Testaments of Change? (DOMUS Seminar and book launch)

Michael Tippet Room - Staff House - Third Floor, University of Birmingham
Alumni, Lectures Talks and Workshops, Social Sciences
Thursday 24th October 2019 (17:00-18:30)
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Case studies of comprehensive schooling and the politics of the archive

In this seminar and book launch, two education academics will reflect on their own experiences of comprehensive education and relate them to the wider picture of reform, reaction and uneven development since the late 1950s.

Bernard Barker was the first comprehensively educated student to become the head of a comprehensive school; and to become a Professor of Education.

Jane Martin studied history with Bernard at a Hertfordshire comprehensive and has become a professor of education and former president of the History of Education Society. She is the official biographer of Caroline Benn, the great campaigner for comprehensive schools.

The stimulus for the seminar comes from Bernard's autobiography, Busking Latin: A Memoir, due out from The Stamford Press on 21st October. He describes his life from 1946 to 1976 and provides a lively portrait of his own comprehensive education at Eltham Green School in south London; the transition to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge; and his early career as a history teacher in Hertfordshire. What made him the teacher he became?

Discounted copies of the book will be available on the day.

The presentations

Five minutes will be spent on each of the topics below.

The broader context

The pressures that drove comprehensive reorganisation; the slowness and bottom-up nature of the reform; the reaction and abuse as comprehensives inherited the reputation and status of the secondary moderns; the missionary, evangelical mood that brought teachers into comprehensive schools; and attracted people like Caroline Benn, determined to build a democratic education with equal opportunity for all.

The personal testimony

What was it like at Eltham Green and Sir Frederic Osborn, one purpose-built but creamed; the other a merger aided by music and single sex education in a neighbouring town? Mix was important; so were the teachers attracted; Half Way There (Benn & Simon) documents progress, with access to sixth forms the biggest gain for ordinary kids. Our personal trajectories and circumstances - were we privileged by our homes? By our schools?

The Implications

As historians we thought we were the beginning of mass education, path finders for new democratic ways of teaching and learning, the builders of democratic society. But it turned out that we were the beneficiaries of a welfare system that was strong when Bernard was born and went to school but which was under siege in Jane's time and afterwards; and soon to be itself reorganised slowly, carefully towards liberal individualism where children are to blame for their own stories. 

All welcome.