'Schooling Through the Looking Glass'

Room G39, School of Education (Building R19)
Lectures Talks and Workshops, Social Sciences
Wednesday 7th March 2018 (12:30-14:00)
Download the date to your calendar (.ics file)

A Witness Seminar

Speakers: Bernard Barker, Cherry Crowley and Rob Gywnne

Three former headteachers, passionate about comprehensive education, raise the question about whether education has improved for disadvantaged children over the past 50 years.

Taking as our core text ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ and the Ken Loach 1969 film of ‘Kes’ we ask whether we, and our generation of educators, have succeeded in improving the life chances of the Billy Caspers in the UK. Have opportunities really changed for the better for disadvantaged and below average students? A challenging question in an ever-changing social, political and economic context but interesting to note that today white working class males form the lowest performing group at the end of compulsory education. And there are still so many young people growing up in similar circumstances with similar levels of dysfunction (viz: Shannon Matthews docudrama) 

Our approach is personal and pragmatic. Our observations and opinions are drawn from our personal experience and rooted in an informed understanding of social and political innovation and change. Our enquiries began with our own schooling and formative years, our extended careers in education, and they acquire breadth as we reflect on the changes imposed by government and economic and social progression.

Undoubtedly there have been some key changes for the better: end of corporal punishment, comprehensive schools, teacher and headteacher accountability, OFSTED and the performance culture (dual-edged sword?), sensitive understanding of learning disabilities and appropriate responses, improvements in pastoral care and student well-being etc. However, billions of £’s later: we know that the Billy Caspers of this world are still the lowest performing group at the end of compulsory schooling. What does the future hold for them? Do we have answers?

Please register online for this free event. All are welcome.


Bernard Barker is emeritus professor of educational leadership and management at the School of Education, University of Leicester, and visiting fellow at the Institute of Education, University of London (IOE). He was educated at Eltham Green, a prototype LCC comprehensive that inspired his passionate commitment to all-ability schools, and won an open exhibition in history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He progressed to York University where he researched the Labour movement in the years immediately before and after the First World War. Between 1971 and 1999 he taught at schools in Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Leicester, including 17 years as the principal of Stanground College, a large community comprehensive in Peterborough. His book Rescuing the Comprehensive Experience (Open University Press, 1986) reaffirmed the importance of comprehensive education in the threatening environment of the Thatcher years. He joined the School of Education at Leicester in 1996 to teach the secondary history Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE), became a facilitator with the National College’s Leadership Programme for Serving Heads (LPSH) and provided training and consultancy for schools throughout the UK. He has tutored Leicester MSc and EdD degrees around the world. He was appointed to a personal chair in 2006 and became director of postgraduate research studies for the School of Education. His is recent academic publications include over twenty peer-reviewed journal articles and the books Transforming
Schools: Illusion or reality (Trentham, 2005), The Pendulum Swings: Transforming school reform (Trentham, 2010), and Human Resource Management in Education: Contexts, themes and impact, with Justine Mercer and Richard Bird (Routledge, 2010).

Cherry Crowley is retired and enjoys life in London and North Norfolk. Educated at a grammar school for girls in Norfolk, she studied Comparative Literature and French at university, choosing to spend 2 years in France as part of the course. Post university she taught in a secondary school, having first experienced teaching English as a Foreign Language. Initially taught she French in a grammar school and then switched to English full time in schools in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk. She spent ten years as headteacher of Flegg High School in Norfolk during which time the school enjoyed success for outstanding pastoral care, enrichment and student leadership. Flegg High was ChildLine’s training school for East Anglia and won acclaim for its peer support and antibullying strategies. Keen to pursue work that developed resilience in young people, Cherry set up her own charity after taking early retirement in 2009. She led visits to Kenya for Norfolk teenagers where they engaged in community work and took part in student leadership training. Approximately 500 Norfolk teenagers benefitted from the charity during six years.

Rob Gwynne is now retired and lives in Cheltenham with his wife who is still a headteacher. Educated at Impington Village College, one of the pioneering community schools created by Henry Morris, where he was greatly influenced by the Warden, John Brackenbury, and aged 18 decided that he wanted to become a secondary head and chose to study Physics at university. He enjoyed a distinguished career in science education at schools in South Yorkshire, Cyprus and Cambridgeshire. In 1982 he was the winner of the Association for Science Education Memorial Fellowship, involving a study
tour to Australia and then became deputy head of a British Forces school in Germany. Age 35, he was appointed as Principal of Wycliffe Community College in Leicester. After six years there he was appointed as Principal of Longsands Community College in Cambridgeshire. Eleven years later he moved to a consultancy role dealing with underperforming schools and the establishment of new academies. For the last four years of his career he was Head of School Strategy for the Church of England, overseeing policy for the 4800 church schools. Along the way Rob completed a masters degree by research into cognitive development and science education and has a doctorate based on research into the leadership of large schools.