150 years of state education in England

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

As part of the celebrations of 150 years of state education in England, Michael Barber has written an appreciation of 11 people who contributed much along the way.  It's here.  Foster's 1870 Eduction Act was the start point, and Baker's 1988 National Curriculum brought it to a close – an ironic choice, I think.  Who would you have included in between?  I played that game with my wife before reading the text.  My suggestions included:

  • Somebody around 1902 but I'd forgotten who and exactly why
  • RAB Butler and the 1944 Education Act
  • Ellen Wilkinson, for reasons I'm never sure about
  • Alec Clegg the West Riding CEO who tried hard to make a reality of the 44 Act
  • Lord Robbins and his 1963 report expanding the universities
  • Tony Crossland and Circular 10/64
  • Bridget Plowden and her 1967 report on primary schooling
  • Rhodes Boyson and the Black Papers that challenged what they saw as the excesses of progressive education in the 1970s

Barber's list was:

  • Foster 1870 – established universal (though not necessarily free) elementary education by setting up school boards
  • Balfour 1902 – strengthened local education authorities and primary education, and expanded secondary education
  • Fisher 1918 – established compulsory schooling to age 14, with strict limits on employing children under 14
  • Geddes 1921 – who tried to cut the Education budget by 36%
  • Butler 1944 – steered the game-changing 1944 Education Act through Parliament
  • Wilkinson 1945 – who raised the school-leaving age to 15
  • Crossland 1965 – the promotion of comprehensive schools
  • Plowden 1967 – promoted learning through discovery and the promotion of creativity in primary schools
  • Thatcher 1972 – raised the school leaving age to 16 and railed against complacency in the teacher workforce
  • Callaghan 1976 – who (stimulated by the Black Papers) launched the Great Debate on Education in England, paving the way for the National Curriculum
  • Baker 1988 – who implemented the National Curriculum and the dangerous dogs act, the consequences of which we are still living with

Lord knows why Geddes was included – political sensibilities, maybe.  A pity about Sir Alec Clegg.  he was a colossus.

In 50 years time, when this exercise is repeated, will there be someone who finally finds fame for ensuring that young people learn in appropriate detail about the natural world and the problems we create for it – and ourselves?  Who knows.  One thing seems sure, it won't be either the current secretary of state or opposition spokeswoman.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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