New Ideals In Education

New Ideals in Education 1914

(creating a culture and history of children's rights in schools)

In celebration of the community of educationalists, teachers, artists, inspectors, politicians, prison workers, adult education workers, doctors, professors and children who created, looked for, shared and promoted schools based on 'liberating the child'. They met in July 1914 at East Runton as the Montessori Conference, and then onwards met every year as New Ideals in Education.

At every conference they stated their values, written by Percy Nunn, first director of the Institute of Education, and a brief history of the community. These were also stated at the beginning of the comprehensive conference reports, with full lists of all the delegates. Their presenters created or worked in schools that practiced 'liberating the child'. They searched for such practice, and from the third conference added, 'Experiment Days', to share the results. They published these working case studies as pamphlets sent free to all schools and teachers. They influenced practice at the chalk face, they influenced the new education laws, and they influenced the training of teachers.

Prof Michael Fielding explains to George Green's students how Alexander Bloom, part of the New Ideals movement, ran St Georges in the East Secondary School (1945-55), Stepney, as a democratic and co-operative community.

Prof Michael Fielding explains to George Green's students how Alexander Bloom, part of the New Ideals movement, ran St Georges in the East Secondary School (1945-55), Stepney, as a democratic and co-operative community.

This website and the linked events and publications aim to honour this history and build on their much forgotten and marginalised work. When everything they saw as the threat to children's health and freedom is now dominating the education debate and world - inspections, exams and measuring, national curriculum and parent power of teenagers - we need their voices and their practice more than ever.

The Community Begins

The history of this community really starts at several places. The case studies that New Ideals publishes in 1917 actually are innovative approaches to running schools started several years before. For example John Arrowsmith, headteacher at Mixenden Elementary School, talks about starting in 1911 a project in which everything at his school could be learnt through all the senses, especially touch [See "Physiological Education in an Elementary School" by John Arrowsmith in Making Good Primary Schools in 1917.]. And Edmond Holmes, the Chief Inspector of Elementary Schools, wrote about Harriet Finley Johnson’s work as headteacher at Sompting, first using nature as a theme for learning and then moving on to using drama as a process for exploration and learning, at the end of the 1800s. As Norman McMunn writes, he felt a sailor ‘lost at sea’, until ‘finding land’, that is this conference of practitioners in 1914 at the Montessori Conference in East Runton.

The enthusiasm of this conference, the need to organise a yearly one, and to found it on the value of ‘liberating the child in the school’ are all evidence of Montessori being a focal point for organisation, but not for her method, more for her starting point of observing and letting the child freely learn.

The image is of schools and experimental communities dotted over Britain in which teachers were successfully experimenting with ways of teaching and running schools. A.S.Neill in 1915 writes, in his autobiographical diary of his first year as headteacher of Gretna Green School, how there is no set book, no one to follow, in terms of education ideas. This is ridiculed in some reviews that remind us of the antecedents to Neill, but he does express what the conference members were seeking in 1914, a community to join and share and promote practice that focuses on the rights and dignity of the child.

I personally think that Neill’s book allows us to see how individual teachers were responding to agricultural poverty, and to the struggle with the concept of what a school is for.

Holmes had promoted Johnson’s work through his book. Local authorities were influenced by people like Margaret McMillan, in terms of the health, welfare and happiness of the child. The atmosphere of promoting the rights of women and the working class fired enthusiasm and ideas for our schools. Holmes was commissioned to visit Montessori and to write a report on her work for the British government. Bertram Hawker has supported Lillian de Lissa and the nursery school movement in Australia, he went on to create the first Montessori school in England, which hosted the first conference. He went around the country promoting Montessori’s work at large meetings, but after the 1914 conference he became a chief organiser of the New Ideals in Education Conferences.

From another angle we have Earl Lytton, who was working with Homer Lane, and the Little Commonwealth, a residential farm for teenage delinquents, run as a democratic community from 1912.

