Mutual Improvement Classes (MIC) were part of an ad hoc movement to train footplate staff in their day to day duties and thereby facilitate their promotion wherever possible. Due to the generally accepted principle of seniority such promotion often entailed moving to another part of the country in order to find a suitable vacancy. This is one of the reasons why it took so long for anyone to qualify as a steam locomotive Driver in the UK, sometimes as long as fifteen or twenty years, as well as the problem of working in a generally contracting industry. It is interesting to compare this approach with the situation in France, where someone could become a full main line steam locomotive Driver, using locomotives more complex and powerful than those in the UK, at the tender age of 27. (Today, of course, one may see young ladies driving high speed trains at many of our stations – one can only speculate as to how many cleaning turns they took in order to qualify as a Second Man (person?!) and then again the number of latter turns needed to qualify as a Driver).

Located at some out of the way corner of an engine shed and initially ignored by the various railway companies, the MIC soon became recognised as a valuable activity, especially since the instructors were not paid for their efforts and all participants did so in their own time. The extent of company support sometimes went as far as providing the MIC class with an obsolete coach body or hut to use as a classroom. Some of these classes became quite well known and even published their deliberations in the form of suitably priced pocket sized booklets, notably the classes at Haymarket (Edinburgh) and Oswestry, among others.

Today these booklets form a valuable resource for railway preservation in that they present practical information and advice that can be difficult to obtain elsewhere. Some classes also developed working models of valve gear, brake systems and suchlike, which further helped the “students” to understand the detail of what was going on and why.