Teacher Training at Oxford University – reluctant birth, robust development…and the Oxford Review of Education

Friday, December 13, 2019

Category: Blog

This paper, written by Richard Pring and published in The Oxford Magazine, commemorates the centenary of the University Statute which established the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Oxford in 1919, revealing the gradual evolution (following a reluctant start) of a unique relationship between the University, Department of Education, Local Education Authority and schools. This created a model for teacher training, professional development and research of universal significance, which eventually saw the launch of the Oxford Review of Education.

Emergence of interest in teacher training

The birth and evolution of the Department of Education at the University of Oxford provides insight into the changing attitudes of the University itself to its cultural involvement with the wider community and indeed to its contribution to Government policy. There was an original reluctance of the University to be involved in teacher education, for teaching did not have the professional status enjoyed by law or medicine. Indeed, Mr. Raleigh of All Souls explained to the Bryce Royal Commission of 1895 (established to review the provision of secondary education):

‘It is not the office of the University to train men (sic) for teaching or for any other profession … his special training must be left to those who are engaged in the professional work … Almost any honours man will make a good teacher, if he is conscientious, and if he has the luck to fall into the hands of a good head teacher.’

But Mr. Raleigh did admit reluctantly (no doubt believing that academic respectability would be eroded through the pursuit of professional relevance) that we might of course (one day) have a Professor of Education. However, Oxford works slowly and it took almost one hundred years before one arrived.

But that was evidence presented to a Royal Commission on secondary education only. Already, since 1892, the University had opened (under the Non-Collegiate Delegacy) a Day Training College for elementary school teachers at No.19 Holywell Street where they were able to gain a teachers’ certificate and take an external degree–part, one might think, of the wishes of the University (much influenced by the social philosophy and social activity of the philosopher T.H.Green of Balliol College) to contribute to the wider community. In the first year, there was an excellent staff-student ratio with three lecturers providing courses for one student, who, however, only got a third class honours in jurisprudence.

However, some did shine academically despite their humble beginnings. Fred Clarke (eventually knighted), who had been a pupil-teacher at Oxford’s St. Ebbes Elementary School, joined the Elementary Training College in 1899, was given the opportunity to study for a degree, and in 1903 gained a First Class in history along with his teacher’s certificate, thereby showing that this new avenue to the University which had been opened up, need not necessarily create (in the words of the Dean of Christ Church) a ‘danger of an academic proletariate’. Later Fred Clarke became Professor of Education at Cape Town University, then Director of the London Day Training College which later became the University of London Institute of Education.

Following the Bryce Report (and the 1902 Education Act which gave local authorities the right to establish and maintain secondary schools), the University responded by introducing, in 1902, training for secondary schools and for that purpose established a Department for Educational Studies, created a Readership with a Fellowship at Jesus College, and moved to rented rooms at No. 22 St. John Street. In 1919 a statute was passed creating a University Department for the Training of Teachers under a Director. It was eventually located in its present site in Norham Gardens in 1923.

Four years later, a student (no doubt known to some readers of the Oxford Magazine) joined the Department, having gained a First Class Honours degree in History whilst at St. Hugh’s College. Dr. Marjorie Reeves, who became a founding Fellow of St. Anne’s College, went on to teach the history of hairdressing to the Elementary School girls of Tower Hamlets, and her excellent You and Yours series of history books brought historical events alive for many decades to young learners who had no academic aspirations. Dr. Reeves was invited to membership of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) in 1947. When asked what was the main duty of a member of that Council, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education replied: ‘to be prepared to  die at the first ditch as soon as politicians try to get their hands on education’. Oh, if only Marjorie (who died in the late 1990s) were alive today!

The Department had been established to prepare teachers for Elementary and Secondary Schools–to help bring the cultural resources of the University to the schools. This professional emphasis remained of crucial importance. Research was not its central purpose, although works of scholarship were produced and certainly the department gained an international reputation for pioneering studies in Comparative and International Education under Dr. W.D.Halls. But hardly anyone now knows that the International Baccalauriate (IBacc) was created within the Department by the then Director, Alec Peterson, appointed Director in 1964. The Department therefore became closely involved in the Geneva-based project to research the feasibility of the IBacc. That reputation for International and Comparative Education, established by Halls and exemplified by Peterson, was subsequently enhanced by Halls’ successor, Professor David Phillips who created an internationally renowned Masters Course and Doctoral Programme.