Here was the foundation of what would become a very influential community. These practitioners were brought together by inspectors, by the people who knew the schools, and became focused on redefining what our school system should become.

H.A.L. Fisher addressed the conference as its key opening speaker in 1917, having launched his Continuation Education Act the Friday before. Earl Lytton was to push the act through the House of Lords. The ‘vision’ of the act was a progressive one, Lytton, writes in 1921 that he saw the school becoming the cultural, historical centre of the village or town, with the children as curators. A far cry from the present system of exam factories based on effective learning methods and assessments.

From the beginning they expressed themselves as a community, defining a shared foundation value of ‘liberating the child’, referencing the birth and development of the community at every meeting, writing and protecting the history of the community in the 1920s and 30s - even writing a history of its committee.

In the end it appears, despite all this, Beatrice Ensor’s New (International) Education Fellowship, and her take on the history, dominated the way the story was told. It now began in 1921 in Calais with their first international conference, and in the launch of New Era magazine, shortly before. Beatrice Ensor had been a part of the New Ideals conferences from the beginning, her contribution to the committee is not mentioned, and she appears to have used the meetings as a structure to create her own group of theosophist educators. Her disputed ‘history’ sadly appears to have overwritten the importance of New Ideals and how it influenced the British, French and world education systems.

But we can learn from this community, as we have to recreate a national and international community that has a clear sense of identity, purpose, history and direction. We can only celebrate these heroes and their achievements, if we learn from them and move forwards with ‘liberating the child’.


Members of the Community

New Ideals in Education is a community and as such it has virtually disappeared from our history. It’s members saw itself as a much needed one, in response to the burgeoning school innovators throughout the country at the beginning of the century. As the speech by Norman MacMunn so powerfully expresses, “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I feel like a shipwrecked mariner who has reached land at last.” (Montessori Conf, East Runton 1914) and the wonderful description of the audience by Lionel Helbert , Head Master of West Downs, Winchester (New Ideals in Education 1916, p122):

“In the first place, this amazing Conference – at which we have seen sitting side by side Government Officials, advanced Montessorians, antediluvian Teachers like myself, University Professors, Soldiers in khaki, Musicians, Artists, Headmasters of Public Schools, the superintendent of the Little Commonwealth, Primary School teachers, and the American Ambassador himself – stands, first and foremost, for Freedom, - I do not like “emancipation”, for the word suggests slavery, and the use of it probably promotes it. We have all agreed that the child is to be free: yes, but the teacher must be free as well as the child…”

It was in response to the first meeting, that they decided to create a supportive community by organising future ones, and to create a statement of values around which they were to meet, to define their purpose, changing it from a Montessori Conference. This process shows how the community defined and reflected upon what it was, especially during the war years. Then at the third conference they decided to re-structure them, creating an annual general theme, and ‘experimental days’.

At the beginning the published voice of the community included the audience in reports of the discussion and questions and answers after the main talks. Every report has a community list, a full delegate list, with names, jobs and locations.

Of the 250 members of the newly created Montessori Society over 50 attended the 1914 conference, and major figures in the movement continued to attend despite the change in title and aim. Bertram Hawker, one of the co-founders of the conference, and its host, at his home and the first Montessori School, had been one of the key speakers promoting Montessori around the country before 1914. And Edmond Holmes had written the report on Montessori for the Department of Education. Montessori continued to be an important topic in most of the conferences, with voices for and against. She had telegrammed the first conference in support.

