Victorian London - Education - Professional/Technical Colleges - South Western Polytechnic

Commercial Education in London
     The Efforts of the South Western Polytechnic to Develop Good Business Men in the Metropolis - A New Departure.
     A move in the right direction has been taken by the South-Western Polytechnic by the establishment of a commercial department where a complete commercial education may be obtained for a moderate fee. It has long been a cause of complaint that the London Polytechnics have devoted their energies to science teaching to the neglect of commercial subjects. No systematic attempt has been made to evolve the business man as is the case in German and other continental schools, and therefore we are glad to note that the governors of this enterprising West-end institute have shown themselves alive to the weakness and have resolved to remedy the defect. At the Polytechnic in Manresa-road there are day colleges for men and women over the age of fifteen in addition to the usual evening classes and a day school for boys and girls who have made certain progress in elementary education.
     The Business Training Described.
     This year a commercial department will be established in connection with colleges and evening classes, under an experienced business man. The courses of instruction may roughly be divided into three groups. There are classes for the chief European languages, classes for elementary commercial subjects such as commercial correspondence and business methods, commercial geography, arithmetic bookkeeping, shorthand, and typewriting; and classes in more advanced commercial subjects, such as mercantile law, economics, industrial history and advanced book-keeping.
     Students are advised by the Principal to enter for a continuous course, extending over two years if possible. During the first year the more elementary commercial subjects and two languages should be taken; during the second the advanced commercial subjects and the same two languages.
     Trading Relations with Foreign Countries.
     In the commercial geography class special attention will be paid to the trading relations of the different countries of the world and to trade routes. Samples of the principal commercial products will be shown, and questions of trade concerning them will be explained. In the commercial correspondence class the routine of an office will be described, and common commercial documents such as bills of exchange, bills of 
     lading, &c., will be exhibited and explained. Letters actually used in business will also be dictated.
     By these means day students will be familiarised with the ordinary business of commercial life before they take up any employment, and evening students who are already at work, will have their practical knowledge supplemented. The reasons for what might at first be regarded as mere dull routine will be explained, and attention thus being excited, commercial students will become better men of busines, because more alive to the general course of commercial affairs, and of the tendencies of the times.
     The Views of the Principal
     In a chat with a representative of the Municipal Journal, the Principal of the Polytechnic, Professor Tomlinson remarked that business men sometimes assert that it is impossible to give commercial instruction in a class; they themselves have usefully picked up all knowledge by degrees, by rule of thumb methods and they think that their children should go out into the world and do likewise. They forget, however, how much there is in common in all business matters, and they ignore the fact that commercial teachers in Germany and the United States are turning out annually thousands of trained young men as clerks, travellers, manufacturers, and traders, are taking away the livelihood of individual Englishmen, and threatening the commercial and industrial supremacy of the nation.
     Of course, expert information as to the goods dealt with in any one trade, or as to the minutiae of any one particular business cannot be imparted in classes intended for general instruction. It is however, perfectly possible to explain to students before they enter business life, those common facts which underlie all systems of business, leaving them to gain more specialised knowledge in the particular line which they may adopt as their own.
     Special endeavours are being made in these classes to render the language [...missing...] practical. A lesson in a foreign language will be conducted in that language and not English. Students will be encouraged to speak in the foreign language, and, in order to facilitate such intercourse, each language class will be intentionally kept small. A limit will be fixed and when exceeded the students in excess will be formed into another class.
     In the mercantile law class explanations will be given of those general principles which underlie all our law of contract, and these will be supplemented by special information as to the sale of goods, agency, negotiable instruments, and other legal matters.
     Extension of the Polytechnic
     The extension of the work of the Polytechnic which has led to the formation of this commercial department also necessitates fresh buildings, which are already in progress, for the accommodation of students. On completion of these, which it is expected will take place by the end of this session, special accommodation will be provided for the commercial department.
     A room will be set apart as a commercial museum, to contain samples of different qualities of the chief British and foreign manufactures, and of the principal new products imported into this country. These samples will be sued to illustrate the lectures, and relief maps, diagrams, &c. will also be largely availed of.
     A Commercial Museum and Library
     In connection with the museum, a small commercial library will also be formed to furnish students with the latest consular reports on trade, and with other current commercial publications. Still further extensions are contemplated with the object of assisting students to obtain situations. With that special object they will be encouraged to sit for the commercial examinations of the London Chamber of Commerce. Many hundreds of firms who are members of that body have promised to give preference to holders of such certificates when selecting from candidates for vacant posts.
     As soon as sufficient rooms are provided for the new department an annexe will be added to the commercial department, for the special preparation for Civil Service and other examinations; but at present, intending candidates will be prepared in other classes of the commercial department. A course has been arranged for women desirous of becoming lady secretaries.
     The Work of the Children's Day Schools.
     There is a capital day school in connection with the Polytechnic, which provides a technical, commercial, and general education for pupils of both sexes to the age of about sixteen years. It was opened at the end of September 1895, with five boys, which number increased to eight before Christmas. Girl were first admitted in February 1896, and at the end of the first school year there were seventy eight pupils, forty boys and thirty-eight girls. It has now entered upon its fifth year, and upwards of 250 pupils in attendance.
     It is what is known as a school of science, to which a commercial side has just been added, and which it is intended shall become an important feature of its work. On its science side it provides a methodical and progressive course of education in applied science, combined with workshop and laboratory practice, and in general and commercial subjects. In the well-equipped chemical, physical, mechanical, and biological laboratories and workshops pupils are provided with accommodation and appliances far in advance of that which is available in the majority of the best middle-class schools of this country. To suitable practical science work much importance is attached; but the literary training is also thorough, and all pupils receive six hours instruction per week in two foreign languages. The cost to the parent is 1 per term, three terms a year, and this includes all books and materials. When the kind of education provided for so low a fee is considered, it is not surprising that 250 pupils are already in attendance; rather is it to be wondered at that school authorities have not been inundated with candidates for admission. The syllabus is well arranged, and the subjects of instruction for boys in the first and second years are mathematics, practical geometry, freehand and other drawing, chemistry, physics, mechanics, English subjects, French, German, or Latin, manual training, and gymnastics. In the third and fourth years the boys may devote their attention to that group of subjects which has direct application to their future work, such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, building trades, chemical trades, commerce or preparation for one of the various professional preliminary examinations. The curriculum for girl students is such as would equip them to occupy a position in one of the many branches of commercial life now open to women.
     On its commercial side pupils receive sound preparation for business life, and the keynote of this division is thorough training in languages, and half the school hours is devoted to this work.
     The physical development of the pupils if carefully tended. In a refreshment room set apart for their use a hot dinner of two courses can be obtained for 6d., and parents, if they desire, can obtain tickets in advance, and thereby be sure that their children really obtain a wholesome meal.
     In the gymnasium all the students receive regular instruction as a part of the school course, and such important is attached to the judicious physical training of the boys and girls that a medical certificate can alone exempt a pupil from such lessons. Many very successful gymnastic displays have been given from time to time. School clubs are formed for football, cricket, and swimming for the boys, and for tennis, hockey, and swimming for girls.

Municipal Journal and London, October 6, 1899