Educating Islington: a study in the failure of progressive education

Standpoint“He was a public school man who had gone into state education because it was more rewarding.” So begins John le Carré’s description of Peter Worthington, a minor character in his 1977 novel The Honourable Schoolboy. Worthington is a decent but hapless schoolteacher who makes references to behavioural psychology in conversation and advocates giving children the “freedom” to “develop their individuality”. Where did le Carré, a master chronicler of the English professional class, choose for this character to teach? The London Borough of Islington.

While I was researching a book about the recent history of Britain’s state schools, this one London borough cropped up again and again, playing a significant role in every decade from the Sixties to today. Islington was the home of Britain’s first outwardly “progressive” comprehensive school, and this country’s most acrimonious school scandal. The borough’s schools have spurred politicians of all stripes into action, from the right-wing Tory MP Rhodes Boyson, to Jim Callaghan’s head of policy Bernard Donoughue. Tony Blair, once Islington’s most famous resident, risked the ire of his own party by refusing to send his children to a local school, and charged another Islington resident, Andrew Adonis, with reforming British education. An Islington school even provided the choir for perhaps the world’s best-known song about education, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”.

Read the full article on the Standpoint website here.

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~ by goodbyemisterhunter on May 1, 2014.

2 Responses to “Educating Islington: a study in the failure of progressive education”

  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. I taught in Islington in the 1990s. Schools in the borough have without doubt improved, but your analysis of their performance in the 1990s, the causes of this situation, and the reasons for their improvement, are incredibly weak. Forget your prejudices and just try and be a good historian.

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