75 years  

Education and International Development Group : 1995-2001

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Dr Clive Whitehead : occasional student 1966 – 1967, regular visiting researcher 1979-2002

This concluding contribution from Dr Clive Whitehead, which spans the period 1966- 2002, describes life as a student and a  Charlton Athletic supporter. A regular visitor to the Institute, Clive’s research on British Colonial education policy in India and the Colonial Empire has made a major contribution to our understanding of the history of our work on education in developing countries:  LINK

"My links with the London Institute began in the autumn of 1966 when I enrolled as an ‘occasional’ student in educational philosophy. From memory I paid a £5 enrolment fee which enabled me to attend lectures without the obligation to do essays or sit the final exam. At the time I was working as a secondary school teacher at the former John Ruskin Grammar School in Selsdon, near Croydon and commuted up to London twice weekly to attend lectures in the diploma course. I was born in Croydon and attended John Ruskin Grammar School as a pupil for almost two years before my parents emigrated to New Zealand in May 1952. Thereafter, I eventually obtained an MA degree in history from the University of New Zealand, having studied at Canterbury University College in Christchurch, and qualified as a teacher in 1961. In the mid 1960s I was on a two year working holiday in the UK with my wife who was also a teacher  at St Michael’s – an independent girls’ school in Limpsfield, which, alas, no longer exists.

The mid sixties was an exciting time in London. It was the era of the Beatles, Carnaby Street, the Avengers, the mini skirt, the Mini and the E type Jaguar, and England won the world soccer cup at Wembley. It was no less a time to remember at the Institute of Education. Intellectual life was dominated by the likes of Professor Basil Bernstein in Sociology; and Professors Richard Peters and Paul Hirst, who were both in philosophy. In the autumn of 1966 Peters was writing  his book Ethics and Education, which was to become an almost compulsory text in education courses in universities throughout the English-speaking world in the next decade. Peters’ lecture notes were taken straight from the manuscript which, from memory, appeared in print early in 1967. In those days there was standing room only at philosophy lectures. Peters would suck away at his pipe as he extolled the virtues of what was in essence the educational ideals of a liberally educated middle class English gentleman. His offsider was the effervescent Paul Hirst, whose infectious enthusiasm in tutorials - it was my good fortune to be in one - is indelibly imprinted in my memory. I still recall as if it were yesterday, Paul leading a lively debate about whether someone who knew all the mathematics there was to know but nothing else was an ‘educated man’? It was in 1966 or 1967 that Paul first turned up at the Institute in a Jaguar motorcar – probably a Mark II – that provoked ribald comments from the students. In retrospect, I think my experience of Peters’ lectures was the closest I have ever come to experiencing the medieval scenario of admiring students sitting at the feet of the great scholar hanging on his every word. Obviously that age of relative innocence did not - could not - last but I do not regret the experience.

In late 1967 I left the UK and returned to New Zealand. My link to the Institute stood me in good stead when I went on to do further study in Education at what by then had become The University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. The Professor of Education was Henry Field, who had been on the Institute staff in the 1930s. Another staff member who became a lifelong colleague was Dr, later Professor, Richard Seddon, who was a PhD student at the Institute immediately after the second world war. I mention both men to highlight the overseas influence of the Institute. Everywhere in Australasia, one found academic staff in universities who had trained or taught at the London Institute. In 1970 I took up a lectureship in education at the University of Otago which is situated in Dunedin, the Gaelic word for Edinburgh. The Professor of Education was Frank Mitchell, an Australian, who wrote the biography of Sir Fred Clarke, the former Director of the Institute. Mitchell was another from ‘down under’ who had also done his PhD at the Institute immediately after the second world war.

I moved to another academic appointment at the University of Western Australia in 1976 and returned to the Institute as a visiting research scholar on six months’ sabbatical leave in 1979. The visit proved to be the start of a long and close association with the Institute – truly akin to a home away from home for me – which has continued to the present. At the last count I think I had spent no less than six sabbatical leaves as a visiting research scholar at the Institute and while never a graduate of it in the formal sense, I felt greatly honoured when I was invited to become an honorary member of the Alumni Association when it was instituted several years ago. 

My formal links with the Institute in the 1980s were with the Department of Education in Developing Countries. In the 1990s these were continued via the Department of International and Comparative Education and more recently the Department of History and Philosophy, but during that time I got to know a wide array of staff and students. Throughout my academic career my research, much of it based in archives, has focussed on British colonial education policy in India and the Colonial Empire. London is where the records are kept – the Public Record Office, the India Office Library, the Mission archives, the University of London thesis collection – and the Institute is where so many teachers and educational administrators in the colonies received their initial training. The links between the Institute and the Colonial Office were intimate and long-standing, while the library and archives of the Institute provide another significant source of research.

My academic interests  led me to explore the origins of the Colonial Department at the Institute and also to examine in depth the careers of Professor Margaret Read and Mr William Dodd, both former staff members.