Another former student, who may be remembered by some readers and worthy of mention, was Harold Loukes– a graduate of Oxford (1st class degree in English in 1934 and student of Jesus College) and member of the Department from 1949 to his death in 1980–the last 30 of those years as Reader. In between being a student and his appointment in the Department, he had taught in New Delhi for ten years and been head teacher of the New School in Darjeeling. His writings on religious and moral education, in particular through the journal Learning for Living, which he edited from 1961 to 1964, and his contributions to the British Journal of Religious Education, drew upon his Quaker model of Christian nurture for schools’ religious education and exerted wide influence in moral and religious education. His paper ‘Morality and the Education of the Teacher’ is an excellent example of the emerging influence of the Department in the professional concerns of schools through its newly established journal – the Oxford Review of Education (1976, Volume 2 Part 2).

Linking professional training and research

One can see the germs of subsequent developments in the ideals expressed by the then Director, Harry Judge, in the Report referred to the General Board in 1974–an ideal to be cherished now and for the future–concerning the reform of the Department, much needed if it were to be both professionally relevant and academically distinguished:

‘That reform should be marked by a new relationship between the Department and the University which has absentmindedly created it, a partnership between the Department and the schools and the local education authority in which it is geographically set, a reconstructed course for the year of postgraduate teacher training, a redefined balance between work for teachers before their careers begin and work with them during their careers, and a new approach (already commended to the Franks Commission) to the organisation of educational research in Oxford.’

That professional emphasis (namely, providing the very best professional preparation for teaching by drawing upon the relevant academic and research traditions of the University) was uniquely embodied in the late 1970s and 1980s, on the one hand, in the Oxford Internship Scheme, and, on the other, in the Oxford Education Research Group which brought together the research interests and achievements within the wider University relevant to educational thinking. It is important to enlarge on both these two developments.

Oxford Internship Scheme

Dr. Harry Judge was Director of the Department from 1977 to 1989. He had previously been Headteacher of Banbury School, one of the largest comprehensives in the country. He and Tim Brighouse (now knighted), who was Chief Education Officer for Oxfordshire, developed the unique partnership between the Local Education Authority, its secondary schools and the University department. The Internship Scheme embraced all the LEA’s Secondary Schools, whereby eight to ten trainees (Interns) would be allocated to each school, two per subject. Therefore, with such a large intake of interns, each school became in effect a training school (anticipating by 30 years a Government proposal for such), with a Professional Tutor organising the school contribution to the General Progamme of broad issues affecting learning, and a member of the Department (General Tutor) responsible for the University contribution, liaising with the Professional Tutor and jointly chairing the weekly school-based seminars of the General Programme. Each and every member of the Department (including the Director) was thereby attached to a school and worked in the school each week–no theory which was not disciplined by experience and practical engagement!

Furthermore, the Curriculum Tutor of each subject within the Department would liaise with the subject specialist (Mentor) within the school in conducting co-operatively the curriculum and classroom practice aspect of the training. There would be subject-based professional development for all the Mentors each term in the Department. Therefore, the initial teacher training (‘Internship’) became integrated with the professional development programme for teachers within the schools, and indeed was recognised as such both practically and financially by the LEA in its responsibility for teachers’ professional development. Together the Department and the teachers prepared booklets for work in the schools with special needs children.

It is a reflection on the ignorance of politicans, who take on the responsibilities of education, that Secretary of State, Kenneth Clarke, in planning in 1992 to place all teacher trainers in the schools, indicated no knowledge of this close and unique partnership between University, Local Education Authority, schools and teachers, which had been pioneered in Oxford and which integrated initial training, professional development and relevant research. The concern by headteachers of Oxfordshire, the University and the local authority were clearly expressed in a lengthy article in The Times (10th February 1992)–sub-titled ‘A genuine partnership in teacher training cannot be created on the orders of Whitehall mandarins’. The article demonstrated the real and possibly unique relationship between a university and schools –one in which there were shared values, shared interest in research, shared selection of schools, departments and mentors within those schools.