The committee is recognised in 1917 as a permanent structure of a maturing community. In the 1924 quarterly magazine there is an article on the history of the committee. In three articles by T.J.Gueritte, F.S.E., M Soc. C.B. (FRANCE) published in 1923 in the Gloucester Journal, every Saturday for three weeks in October Geuritte writes about the history of the community, in England (pt 1), in France (pt 2) and finally in America and Internationally (pt 3). There is a defence of the history referenced in the Editorial of New Ideals Quarterly Sept 1925 Vol 1 No 3 p2-3, with Geuritte writing to correct the article ‘Le Movement Anglais des “New Schools” ‘, April 15, French fortnightly, Mercure de France, which stated that “It was in 1920 that the movement of “New Schools” took form and being (apris corps) in England with the foundation of the New Education Fellowship...” Like a number of histories, written later, they focus on Beatrice Ensor, portraying the birth of New Education around her work, and the formation of the New (International) Education Fellowship. Geuritte replied in a letter: “the New Education Fellowship, guided with such skill by Mrs Ensor, was meant simply to group, in an international federation, the societies which, in each country, were working in the same spirit for a new education. The society which really brought together the British educators for this propaganda in favour of the New Schools was created in June 1914, by the famous English educationalist, Edmond Holmes, former chief Inspector of elementary schools, and Mr B. Hawker, under the name of New Ideals in Education…”

Three aspects of this community should be researched: the delegate list, their jobs, locations and links to other educational associations; the organising committee and their roles in defining schooling in Britain; the speakers, experiment presenters, and the content of their talks.

An important sub-group includes the Inspectors, who attend as delegates, but also as presenters. Holmes in talking about the need to find and share experiments expresses the importance of Inspectors in finding innovation, and his role as Chief Inspector of Elementary Schools. Other groups include national politicians like H.A.L. Fisher, American Ambassador Page, and Earl Lytton, and local politicians on school boards and councils; Nursery education group including Margaret McMillan, Lillian de Lissa; therapeutic workers like Homer Lane and Dr Arthur Brock. Businessmen like William Mather, Lord Selfridges. The role of women is recognised in the reports, with them helping in organising the venues, and in publishing the reports, experiments and magazines.

It is recognised that the Elementary Schools are the source of innovation, and that secondary schools are problematic. This is seen as due to exams, inspection by results, and pressure from parents of older children for qualifications for university or jobs. This splits the teachers and headteachers into three groups, the state elementary schools, state secondary schools, and private schools. The state secondary schools is the smallest group, with teachers experimenting with classroom techniques, but very few experimental schools.

It is important to start researching the delegate’s lists, committee and presenters. The lists can be starting points into this community. They will be posted here, along with details as people are researched. In the resources there is a growing set of posters, each dedicated to a member of the community.

Delegate Lists

New Ideals in Education Conference 1917 Bedford College delegate list.

Google map of the 1917 delegates.

Community Members:

Homer Lane

An American paid to come to England to run a residential farm for delinquent teenagers who would otherwise go to prison called ‘The Little Commonwealth’. He came from working with the George Junior Republics for American youth. He ran the Little Commonwealth as a democratic community, learning to live together through making decisions together. He was famous for being on the side of the child. He became a friend of A.S.Neill, and the Commonwealth community meetings inspired democratic meetings at Neill’s Summerhill School. He spoke several times at the New Ideals Conferences, being introduced by the American Ambassador and treated as a hero of the movement. He was on the New Ideals committee.

“A boy of fourteen, said Mr. Homer Lane at Stratford-on-Avon, now a citizen of the Little Commonwealth, had been birched fourteen times by order of the magistrates, but the birchings only made him worse. The very strength of his character led him to persevere in his career of lawlessness. When, however, he was admitted to the Little Commonwealth he found that his acts of rebellion won no applause, and he gradually sought an outlet for his energies and abilities in work and acts of service which had eventually made him one of the leaders of the community. It was the spice of danger and the desire to be regarded as a hero that were the motives for most juvenile wrongdoing. If these motives were removed wrongdoing ceased to be attractive. The citizens of the Little Commonwealth had been chosen from among the worst young criminals who could be discovered, but when they found themselves members of a self-governing community in which no rules were enforced except by the citizens themselves they developed a sense of responsibility and a power of initiative which changed their whole attitude towards society.” 1st Sept 1915 The Education Times and Journal of the College of Preceptors.

