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IOE at 120: the Second World War and the educative society, 1942-1952

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 18 May 2022

THE NEW BOY Mr RA Butler: “It may not seem very easy at first but you’ll soon settle down.”

This blog is the fifth 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.

Gary McCulloch.

The decade from 1942 to 1952 went from some of the most difficult and dangerous days of the Second World War, to the stirring of hopes that an educative society could be created in which educational values underpinned the reconstruction of society.

For the IOE it might be called Fred Clarke’s decade. When he died in January 1952, 70 years ago, Professor A.V. Judges at King’s College London, could recall him as ‘the doyen of pedagogic leaders in his own country… a reformer through and through’. To former students like the historian Brian Simon, he was ‘the leading educational statesman in Britain’.

It was Clarke who presided over the early development of the Institute of Education under its new title at the University of London as its director from 1936 to 1945, through the challenges of the war years when the IOE had to be evacuated from London to a temporary home in Nottingham.

Clarke was acutely aware of the social class inequalities on which English education had been based.  He was also concerned to help to promote a new social philosophy that would be ‘in harmony with that which inspires a generous education’. He looked for a middle path between the egalitarianism of the American high school and the social class prejudices, ‘that damnosa haereditas of class-feeling’, of secondary education as it had developed in England.

Clarke’s role as a significant educational reformer during the Second World War has recently been established, based on his influential book Education and Social Change and his position at the IOE, which gave him a platform to advocate wide-ranging educational reforms.

Doctoral research based at the IOE has demonstrated that Clarke helped to lead the educational debate through a large number of speeches and discussions around the country, and also that he was able to advise the President of the Board of Education, R.A. Butler. These culminated in the Education Act of 1944, which formed the basis for extensive changes in the post-war education system, including secondary education for the whole age-range to 15.

Fred Clarke

After the War, Clarke was a champion of what he called the ‘educative society’ of the future, and also the first chair of the Central Advisory Council for Education created by the Education Act. This was a key advisory body that later produced the Crowther (15-18 education), Newsom (secondary education for average and below average pupils) and Plowden (primary education) reports, and Clarke led it to the publication of its first report, School and Life, in 1947 (transition from education into independent adult life).

Nevertheless, Clarke’s contribution as director of the IOE to establishing educational studies in its modern form at the IOE and beyond has been underestimated.

There already were a number of academic chairs in education, at the IOE and elsewhere in England, but it was Clarke’s singular achievement to establish chairs in specialist areas of education. In his plan for the post-war development of the IOE he defined these as philosophy, psychology (including social psychology), sociology, history, and comparative education.

He argued that they were crucial for the widening scope of the study of education that would be needed, especially for the expanding secondary education and advanced and higher education sectors, and indeed lifelong learning that he anticipated for the next half-century.

Meanwhile, it was Clarke’s ambition to establish an academic journal that covered education as a whole, culminating in 1952 in the creation of the British Journal of Educational Studies as the first national academic journal of education to be produced in England.

Clarke also led the first national survey of educational research in 1939. This began the creation of a network, or a collaboration between individuals and institutions committed to the study of education in some form, which could identify both the long-standing weaknesses and the potential strengths of educational studies and research in England and Wales.

Clarke himself promoted a public discussion around education as an academic formation of knowledge, worthy of being studied in depth in its own right, especially through his authorship of the first published critique of the field, The Study of Education in England, in 1943.

Some of his trenchant verdicts on how education was regarded in England are still worth recalling today, in particular:

…if we conducted our medical and engineering sciences and our industrial production with the same slipshod carelessness, the same disregard for precision of thought and language, the same wild and reckless play of sentimentality or class prejudice or material interest masquerading as principle, with which we carry on our public discussions about education, most patients would die, most bridges would fall down, and most manufacturing concerns would go bankrupt. 

This work, now almost forgotten, helped to create a public discourse favourable to education in the final years of the Second World War during the passage of the Education Act of 1944, and in the immediate post-war years in social reconstruction and the Welfare State.


Further reading

Aldrich, R., Woodin, T. (2002 / 2021) The UCL Institute of Education: From Training College to Global Institution, UCL Press, London, ISBN: 9781787359529

Clarke, F. (1940) Education and Social Change, Sheldon Press, London

Clarke, F. (1943) The Study of Education in England, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Hofstetter, R., Schneuwly, B. (2002) ‘Institutionalisation of educational sciences and the dynamics of their development’, European Education Research Journal, 1/1, pp. 3-26  http://dx.doi.org/10.2304/eerj.2002.1.1.9

Ku, Hsiao-Yu (2012) Education for liberal democracy: Fred Clarke and educational reconstruction in England 1936-1952. PhD thesis , Institute of Education, University of London. URL:  https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10020674

Ku, Hsiao-Yuh (2013) ‘Education for liberal democracy: Fred Clarke and the 1944 Education Act’, History of Education, 42/5, pp. 578-97, DOI: 10.1080/0046760X.2013.823627

McCulloch, G., Cowan, S. (2018) A Social History of Educational Studies and Research, Routledge, London, ISBN: 9781787359529




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