Edward O'Neill was a pioneer in the 1930s and 1940s. He introduced - not without considerable resistance and extensive criticism - a revolutionary method of teaching which relied heavily on freedom, personal choice and discovery. Children attending Prestolee School were permitted to choose certain areas of interest and encouraged to follow them through. For a while there was little formal teaching other than the statutory requirements demanded by the HMI. It is difficult in hind-sight to evaluate just how successful his methods actually were, but perhaps, that is not the point, he broke the straight-jacket of rote teaching and proved it could work.
The school gained a national reputation for its lack of obvious formal discipline and his use of choice, discovery and trust. He opened up the school after hours, long before youth clubs and the like were generally available. When he was criticised for this, he simply rolled back the carpet at home, invited local people, and played the piano to all that would come and hear. His school became famous for its annual Illuminations when vast numbers of people came from around the Bolton and Farnworth area. The children built a garden and giant windmill and other attractions.
I recorded an interview with him at his home (1971) shortly before his death in 1973, the recording is available from the North West Sound Archive. KH
Categories & Keywords
Keywords:bolton, education, edward o'neill, idiot teacher, lancashire, prestolee, teachering, teachers