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IOE at 120 – an expansive vision for teaching and learning

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 19 January 2022

John Adams, the first principal (centre), with Margaret Punnett and Percy NunnThis blog is the first in a series of 12 exploring each decade in IOE’s history in the context of the education and society of the times. Find out more about our 120th anniversary celebrations on our website, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to keep up with everything that’s happening. 

Tom Woodin.

At the turn of the Twentieth Century, a sense of historical change was palpable. London was viewed as a ‘great’ city at the heart of the largest empire in history. It was a financial hub; the centre of trade and a place where key political, cultural, economic and educational institutions coalesced.

It was also ravaged by inequality and poverty, which imperial adventures such as the Boer Wars had made a topic of public debate as had Charles Booth’s maps of London which provided a striking cartographic representation of poverty. Just a year after the death of Queen Victoria, the 1902 Education Act helped to foster the notion of an ‘educational ladder’ based upon scholarships for the lucky few who were able to progress from elementary schools to secondary education. The ‘scholarship boy’, and occasional girl, became an iconic figure in British life although in reality the ladder was thin and rickety and far from the proposed ‘educational highway’ for all that was favoured by the Workers Educational Association.

It was at this time that new ideas about teaching and teacher training came into their own. The London Day Training College – now IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society – formally began its life on 6 October 1902, as a partnership between the London County Council and University of London. A key supporter of the LDTC was the Fabian socialist Sidney Webb who was keen to construct an educational system to continue what he viewed as a remarkable revolution in the ‘manners and morals of the manual working class’. He was sympathetic to the educational ladder and viewed the 1902 Act as a mechanism to help systematise a chaotic array of educational initiatives. Webb’s prescient vision for a reformed University included a postgraduate teaching centre serving the capital but with national, imperial, and international responsibilities for the advancement of learning – all areas in which the LDTC would develop with diverse consequences.

Staff at the LDTC actively engaged in these debates and, in fashioning the nature of teaching and learning, would come to have a significant impact upon educational thought and practice in the coming years. They complemented the technical aspects of teacher training with more expansive conceptions of teaching and learning. At the inaugural meeting, John Adams, the first principal, spoke on the ‘Training of Teachers’. History was on his side as the burning question was no longer, he asserted, ‘Shall teachers be trained?’ but ‘How shall teachers be trained?’ As the IOE celebrates its 120th anniversary, it is a question still being hotly debated.

Adams answered that teachers should be cultured human beings, educated to graduate level with other students of the University and that, ideally, their preparation should be postgraduate. His vision of a professional body of teachers was ambitious and expensive, but without it a generation of children would be sacrificed to poverty and ignorance. The cost of teacher training could be borne by the public in one of two ways, he averred, ‘it can pay in money or it can pay in children’.

Adams was supported by a formidable staff. The deputy and mistress of method, Margaret Punnett, remained at the LDTC for 31 years. Her importance was not to be recognised fully, not only in financial terms but also in relation to her wider contribution. ‘If owt’s been dunn ‘ere, Miss Punnett’s dunnit’ went the words of a student song. Clotilde von Wyss taught biology, hygiene, nature study and art. An irrepressible sense of wonder and enthusiasm for beauty helped her to inspire and form close bonds with her students. Another key figure was the future director Percy Nunn, emerging from a family steeped in education and who infused his own teaching with a sense of equality. A later director, G.B. Jeffery, in contemplating the mix of craft and scholarship at the LDTC, recalled that Nunn ‘never talked down to you. He put himself by your side ready to share your enthusiasms, taking it for granted that you would share his… you were learning together’.

The initial intake comprised 58 students aged between 18 and 22 with 35 women and 23 men. Many were from modest homes and had been educated in board schools. They followed different courses, often two-years of general education and professional training. Some studied over three years, pursuing a degree alongside professional studies on punishing schedules which required a strong physical and mental constitution. The idea that teachers should be trained to university level was far from universally accepted. Students also faced obstacles in the way of building camaraderie and forming a collective identity given that the LDTC was an itinerant organisation without a home until 1907, when it occupied premises on Southampton Row. It perhaps reflected the ambivalent position of the LDTC within the University of London and the reluctant acceptance of education in the world of higher education, tensions that took some time to resolve but continued to reverberate.

The 120th anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect upon these issues and to debate the IOE’s origins and values. It is hoped that the second edition of the IOE´s history will aid this process.


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