Such examples illustrate the faithfulness of the Department over its many decades to the reasons for its establishment and for the University’s interest in having such a Department, namely, to draw upon the resources and academic culture of the University to enrich the preparation of teachers for the schools. Indeed, I was told by one Vice-Chancellor that the Educational Studies Department was the most important one in the University because, without the sound preparation of teachers for our secondary schools, the quality of students coming up to University would suffer. It was in the interest of the University to support that professional preparation of teachers as one of its central missions. However, such arrangements (an essential feature being the close partnership with local comprehensive schools and thus the commitment to ‘the common school’) had to withstand considerable political opposition. According to The Times (Sept., 1993):

‘John Patten, the Education Secretary, threatened yesterday to halt teacher training courses at universities that refuse to send their students to independent schools … Mr Patten refused to name the institutions concerned, but headmasters said Oxford University’s education department was the worst offender. … The university turned down an approach from Eton College two years ago …. Arthur Hearnden, general secretary of the Independent Schools Joint Council, said later that Oxford was well known for refusing to co-operate with independent schools. Vivien Anthony, the secretary of the Headmaster’ Conference, said: Our relations with Oxford have always been totally appalling.’


The Internship generated a research programme, pioneered by the Reader, Donald McIntyre (later to become Professor and Director of Education at the University of Cambridge) on teachers’ classroom knowledge which helped to conceptualise the Internship Partnership. It provided the context for a research programme and research training for tutors in the Department, who had been appointed from schools for their excellent classroom practice but who lacked the necessary research training and research degrees. Their work, under the supervision of Donald McIntyre, covered a range of issues highly relevant to classroom practices and to the interns’ learning (for example, Linda Haggarty on the relation between curriculum tutor in OUDES and mentors working in the schools as they implemented the internship scheme; Hazel Hagger on school based teacher training; Chris Davies on the relationship between secondary English teachers’ ideologies and classroom practice; and Anna Pendry on the process of developing the internship model with specific reference to the role of co-ordinator). These became the ‘McIntyre team’ working with the teachers in the Internship Schools, thereby creating the distinctive university-LEA-schools research based professional practice. Thus was built up a distinctive and important research tradition which, in co-operation with the schools, related to classroom practice. This was all reported in the research report, funded by the Gukbenkian Foundation and edited by Peter Benton, ‘The Oxford Internship Scheme: Integration and Partnership in Initial Teacher Training’.

Therefore, the Internship Scheme was a unique contribution to the initial and professional education and training of teachers which became influential both in Britain and abroad. But there were national changes affecting universities generally and the professional preparation of teachers in particular. There had just been the first round of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The future of the Department would depend as much on its research assessment and place in the national research league tables as it would in the Ofsted reports on its teacher training. Research projects came to be funded in the teaching of science (led by Brian Woolnough, Mike Summers and Joan Solomon), and the ‘Geography, Schools and Industry Project’ led by Graham Corney But new appointments needed to be made and research centres established, the most significant and long enduring one being that of the Early Years Centre under Professor Kathy Sylva (who succeeded Donald McIntyre as Reader, based at Jesus College). This (still continuing research centre) had a major influence on Government policy in its establishment of Early Years Centres throughout the country.

However, it was seen to be important both within the Department and the wider University, which had supported the creation and development of educational studies, that the professional development of teachers should be informed and enlightened by ‘a new relationship between the Department and the University’. The Director, Dr. Harry Judge, had formed in 1975 the Oxford Education Research Group (OERG) with membership from relevant faculties of the University, the LEA and local schools. Members from the University included such nationally renowned academics as A.L.Halsey (Professor of Social Policy), Peter Bryant (Professor of Psychology), Jerome Bruner (Visiting Professor of Psychology from Harvard University), David Hargreaves (Reader within the Department and later Professor of Education at Cambridge University), Richard Hare (Professor of Philosophy), Anthony Heath (Fellow of Nuffield College, later to be given a Chair in Sociology); and John Wilson, member of the Department and a national leader in philosophy of education.

However, it was felt, following the recent and first Research Assessment Exercise, that for the Department to advance further there was a need for the appointment of a social scientist whose insight into the relevant research in sociology would enhance research in this broad area and enable the PGCE students, as required by a Government Circular (DES, 3/84):

‘to be prepared through their general education studies to take account of pupils’ diversity of ability, behaviour, social background, gender, ethnic and cultural origin.’

Eventually Geoffrey Walford was appointed to meet the Department’s proposal–20 years after such an appointment in social science had been put forward to the General Board by Professor Michael Brock, President of Nuffield College, for a Chair in Education, Training and Work because he had argued that it is extremely difficult to judge how the education system relates to the world of work if it is not to be led by a distinguished social scientist.

