Wednesday 14 July 2010

Deptford teachers

Yesterday morning, the media were expressing their shock at a Deptford headteacher being paid 'more than the prime minister'. (Excluding the PM's perks such as free accommodation at Downing Street and Chequers, one presumes.) By yesterday afternoon, it turned out that his salary isn't nearly that high after all - as local bloggers had realised more quickly than the BBC.

However, Deptford has put its teaching staff through public ordeals in the past, too. In 1837, the Benevolent Institution wanted to appoint a new schoolteacher. Forget CV, covering letter and a quick interview: first, the Committee met the candidates in the Swan Inn on the High Street, and publicly published the details. They indicated that they preferred Mr Absalom Davies of Union Street because he 'already [had] a respectable School, and a School Room fit for the immediate reception of the Boys'.

The candidates still had to meet the subscribers to the charity, though, and some weren't going to give up without a fight. James Bailey Bassett of Lewisham launched a very public campaign for the job. He had flyers published, seeking support:
Being a Candidate for the Office of Schoolmaster to the Deptford Benevolent Institution for Education Youth, I most respectfully solicit your Vote and Interest; and shall feel particularly obliged if you would, in my behalf, fill up, and sign your name to the annexed Proxy. If it is agreeable to yourself, I beg to submit the name of Mr. Pyrke, being inserted as your Proxy – who is a Subscriber – and who is warmly interested in my behalf.
In case the appeal alone wasn't enough, he also had a testimonial printed in which Greenwich worthies including surgeons, a doctor, the High Constable, a churchwarden and a fellow schoolmaster endorsed him as 'a qualified, steady, and moral young man' brought up and educated in the Established Church.

The thought of such a public battle for a teaching position, complete with the expense and need to enlist others' support, makes modern job interviews seem a little less alarming. But did it work? Frustatingly, I don't know: the documents above were preserved in an album now in the British Library, but there is nothing to indicate the final outcome. A future research task...


Deptford dame said...

If Deptford were still recruiting its teachers in the Swan, then the media might have something to complain about!

Minnie said...

You've whetted our appetites on this one, Caroline: now you're going to have to conduct more research ;-)!
Bonne Bastille.

CarolineLD said...

Bonne Bastille a vous aussi!

I really hope I can discover the outcome, it is frustrating not to know.

It is very odd to modern eyes that despite all the printed notices and procedures, the best place for a job interview was apparently the pub!

Minnie said...

Good luck with your researches, Caroline.
Interviews in pubs or similar? Always worked for me! Yes, really - and from both ends of the staffing spectrum. Hate all this 'professionalisation' of recruitment. If the candidate's 'right' on paper and the refs (theirs + yours) check out - then the only remaining questions are entirely based upon the question 'will he/she fit in with us?' Trust is vital, on all fronts. The death-by-presentation + psychometric testing routine so beloved of 'HR professionals' is not only time-consuming but also expensive - and too often fails. Aargh: sorry - O/T rant over!

The Grim Reaper said...

I do not think that it did work.

The Cornish Born Wesleyan Methodist James Bailey Basset emigrated to Australia in 1840 and opened Buckland House School at Willunga in 1847. The State Library of South Australia has a picture of him, his assistant and pupils at:

His grandson, also called James Bailey Basset was also a schoolteacher and the same library has a picture at:

CarolineLD said...

That's brilliant - thank you, Bill! I do suspect that Mr Davies had the job sewn up (presumably, with his own premises in place, he was relatively cheap).

Minnie, I've thankfully never been subjected to psychometric testing but a friend who was queried its usefulness when any sensible person won't give honest answers. The response was that it didn't test the interviewee's qualities directly but identified which qualities they thought the job required! You almost have to admire the ingenuity.

Minnie said...

That 'almost' is very telling - chapeau, Caroline!