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IOE at 120: the mission to transform education and society continues, 2012-22 and into the future

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 8 December 2022

This is the last in a series of 12 blogs 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. 

Emma Wisby sums up and wraps up our blog series.

It is important for an organization to have a sense of its history, to take opportunities to reflect on that journey as well as celebrate its contributions and achievements. That is what we have been doing this year at IOE, as it marks its 120thanniversary. It has been an opportunity to recognize the many individuals and organizations that have been a vital part of IOE’s impact. Central to this has been the IOE at 120 blog series, which in this piece we draw together and bring to the present day.

As the series has conveyed, organizationally IOE has taken many different forms:

  • from elementary teacher training college for London with just 58 students,
  • to the Area Training Organization for London, overseeing some 30 teacher education colleges,
  • and back to a single entity; from one of England’s esteemed ‘mono-technics’ or ‘specialist institutions’, alongside the likes of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Royal College of Art,
  • to a world-leading faculty within UCL.

In parallel, we see IOE’s influence on the field of education studies and then, over more recent decades, related areas of social science and the arts and humanities, too, across the domains of children and families, the labour market, public health and culture. From ‘Institute of Education’ to ‘IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society’.

IOE was from its outset an innovator in school curriculum and pedagogy as well as teacher education, includingthrough pioneering work on educational broadcasting and film in the early 1900s. But it is Sir Fred Clarke, IOE Director in the 1940s, who is credited with shaping the field of educational studies as we still know it today in the UK (as well as, in many respects, the IOE we know today). He had a hand in founding several education journals and organizations, such as the National Foundation for Educational Research (NfER), that also continue to thrive. His arguments, both that education should benefit from rigorous study, and that educational theory and policy that take no account of wider social forces “will be not only blind but positively harmful”, remain as pertinent as ever.

IOE’s broader role in sustaining the foundation disciplines of education is also set out in the blog series, through our historians’ contributions and with posts on the philosophy of education and the sociology of education, recounting the influence of colleagues like Richard Peters, Jean Floud and Basil Bernstein.

By the 1930s, IOE had already started to look at the lives of children and families beyond the classroom, through the work of figures such as Susan Isaacs. This aspect of its work has grown ever since. Through centres such as the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU), Social Science Research Unit (SSRU) and Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS), among many more, IOE continues to contribute world-leading expertise – substantive and methodological – in social research.

These centres themselves have a long history, CLS and its world-leading cohort studies approaching their 25th year at IOE, as their most recent home, and TCRU celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023. Work in the arts and humanities has been equally influential, including in intercultural studies, aided by the work of Jagdish Gundara, as well as museology and linguistics.  Meanwhile, centres like the Knowledge Lab, Centre for Holocaust Education and Centre for Research in Autism and Education, and many more besides, continue IOE’s legacy of innovation and transforming understanding for the classroom (and beyond).

Through the 2010s, into the 2020s, IOE’s work has accounted for some £20m in research funding each year, with 100 projects in progress at any time. That has sat alongside the education of some 7,000 students each year, including 700 doctoral students and 1,000 student teachers, who IOE trains in partnership with 500 schools and colleges.

In teacher education, as a review of IOE’s history shows, there have been few periods of calm, from rapid post-war expansion, to the repeated creation and dissolution of sizeable supporting ‘architecture’. In the case of London, this includes the demise of the Inner London Educational Authority in the 1990s. If there has been a constant direction of travel in teacher education it has been that of the movement towards a ‘school-led’ system and growing partnership with schools and colleges .  This is something in which IOE was an early innovator, but nevertheless the changes of the past decade have been profound. Throughout, IOE’s priority has been to support the supply of excellent teachers.

In the midst of this, in 2014, came merger with our neighbour, UCL. In many ways an upheaval, it has enabled IOE to develop in new ways. For most of its history a largely postgraduate, post-experience provider, the most noticeable change post-merger has been the addition of undergraduate programmes across the full spread of IOE’s scholarship – thus far, including programmes in education, sociology, social and data science, psychology and communications. Always a collaborator across disciplines and institutions, that has also grown with partners across UCL’s faculties.

Looking back some six years on from this latest organizational transformation, it is striking how so much of IOE’s identity has endured. In its contemporary size and composition, IOE continues to say something very powerful about the links between social domains, especially education and other aspects of people’s lives, as well as the benefit of connecting research, policy and practice. It is in working across those spheres to transform lives that we still find our purpose: research to build understanding for policy and practice, and engagement with policy makers, practitioners and the public to inform our research; educating, and in turn learning from, our students, many of whom are educators themselves in different sectors, on the front line of enabling others to fulfil their potential and lead purposeful and satisfying lives; working in partnership with inspirational leaders and organizations who share our aspirations to understand and challenge the status quo.

Of course, no institution is perfect. There have been times when IOE has been merely of its time, and that is something else we have been reflecting on through the IOE@120 blog posts and among the contributions to a special issue of our journal, the London Review of Education. This includes early work on intelligence conducted at IOE and IOE’s work with the government’s colonial department in the early 20th century. Learning from those examples will be just as important as we look to the future.

So, what next for IOE? After 15 Directors, seven homes and five names – and momentous world events and striking social change – there are many continuities. IOE has long framed its mission in terms of supporting societies, organizations and individuals in navigating the challenges of change. In a deeply unequal society and world and in a context of accelerating change and uncertainty, it’s an imperative that is as pressing as ever.

Within that broad mission, there are three immediate priorities. True to IOE’s roots, one is to continue to champion teachers and values-led and research-informed teacher education. A second is to address societal problems with even greater conviction, through challenge-oriented and solutions-based research – something that is already happening through new endeavours around, for instance, charting the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s trajectories, and education for a climate-altered future. A third objective is attending to decolonization across the faculty’s work, as part of a broader ethos of inclusion. This will require a genuinely decolonizing attitude, including meaningful collaborations with the diversity of communities in London, with the Global South, and with staff and students of the Global Majority.

We hope you will continue to engage with and help us on all three.


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