Ultima Thule, there are very few things which would escape condemnation. Lead pencils, penholders, and rulers should certainly be excommunicated if slates are to be. One of the chief reasons why school inspectors denounce slates is that they are in receipt of most substantial salaries, and have to do something to justify these. In magnifying the disadvantages of the slate, they overlook, unintentionally or otherwise, those pertaining to the use of paper. Ignoring the injurious effects the constant use of paper has on the eyesight, the most precious of all senses, what about the extraordinary cost which is entailed thereby. It is not the paper itself but it is in the supplementals. More penholders, more pen nibs, more lead pencils, more ink and last but not least, more time is required. The cost of education is quite high enough without being added to by the "fads" of men who have had no training in elementary schools and are not qualified to advise as to the best methods to be employed therein. Then to compensate for the extra cost, the salaries of a deserving body like the teachers, are tampered with. The rates in Leeds, for example, have been very high and the first step in retrenchment has been to break faith with the teachers and stop their increments. It would have been more equitable to have overhauled the system, to have reduced the local inspectorate and to have done away with the expensive fads such as the excessive use of paper. The school slate is cheap, portable and handy and if each child were given its own, the danger of infection would be minimised.

A rhymester in the Daily Mail thus wittily commented on the committee's decision :
Dear slate, I beg for you a little grace,
Some small abatement of reforming zeal.
How sweet it was when o'er the well-smirched face
The gritty pencil drove with cheerful squeal;
And with what pains I laboured still to draw
The high-pitched note that memory still preserves,
That I might flick the tyrant on the raw
And lacerate a flagellator's nerves.

That the opinions of the "cranks" and "faddists" are not shared by the entire medical profession is borne out by the following paragraph which appeared in a Welsh contemporary. "There are two views as to the desirability of abolishing the slate from the elementary schools. Some doctors think that from a health point of view it would be better to use paper; others opine otherwise. Messrs. Dixon and Co, the well-known Welsh slate manufacturers, have gone to the trouble of asking the medical men attached to the elementary schools to reconsider the question from a hygienic point of view, and they submit the opinions of other medical men on the point. Among these, the views of Dr. Peter Fraser, late medical officer for Carnarvonshire, is worthy of note. He states that slates may be so used in schools as to present as little danger to the health of the scholars as the other substitutes, viz., paper, sand-boards, and even possibly less. The fact that the writing slate is non-absorbent and consequently can be easily cleansed and disinfected is a great advantage in numerous instances when it is necessary to disinfect schoolrooms and their contents after infectious material has obtained access to the school. On the other hand, paper which has been infected in any way, possibly while in process of manufacture or while being distributed or used, cannot be efficiently disinfected. Paper has to my knowledge been the means of conveying dangerous infection to others."

"M. D." writing on this subject to the Eastern Daily Press says:—In reference to a paragraph under the above heading, included in the report of a meeting of the Norfolk Education Committee published in your columns recently, I notice that a member of the committee stated that one of the reasons why it was proposed to abolish slates in the schools was that they were not hygienic. Reference was also made to the habit of some children of spitting on their slates, and it was implied that this was a thing of the past.

The latter assertion, I venture to think, would be somewhat difficult to substantiate; needless to say it would be severely condemned by the teachers. But at the same time it is impossible for the latter to be always on the watch for the objectionable practice, and seeing that it affords the readiest means of cleansing the slate there is little doubt that school children are frequently guilty of it. And even if they do not actually spit, it is beyond dispute that they commonly breathe on their slates to facilitate cleansing operations, and this is only one degree less harmful than spitting. The danger of the common habit of putting slate pencils in their mouths was illustrated recently by the Bournemouth School Medical Officer, who succeeded in cultivating the diphtheria bacillus from the slate pencils belonging to a class in one of the schools. From these facts it must be obvious that the contention that slates are not hygienic has a certain amount of justification.

Whether, however, it is necessary to incur the expense of £400 to £500 per annum, involved in the abolition of slate is another matter. Providing they were properly disinfected there would be very little danger in their use, and their disinfection might be effected without very much difficulty, and at nothing like the cost of their abolition. If a supply of disinfectant solution were provided and the children taught to use this for cleansing their slates there would be very little danger of infection. The danger of infection through the common use of pencils, some of which may have been in the mouth of a child suffering from a diphtheritic throat might with equal facility be overcome by placing the pencils in the same solution for a few minutes at the conclusion of school. Neither of these measures would involve any great trouble or expense, and they would, without doubt, exercise a decided effect against the spread of infectious disease.

Source: The Slate Trade Gazette, 1909

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