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Education Across the United Kingdom 1944-2017: Local government, accountability and partnerships, edited by Robert McCloy

15 February 2019

Dennis Richards looks at 70 years of trying to get education right

SIX distinguished educationists are given an opportunity in this fascinating volume to reflect on UK schooling over the past 70 years. All six contributors are retired and lived out their careers in a wide variety of educational spheres. They are thus free to look back and, indeed, in some instances, forward, without fear or favour.

Clearly, a collaborative venture of this kind will inevitably be diverse — some might say, uneven — both in style and the contributors’ preconceptions. That being said, there are plenty of moments to cherish.

Helpfully, the volume divides its story into three distinct periods of time: 1945-79 documents the already well-rehearsed story of the shift from a selective system to a comprehensive model; 1979-97 is dominated by the Thatcher era and marketisation; 1997-2017 brings us a blow-by-blow account of the slow and protracted destruction of the local education authorities. I would imagine that the volume will also be particularly useful for readers wishing to see the picture across this period from a whole-of-the-UK perspective. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have individual chapters covering their very particular circumstances.

Readers of the Church Times will take a particular interest in Dr Priscilla Chadwick’s excellent summary of how all the legislative change over seven decades and more has influenced the status, and defined the challenges, facing church schools. While much of the material in relation to earlier times is familiar, she has used her formidable analytical skills to good effect in digging deep into the fraught battles of the most recent decade: the “Trojan Horse” controversy in Birmingham; the newly created Free schools’ failing to teach tolerance towards other faiths and homosexuals; and there is more. Grant-maintained schools and, latterly, secular trusts’ taking over church schools are but two examples.

The danger of the new academies era for the future of church schools is rightly given special attention. “If forcibly swept up into secular Trusts, church schools could lose their Christian character.” The subsequent Memorandum of Understanding established in 2015 is, in Chadwick’s view, still not watertight.

Donald Naismith is admirably placed to write a definitive chapter on “The Destruction of the Local Education Authority 1974-2016”. “Opting out” and “specialisation”, developed in the John Major years, became buzz words in educational management, and were enthusiastically pursued during the Blair/Brown years. This brings us to Andrew Adonis (now Lord Adonis). Who better to describe the progression of his career than George Low, a retired education journalist, held in high esteem and affection by all within the profession?

Once a journalist himself, Adonis was the one who, as Minister for Schools, devised plans for “state independent schools”, which quickly became known as academies. Low hints that there is every reason to believe that Adonis only ever saw such schools as serving deprived areas.

Brought up in care, Adonis himself epitomises what he hoped to achieve for others in a similar position of disadvantage. Michael Gove’s radical decision to offer the same “privileges” to all schools in 2010 dramatically changed Adonis’s original vision. An authoritative verdict on Gove’s decision must wait a while longer.

The prohibitive price may well restrict the distribution of this attractively presented and timely volume to libraries and academic institutions. For a while yet, it will be an indispensable resource on two ongoing questions. Who manages our schools? And who manages the managers?

Dennis Richards is a former head of St Aidan’s C of E High School, Harrogate.

Education Across the United Kingdom 1944-2017: Local government, accountability and partnerships
Robert McCloy, editor
Palgrave Macmillan £99.99
Church Times Bookshop £90

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