Governance and administration

In the gradual transformation of educational studies, the University administration was incredibly supportive, and it is important to reflect on how this could have been the case in such a large University with so many prestigious departments. Therefore, it is worth reflecting on those aspects of University governance, now much changed in a more centralised system, which were so supportive and effective.

The key academic committee of the University was the General Board to which the different Faculty Boards reported. Membership of General Board was by election from members of Congregation, but drawn from all Faculties. Their term of office was for a limited period. The Chair (selected from within the Board) was therefore in a powerful position within the University – except that his or her term of office lasted only two years. It is important to understand this balance of power and the democratic nature of its operation in order to appreciate the governance of the Department in these early days of its development. The General Board met every Friday, key business affecting academic life of the University thereby being dealt with very speedily.

Although the academic life of the University operated in the main through Faculty Boards of the different ‘Honours Schools’, there were exceptions where Diploma courses were developed outside the Honours Schools. Educational Studies (until 1989, mainly concerned with the Post-Graduate Certificate of Education) was one such exception. In such cases a Committee of the General Board would take responsibility for academic oversight, finances and staffing of the Department. The Committee for Educational Studies (CES), with well established academics from different faculties as well as members from the Department, would be advocates for the Department, though subjecting proposals, intended for the General Board, to critical scrutiny and comment before they went. Decisions on matters of importance to the Department (for example, on staff appointments) were speedily and sympathetically dealt with.

But the situation began to change. As the governance of the University moved into Divisions, so the General Board was abolished and the Department became a member of the Social Science Division, sitting alongside the newly established Said Business School. Pressure to score top grades in the then RAE and later the REF (Research Excellence Framework) grew. Fortunately the Department survived with honour, but it had become a very different University from the one during its early growth.

Bringing educational thinking and academia together: Oxford Review of Education

In 1974, the Oxford Review of Education was launched– the initiative of Harry Judge as Director of the Department of Educational Studies. Its declared object was:

‘To advance the study of education …to provide the elaboration and evaluation of a body of speculative and empirical theory, the development of which might improve practice and help to establish education more firmly as a legitimate field of academic enquiry …The editorial board seeks to provide a common form and, on occasions, a focal point of controversy for the discussion of research findings, of historical and contemporary issues and of the functioning of educational institutions, for specialists both in the disciplines mentioned and within educational systems.’

The Editorial Board created to undertake such objectives was selected mainly from the wider University (including the members of OERG) who were internationally renowned within their academic areas and who, from their academic interests, had a contribution to make to educational thinking more generally. The Board was chaired by Sir Alan Bullock, Master of St. Catherine’s College and later to produce in 1975 the influential report Language for Life. The Board included Professors Michael Brock (Vice-President of Wolfson College), Jerome Bruner (Watts Professor of Psychology), the University’s Registrar (Geoffrey Caston), Sir Frederick Dainton (Chair of University Grants Committee), P. Freedman (Professor of Social Anthropology), Margaret Gowing (Professor of the History of Science), A.H.Halsey (Fellow of Nuffield College), Richard Hare (Whites Professor of Philosophy), R. Harre (Fellow of Lincacre College), Michael Kaser (Fellow of St. Antony’s), Lord Redcliffe-Maud (Master of University College) and Sir George Pickering (former Master of Pembroke College).

This, then, reflects the wider University interest in and contribution to the professional and academic development of educational studies, far removed from the reluctance of the University to accept education as a legitimate area for academic study over half a century earlier. Such an interest was exemplified in Volume 1 of the Oxford Review by papers from Mary Warnock, A.H. Halsey, A.H.Eysenck and Sir Alan Bullock on the concept of ‘equality in education’ and its relevance to educational reform.

It is interesting to note how little these well-argued papers by distinguished scholars from within the University depended on references and footnotes–none from Warnock or Coleman. How different that is from papers published today where the average number of references is over 50, thereby improving the ‘impact factor’ which was unheard of in 1975.

Thus ‘educational studies’ has come a long way, now embraced as a respectable part of the University’s academic purposes, since its reluctant inception a century ago. News just in confirms ‘excellence’ in every aspect of its teacher training, which sits comfortably with the continuation of top grades in the Research Excellence Framework.