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IOE at 120: the parallel lives of the Institute and the ILEA, 1982-1992

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 30 September 2022

Newsam Library. Credit: Matt Clayton.

This blog is the ninth 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. 

Peter Mortimore.

During the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s Government sought to wean education away from anything tinged with progressivism to something more in tune with the Conservative Party’s traditions. In London, this meant mounting an attack on the two dominant and interactive players: the University of London’s Institute of Education (as it was known then) and the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA). By the end of the decade only one would have survived.

IOE, founded in 1902, had increased in size and reputation, as readers of the earlier blogs will know, and, by the beginning of the decade, was the largest university establishment dedicated to education in the country. In 1983 Denis Lawton was appointed Director. An ILEA teacher, he had come to the Institute in 1963 as a research officer for Basil Bernstein and his Institute career had developed over the years. He became a professor in 1974 and the deputy director in 1978.

Like all universities, IOE had suffered cutbacks in funding due to the oil price shocks of the 1970s. Several London University institutions had merged in order to make better use of their resources and much of the director’s time was spent considering whether the Institute should pursue an amalgamation with one of its neighbours. Independence won the argument and a process of democratising the Institute’s decision-making was undertaken and a Royal Charter sought. This Charter, finally presented to IOE in 1988, guaranteed its status as an independent school of the University of London.

During the decade the Government maintained the pressure on education, enacting its Better Schools Act in 1985. This removed from universities much of the control of the post-graduate courses (PGCEs) taken by trainee teachers and gave it to the newly-created Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (CATE). Ironically, the chair of this body was none other than Sir William Taylor, the former Director of IOE (1973-1983). But this was only a precursor. In 1987 the Government introduced its all-encompassing Education Reform Bill with, amongst its other provisions, a National Curriculum and a scheme of national assessment. Professor Lawton, a renowned expert on the curriculum, criticised the Bill arguing that it was based on a political agenda, would alienate teachers and waste a huge amount of public money. Later in the decade, the Institute published a Bedford Way Paper edited by Professor Lawton and Clyde Chitty criticising the National Curriculum. in making these criticisms he earned the enmity of Government. In 1989 he chose to return to teaching and research, a role he maintained until his retirement in 2003.  Sir Peter Newsam, a former Education Officer of the ILEA, was appointed as the new Director.

The ILEA had been created in 1965 from the former London County Council to provide education for the 12 inner London boroughs of the newly created Greater London Council (GLC) and, save for the years between 1967 and 1970 when it was controlled by Conservatives, had been dominated by Labour politicians. Its policies were driven by a search for innovation and equality of achievement.

Under Sir Peter Newsam’s influence it had been one of the first local authorities to persuade its schools to become comprehensives. As the largest local education authority in Europe its economy of scale enabled it to provide a wide range of in-service support, to run an educational television service, to maintain well stocked school libraries, to provide many playing fields (including climbing centres in Scotland and Wales) and to support bands and dance groups as well as a symphony orchestra that could attract the likes of Simon Rattle to direct its residential courses. As well as its own inspectorate, the authority included a Research and Statistics Branch. I was its director from 1979-85 before I took on the role of Assistant Education Officer for Secondary education.

At the local elections in 1982 the moderate Labour leadership of the GLC and Sir Ashley Bramall, the leader of the ILEA, were replaced by more leftwing members and an increased focus on anti-racism and anti-sexism was adopted. This, among other policies, infuriated the Conservative Government at the time and it determined to abolish first the GLC (in 1986) and, after several abortive attempts, the ILEA. This was achieved when Conservative Ministers Michael Heseltine and Norman Tebbit introduced an amendment during the Committee stage of the 1987 Bill. This legislation finally led to the death of the Authority in 1990.

The ILEA was not perfect. It was expensive (as were the London Fire Brigade and similar capital-wide services) and its management structures were seen by some as too remote. But the quality of its officers and its array of pupil and teacher opportunities were unrivalled. It pioneered many initiatives which were later copied by other local authorities in the UK and abroad and which are now seen as routine. The ‘Race, Sex and Class initiative’, for example, began with a presentation by the Research and Statistics Branch in the Festival Hall, and was attended by almost all the ILEA political Members and up to three teachers from every ILEA school. It inaugurated equal opportunities policies which are now simply deemed good practice.

In contrast, to the ILEA’s demise, the IOE survived the decade and increased its academic reputation. I joined the staff from a chair at Lancaster University to become its Deputy Director in 1990 having left the ILEA in 1987. I was rejoining Sir Peter Newsam (my former ILEA boss), Barbara MacGilchrist (an ILEA former Chief Inspector) and many other ex-ILEA colleagues. During the remainder of the decade the IOE adapted its secondary PGCE course to the new governmental regulations. It also greatly expanded its high-quality primary PGCE course and introduced an innovative one for further education lecturers. It was undertaking much internationally esteemed research including studies of young children’s development pioneered by  the Institute’s Thomas Coram Research Unit founded by Professor Jack Tizard, the Linguistic Diversity Project, later funded by the EEC, and the theoretical work of Professor Basil Bernstein. It remained a target for criticism among some members of the Government but its university status and international reputation undoubtedly helped secure its survival.

The biggest physical change to IOE during the decade was the building of a new library. This was made possible by the financial acumen of the Director. Sir Peter Newsam secured money from various bodies, including the University of London and the University Funding Council, but also a substantial amount from the London Residuary Body, set up to deal with the disposal of the ILEA’s unspent reserves.  It also donated many books, greatly adding to the IOE’s collection. In recognition of his contribution, the building was named the Newsam Library. It remains the leading education library in Europe.

So the decade ended with the ILEA abolished and IOE flourishing. Paradoxically, whilst the pupils, parents and teachers of the 12 inner boroughs undoubtedly lost out when the entity of the ILEA was disbanded, the Institute probably benefited from the change. The personnel, resources and knowledge of London’s education system that came from the ILEA certainly provided a boost but, furthermore, the abolition of its parallel education colossus meant that London’s teachers now looked predominantly to IOE for educational ideas.

Professor Peter Mortimore was IOE Director from 1994 until 2000.

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

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One Response to “IOE at 120: the parallel lives of the Institute and the ILEA, 1982-1992”

  • 1
    Rosemary Davis wrote on 30 September 2022:

    Mortimore fills an important gap in knowledge about ILEA and its relationship with IOE. Remembering back to my days in the late 70’s and 80’s when I headed the new Primary PGCE, on the one hand, ILEA assisted IOE with teaching help ( Physical Education). IOE, on the other hand, assisted ILEA with expert help, eg support to specific schools or advice on particular issues. The two institutions enjoyed good working relationships but compatible with independence.