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IOE at 120: Imagining the education of the future, 1932-1942

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 26 April 2022

Finding a home in the University of LondonGary McCulloch.

This blog is the fourth 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.

1932… hardly the best of times to create a new Institute of Education in London. Certainly, it was an age when there were many brave and even utopian schemes coming to the fore in the world of education. The 1920s and 1930s saw progressive ideals becoming manifest, for example, in A.S. Neill’s Summerhill school, with its ideals of freedom for children; Bertrand and Dora Russell’s Beacon Hill school, with its radical ideals about child-rearing; and the civic philosophy of Kurt Hahn’s Gordonstoun. The New Education Fellowship was founded in 1921, inspired by the mystic Beatrice Ensor, and continued for the next two decades to generate international conferences on lofty themes and the journal The New Era, while the threats of fascism and war grew on the European continent.

And yet, despite the progressive visions, the years following the First World War were also hard times for education, despite the promises of the Education Act of 1918. Economic pressures were at the heart of this. The Geddes reports of 1922 led to economies in education including an increase in the size of elementary school classes and savings in teachers’ salaries and pensions. This was the beginning of, as the historian Brian Simon has put it, economy as a way of life, marked by industrial conflict including the General Strike of 1926.

In 1931, the social reformer R.H. Tawney complained in his greatest work, Equality, of a ‘tadpole philosophy’, the basis of an education system and society in which ‘the scamped quality of our primary education – the overcrowded classes, and mean surroundings, and absence of amenities’ were ‘a matter of secondary importance’. By then, the economic edifice was itself showing signs of crumbling, first in 1929 in the great Wall Street stock market crash in the USA, and then in Britain the failure of a minority Labour government to avoid, in 1931, a full-scale financial crisis.

It was therefore in these most unlikely of circumstances that the brainchild of Sidney Webb three decades before, the London Day Training College (LDTC), was recast and reimagined for the education of the future. Its present residence was with the London County Council (LCC); might it find more suitable, safe and salubrious accommodation in the University of London? The principal of the LDTC in the postwar years, Percy Nunn, thought that it might. The LDTC was now augmenting its original purpose of training future teachers and was becoming increasingly diverse, especially with more advanced and research courses. Nunn himself imagined that it should now become ‘a centre of educational thought, inquiry and training’, and further to this, ‘a centre for educational research’.

One key supporter of this aspiration was Edwin Deller, the principal of the University of London. He proposed that a new position within the university would allow it to become ‘an imperial and international centre for higher study and research’. Yet this would have significant financial repercussions for the university in the midst of the Great Depression. So there was a need for sponsorship, and for this he turned to the USA and in particular one of its most established foundations, the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The Carnegie Corporation had already provided large-scale funding to support new ventures in education around the world, besides helping to establish a National Bureau of Economic Research and an American Law Institute. Frederick Keppel took over as president of the Corporation in 1924 with a mission to promote cultural philanthropy of international proportions, and he continued to distribute largesse even after the Wall Street crash.

So Deller proceeded to sound out Keppel for a prospective sponsorship arrangement. The LCC had agreed to hand over to the university housing of the LDTC, and also to pay for its rebuilding on the university’s site in Bloomsbury in central London.  Deller envisaged that this would allow a new Institute of Education to become ‘a great centre of research and higher study and especially for students from overseas’.  The national Board of Education would need Treasury funding to help pay for this project, and so it would come under serious scrutiny at a difficult time.  Carnegie would be able to help by supporting scholarships for carefully selected students around the Dominions – soon to become the British Commonwealth – who could produce advanced work in education.  In exchange, the USA would no doubt gain from the international influence that such a scheme would allow.

The new IOE took inspiration from the model of the Teachers College in Columbia University, New York, and especially its professor of education, Isaac Kandel. Another intermediary was Fred Clarke, then professor of education at McGill University in Canada, who helped to secure further Carnegie funding for fellowships and professors appointed from around the world. It was this that enabled Clarke to take over from Nunn as IOE director from 1936, with the aim of leading not a ‘glorified Training College’, but ‘something analogous to the [London] School of Economics’.

The international clientele in advanced studies in education that Clarke helped to promote, including students, fellows and professors, also provided a base for the growth of educational studies, long delayed in England, as well as a model for the international field.  The reimagining of the IOE was a signal contribution to a progressive vision, emerging from the darkest days of economic depression.

Further reading

Aldrich, R., Woodin, T. (2002/2021) The UCL Institute of Education:  From Training College to Global Institution, UCL Press, London, 2nd edition

Lagemann, E.C. (1989) The Politics of Knowledge:  The Carnegie Corporation, Philanthropy, and Public Policy, University of Chicago Press, Chicago

McCulloch, G. and Cowan, S. (2018) A Social History of Educational Studies and Research, Routledge, London

Simon, B. (1974) The Politics of Educational Reform, 1920-1940, Lawrence and Wishart, London

Tisdall, L. (2020) A Progressive Education?  How Childhood Changed in Mid-Twentieth-Century English and Welsh Schools, Manchester University Press, Manchester

Photo of Senate House by Rain Rabbit via Creative Commons: Finding a home in the University of London


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