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History of Education Seminar Programme 2019/20

All welcome, no registration required.

The ‘History of Education Seminar’ at IHR (Institute of Historical Research) is convened by Georgina Brewis and Gary McCulloch. The seminar attracts speakers from around the world, providing a forum for established historians as well as early-career researchers to present their work. For further information please contact Gary McCulloch or Georgina Brewis at ioe.ichre@ucl.ac.uk

Please note we are not having a November seminar because we are hosting the annual History of Education Society Conference, 8th – 10th November 2019.

‘The crisis of the meritocracy:  how popular demand (not policy) drives educational change’

Professor Peter Mandler, University of Cambridge

Thursday 3 October 2019, 5.30 pm, UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, Room 675

This paper argues that parental and student demand have been systematically under-valued in histories of educational change in postwar Britain.   Key milestones in educational reform which are credited to politicians’ initiatives on right or left were heavily determined by demand pressures which politicians couldn’t and didn’t resist. Demand is itself a function of social change – the demographic ‘bulge’, the ‘trend’ (to seek more and more education), new rights of citizenship embedded in the welfare state, and changing experiences of labour markets and social mobility all need to be more systematically factored into explanations of educational change.  The paper will look in more detail at three episodes – comprehensive reorganization, the transition to mass higher education from the late 1980s and the ‘swing away from science’ from the ’60s to the ’00s.

Peter Mandler is Professor of Modern Cultural History at the University of Cambridge and Bailey Lecturer in History at Gonville and Caius College.  He is the author of Aristocratic Government in the Age of Reform (1990), The Fall and Rise of the Stately Home (1997), The English National Character (2006), Return from the Natives:  How Margaret Mead Won the Second World War and Lost the Cold War (2013), and The Crisis of the Meritocracy:  Britain’s Transition to Mass Education Since the Second World War (forthcoming in 2020 from Oxford University Press – and the basis for this paper).  Between 2012 and 2016 he was President of the Royal Historical Society, and he is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  With Laura Carter and Chris Jeppesen he is also engaged in a four-year ESRC-funded project ‘Secondary Education and Social Change in the United Kingdom since 1945’ (https://sesc.hist.cam.ac.uk/).

The seminar will be followed by an informal social.

How the other half protest: Student activism against overseas student fees in Polytechnics c. 1967-1980

Dr Jodi Burkett, University of Portsmouth

Thursday 5 December, 5.30 pm, UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, Room 675.

Discussion of student activism in post-war Britain is dominated by discussions of University students. While University students were certainly active, they were not alone. What is often left out of these accounts were the students at the UK’s nearly thirty Polytechnics. That is, nearly half of the students in UK HE in this period. Underpinning this oversight are some common assumptions about Poly students – that they were more focussed on their careers and therefore less political, and that they were selfish and self-interested. Neither of these assumptions are borne out by the historical evidence.

This paper aims to begin to fill this gap by exploring the activities of students at Polytechnics around the issue of overseas student fees. Using student newspapers, oral histories and archival collections, this paper will argue that Polytechnic students were much more politically active and engaged then they have been given credit for. Students at Polytechnics were members of the National Union of Students and were heavily involved in activities designed to protest rises in overseas student fees.  Exploring the actions and activities of Polytechnic students will not only give us a better picture of UK HE in this period, and the significant contribution of overseas students, but also adds to our understanding of changes in post-war British society and culture.  Students at Polytechnics tended to come from a wider range of backgrounds than University students and included high numbers of overseas students. When their activities and experiences are included in our histories of students, student activity, and student activism, we get a much more nuanced picture of the significant impact of the massification of UK HE, and the role and importance of overseas students in this period on British society and culture.

Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby: Education, Intelligence and Merit

Natasha Periyan, New College of the Humanities

Thursday 30 January 2020, UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, Room TBC.

This paper examines how the concept of intelligence and the scholarship system shaped interwar meritocratic discourses (Wooldridge 1994) through a consideration of the literary and educational work of Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby. As both teachers and writers, Holtby and Brittain were closely networked to interwar educational debates: they were among the first women to graduate from Oxford, campaigned for the National Union of Women Teachers and wrote for educational magazines. The paper examines these writers’ teaching work and educational journalism as a context for understanding  pedagogic scenes in Brittain’s Testament of Youth (1933) and Holtby’s South Riding (1936). It analyses Brittain’s self-construction as the meritocratic subject and Holtby’s critique of how the concept of intelligence and the scholarship system exposes the limits of democratic educational reform.

Natasha Periyan’s research examines the relationship between modernist-era literature and educational debates. She has worked as a Research Associate at the University of Kent on the AHRC-funded project ‘Literary Culture, Meritocracy and the Assessment of Intelligence in Britain and America, 1880 – 1920’ and held teaching positions at Goldsmiths, Falmouth, Royal Holloway and is currently teaching Northeastern University students at the New College of the Humanities. She has published articles and book chapters on writers including Virginia Woolf, George Orwell and D.H. Lawrence. Her book, The Politics of 1930s British Literature: Education, Gender, Class (Bloomsbury 2018) won the 2018 ISCHE First Book Award.

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