Domus Research Seminar Series 2012
Speaker: Lottie Hoare, Institute of Education, University of London.
The headmistress, Margaret Miles (1911-1994), oversaw the first transformation of a London girls’ grammar school into a girls’ comprehensive school. Putney County High School became Mayfield Comprehensive in 1954. My talk will address media representations of Mayfield and some other London comprehensives in the years 1954-1965.
I will argue that pioneering comprehensive schools were not comprehensively represented in English newspapers and radio and television broadcasts in this period. Language and images hint that some shared imaginary ideal of education was to be disrupted and robbed by this new type of schooling. Furthermore the intellectual development of girls within comprehensive schools was overshadowed in media representations. Often domestic, artistic and vocational education for girls dominated coverage. This distorted picture fed public anxiety that ‘grammar school’ girls did not belong in these new environments.
Miles, herself, had been a scholarship pupil in girls’ grammar schools in the 1920s. Her own university education at Bedford College in the 1930s had been financed by board of education funding, which led her into teaching - initially against her will. She remembered the moments of feeling excluded, both as a pupil and student because her involvement in certain activities and areas of study was restricted by lack of money. These memories reinforced her conviction that comprehensive education was the way forward.
Thirty years on from her own formal education, the representation of comprehensive schools might also have remained beyond her grasp. However, she began to collaborate with those who had a powerful impact on shaping public opinion. Her involvement with the informal educational study group – the All Souls Group – her connections with John Newsom and other contacts in broadcasting and the BBC provided a window on power. At the same time these associations brought difficult compromises between her vision of the breadth and possibilities of what a comprehensive education for girls might entail, and other reactionary understandings of how far society needed to embrace either the perceptions of a unmarried headteacher, or the potential of female pupils coming from less economically advantaged backgrounds.