Homer Lane talking about the boy:

“At any point in his life during the past few years, an understanding teacher might have removed the stumbling block from his path, might have set him free, and allowed his strength to be utilized for good. But no, we would not have genius, we do not want him to be himself. We insist upon his becoming a duplicate of ourselves. And so we bind him about with convention, and as he, with the wonderful force of childhood, bursts our bonds asunder and asserts his own right to be himself, we add more and more bondage, until he hates. We have not only suffered the loss of a contributor to the welfare of society, but we have created a destructive force – a double loss.”

Norman MacMunn

In 1914 published A Path to Freedom in the School, a book explaining how he ran a democratic classroom. In the preface he thanks the embryo community for New Ideals in Education:

“I cannot refrain from expressing my deep gratitude to sympathisers among the leaders (explicit or implicit) of what we may very well call the movement for the emancipation of the child – to Mr Edmond Holmes, to Professor Culverwell, to Professor John Adams, to Mr Thiselton Mark, to Mr G.W.S.Howson – to many members of the Montessori Committee. Without this encouragement to carry me through days rendered dark by scepticism and even by hostility. I might very well have given up in despair – although I did indeed have the constant sympathy and devoted zeal of my boys, to whom I dedicate this book.” Norman MacMunn

Miss J. Noakes

Miss J. Noakes is listed in the delegate list to New Ideals Conference in 1917 with only her name and home address of Brooke Green, with no occupation.

This pdf contains more information about Miss J.Noakes, the Historical Association and WW1

Earl Lytton

Lillian de Lissa

Clara Grant

Harriet Finley Johnson

Rev Bertram Hawker

Edmond Holmes

Sir William Mather

Margaret McMillan

Ivison Macadam, OBE,

Millicent McKenzie

Monsieur T.J.Gueritte

M. Cousinet

Albert Mansbridge

Percy Nunn


The First World War & the Home Front text


Inspirations for the Community text




Children running businesses, co-operatives and supporting Fairtrade.

Children running businesses, co-operatives and supporting Fairtrade

New Ideals in Education promotes children running their own projects, controlling their own learning, and running their own businesses. In France this was very successful. The children ran co-operatives, some of the earliest were linked to printing. Dr Arthur Brock spoke at the New Ideals Conference on the use of creative work as therapy for shell shocked soldiers, his patients included Wilfred Owen, and how we needed to create healthy children by their schools getting them to express their creativity through work embedded within local culture, art and craft.

“The formation of school co-operatives (see 1923 French Conference) led to wonderful development of this aspect of team work the child - buying and selling in earnest and attending to all the accounting in the same way as would be done in a business undertaking.”

T.J.Gueritte, 20/10/1923 Gloucester Journal

The French school inspector, Cousinet, made presentations on co-operatives in French schools to the French New Ideals Conference, as well as the British.

Homer Lane’s Little Commonwealth.

Homer Lane’s Little Commonwealth

Children running the shop in Homer Lane’s Little Commonwealth 1915. The shop was built by Lord Selfridge, who also had the coins minted. The children earned the money working in the community, on the farm, or building etc, they could spent it at the children run shop or if saved convert it to cash when the children left the farm.

Article in Auckland Star 2 May 1936 promoting Homer Lane’s work and young people running their own shops.

Coin minted for Little Commonwealth by Mr Selfridge.

To launch Fairtrade Fortnight in Tower Hamlets, George Green’s School students are running a miniconference of workshops for primary school children on how to create and run co-operatives to change their communities. They will also be learning of the importance of co-ops in Fairtrade, role-playing Ugandan farmers, an activity created in partnership with the Uganda Co-op Alliance and featured in the Fairtrade Foundation Schools DVD. The United Nations sees Co-ops as helping to improve the lives of half the people on the planet, especially women and young people. The UN sees them also as ‘schools of democracy’.

Download the flyer for the event click here.

Michael Newman