On 18th October 1976, Prime Minister James Callaghan gave a speech at Ruskin College in Oxford. The speech raised questions about accountability, the philosophy of teaching and the purpose of education. It was the first time that a Prime Minister had made a speech that focused almost solely on education. The impact of this speech has in some ways shaped education policy for the last 40 years
In the years leading up to the Ruskin speech there had been a lot of tensions around education and the wider economy. With the rise of the middle class after World War Two pressure had been placed on education because more parents wanted their children to have privileged education. Many parents had therefore become disappointed that the tri-partite system introduced by the 1944 Education Act hadn’t delivered the equality of opportunity it had promised. It was also a time in which the practise of educational psychology influenced by individuals such as Jean Piaget was beginning to influence education.
In 1967, the minister of Education, Sir Edward Boyle asked the Central Advisory Council for Education “to consider primary education in all aspects and the transition to secondary education.” Prior to this report the last review on education had been the Hadow Report (1930). Chaired by Lady Plowden the 1967 Plowden Report is widely known for its stress on a child centred approach to Primary education.
The Black Papers published in 1969-1977 also focused on the education provided at the time. The Black Papers countered the White Papers published by the government and picked upon the concerns made by the public about the state of education. The first Black Paper published in 1969 focused on the progressive style of education being used in primary schools. The Black Papers were opposed to Piaget arguments that children should develop in their own way. “They don’t want to be chivvied through exams on a career ladder; they want to be (what they conceive to be) themselves….’ (Musgrove, 1987:109). All five of the Black papers attacked the ideas of comprehensive education. They talked about the lack of discipline in schools they also blamed Comprehensivisation for preventing students from getting good exam results. They also criticised the Plowden Report for favouring free choice over structured learning.
In October 1973, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed a ban on oil for many Western countries for supporting Israel in the Yom-Kippur War. This led prices increasing causing a worldwide recession. The Oil crisis was the foundation for economic arguments in education. Many argued that the purpose of schools was to provide workers for the highly competitive workplace. Due to the socio-political crisis, there was an increase in concerns about the state of the education system.
Another cause of tension around education was the William Tynedale Affair 1974. In 1974, the staff at William Tynedale primary school introduced a teaching...