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IOE at 120: war and peace, 1912-1922

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 24 February 2022

Georgina Brewis.

This blog is the second 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 TwitterInstagramFacebook and LinkedIn to keep up with everything that’s happening.

Following its foundation in 1902, the London Day Training College’s second decade was profoundly shaped by the First World War (1914-1918) and its aftermath. The numbers of students on the roll dropped sharply as men enrolled in the armed forces after the British government’s declaration of war with Germany in August 1914. Women students also left for war work, including in munitions factories or in clerical work in government departments. By the middle of the war in September 1916 there were just 211 students, nearly all of them women. The 16 men left were those deemed medically unfit for service.

With London schools facing severe staffing shortages, the LDTC’s student teachers stepped up to new responsibilities that included increased teaching practice, students assuming full control of classrooms, and women being placed in boys’ secondary schools for the first time. Unlike many other universities and colleges, the LDTC successfully resisted attempts by the War Office to requisition its recently opened Southampton Row building, although it did play host to other training colleges during the war.

After the Armistice there was a general rush back to universities and colleges in Britain and at the LDTC this was no different, especially as the demand for school teachers after the war boosted the numbers seeking degrees. The Education Act, 1918 raised the school leaving age to 14. Together with other reforms, it appeared to promise would-be teachers an enhanced professional status through higher salaries and a pensions scheme, while the new school certificate examination system, introduced in 1917, increasingly shaped the school curriculum.

The new government ‘Scheme for the Higher Education of Ex-Service Students’ provided financial assistance to ex-servicemen, covering tuition fees and living costs during their studies, broadening the social base of those able to access higher education. Between 1918 and 1923, 27,772 ex-service students in England and Wales received such grants. More than 900 students enrolled at LDTC in 1921–22, three times the pre-war numbers. Among these were a number of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who enrolled on short courses while awaiting repatriation.

Some did not, of course, return. The three staff members and 37 students who were killed in action were mourned in Southampton Row and commemorated on a brass plaque. In 2019 this was rehung in the IOE library in 20 Bedford Way after spending several decades languishing in an archive storeroom. Compiling accurate rolls of honour in the aftermath of war was notoriously difficult, and research by Barry Blades found that two of those listed did not die in the war at all, while others who did were missed off.

In 1919 the college magazine, the Londinian, hailed ‘the return of the men’ and celebrated their role in reinvigorating both the social and academic life of the LDTC. Fancy dress dances, dramatic performances, debating, gym displays, ping pong games, netball and tennis matches all resumed, though ‘flu, strikes and conflicting events’ continued to affect such meetings in those early post-war years. A sense of student identity was promoted by the wearing of college ties. LDTC students played an important role in the rebuilding of university life and the strengthening of a nascent student movement, supporting both the creation of the University of London Union in 1921 and the National Union of Students in 1922. For example, ex-service student Charles Judd, the President of the LDTC Union Society in 1922–1923, went on to serve as first Honorary Secretary of the newly-formed NUS.

This influx of students after the war put strain on staff and the buildings alike. In 1922 John Adams retired and was succeeded as Principal by Percy Nunn. The end of this second decade marked the LDTC’s transition from a college primarily training elementary school teachers to a graduate institution offering a ‘four-year course’. In the words of the Union President in a 1921 Londinian article the LDTC was the ‘premier training college’ and in the early 1920s it was fast becoming the intellectual and professional centre for education in London.


Further reading

Georgina Brewis, Sarah Hellawell and Daniel Laqua, Rebuilding the Universities after the Great War: Ex-Service Students, Scholarships and the Reconstruction of Student Life in England. History, 103 (2020): 82-106. Open access.

Richard Aldrich and Tom Woodin, ‘The UCL Institute of Education: From training college to global institution’, UCL Press, 2021.



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