When I first came to the Department of Education in Developing Countries Peter Williams was the professor and head of department. The warm welcome I received from him and all the staff was to be the start of many long friendships with current and former staff. I was also fortunate to get to know ‘Bill’, later Sir William Taylor, the former Director of the Institute. Back in the 1980s he made regular visits to Australia and built up many contacts with fellow academics ‘down under’. I recall meeting him quite literally ‘on the stairs’ at the Institute on one occasion in the middle of a normal working day. Despite what must have been his usual demanding schedule we chatted for almost half an hour before going our separate ways. He always had time for people and showed a great interest in what they were doing. Perhaps that was the secret of his very successful career. Over the years I also made many friends among the library staff and none more so than Peter Moss. Whenever I was on sabbatical leave I was forever asking for material most of which was ‘in store’. Ultimately I was given virtual carte blanche to go down into the store and fossick around at will. It was a great privilege and I unearthed some very interesting material, some of which even the library staff didn’t know about. Over the years I have felt very much part of an extended family at the Institute. On various occasions I sat in on MA seminars – often playing the role of Devil’s Advocate - and also helped with some research seminars. The rich cultural mix of students was unparalleled elsewhere.

Some vivid memories from past sojourns at the Institute include a large bonfire and fireworks on Guy Fawkes’ night on Haywards Heath and then refreshments at Margaret Richards’ nearby home; the occasion when I went to enter a corridor of the Institute building but very swiftly decided to retrace my steps when I saw two professors literally almost coming to blows as they shouted at each another in the corridor; and the night of the great storm in the autumn of 1987 when Russell Square was made to resemble a scene in the Blitz with uprooted trees everywhere. I was staying at nearby London House and at the height of the storm huge trees in Mecklenburgh Square where swaying like young saplings. On another occasion I attended a seminar given by the late Professor Mark Blaug. He made what I thought were some dubious assumptions about the links between education and economics in nineteenth century Britain and I challenged him about them in question time. Despite his professorial status I stood my ground, which clearly impressed the many overseas students in attendance who were not used to seeing professors challenged in this way. Afterwards, quite by chance he and I stood side by side in the toilet. He glanced at me and said ‘You’re  not a student?’ I then explained who I was. He grinned and said that he had enjoyed being challenged for once and perhaps I had a point!

At the Institute’s 75 anniversary, a former Visiting Professor and a close colleague of mine, the late Dr. C.E.Beeby, from New Zealand, remarked to Professor Lionel Elvin that the Institute was at the heart of things. ‘It is here’, he suggested, ‘that things happen’. I know just what he meant. For me, the Institute is where I have regularly recharged my academic batteries. Whatever may or may not be said about the Institute by its academic rivals in the UK – and they are not always complimentary -  for me it has always been a place of intellectual stimulation, like the quality newspapers in London. Perhaps that is why I constantly return to it whenever I get the chance. I think the architecture of the ‘new’ building leaves much to be desired and the natural concrete finish of the internal walls and stairwells etc is hideous –  it would seem that many staff think likewise - but these pale into insignificance when compared to the rich array of people who work within its confines. So many come to mind down the years, including not least the many secretarial and administrative staff that I have been privileged to know. The late Margaret Richards, at one time the administrative secretary of the former Department of Education in Developing Countries, was a case in point. She started working at the Institute as a young typist in the early 1950s when Professor Margaret Read was in her prime. Later, she too became a power in her own right but she was always helpful and friendly to visitors like me and told me informally what life was like in the old Colonial Department in the era when professors were likened to ‘robber barons’. Hers was a very hard act to follow but when she retired her place was filled by Rajee. Rajagopalan. Not only did Rajee endear herself to all who had dealings with her, but like Margaret before her, she too has become something of a legend in the Institute’s history.

I must confess that my frequent visits back to London have not been motivated solely by academic research or my fond feelings for the Institute. Since I was barely eight years old I have had an enduring love affair with the Charlton Athletic Football Club located at The Valley in SE7 and never miss the chance to see them play when I am in London. Believe it or not, this aspect of my life has also been closely linked to the Institute in the shape of a long and close friendship with Professor Richard Aldrich, the author of the recent centennial history of the Institute. Sometime back in the 1980s we were introduced to each other by a mutual friend who knew that both our emotional lives revolved around the weekly fate of Charlton Athletic. Since then Richard has gone on to become one of Britain’s foremost educational historians and another in a long line of distinguished professors at the Institute. Support for Charlton Athletic at the Institute has not been confined to Richard and myself. Like Richard, Hugh Hawes, a former Reader in the Dept. of EDC, has also followed the fortunes of Charlton for many years. By contrast, Rajee Rajagopalan lives within a stone’s throw of The Valley but despite my concerted efforts over many years I never succeeded in making her a Charlton supporter or even a follower of football for that matter.

In a book that I wrote recently on the British Indian and Colonial Education Services[1], it was so readily apparent how close the links were between the spread of western education into Africa, Asia and the Pacific in the past 100 years and the work of the Institute. From its inception as the London Day Training College in 1902 through to the present day the Institute has educated and trained an endless procession of teachers and administrators who have then gone abroad to enrich the lives of others. It is a priceless legacy which may ultimately prove to be the most enduring aspect of Britain’s imperial past. I feel fortunate to have been involved in a minor way in that enterprise and to have known and worked with many staff and students at the Institute.

[1] Whitehead, C. (2003) Colonial Educators, the British Indian and Colonial Education Service 1858-1983, London/New York, I.B.Taurus


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Compiled and edited by Clare Bentall and Angela Little. First issued Spring 2005.