Half Our Future: A tribute

I couldn’t let August pass with recognising the 50th anniversary of one of the least remembered but arguably key reports of the post-war period of education consensus. On August 7th 1963, John Newsom, Chairman of the then Central Advisory Committee on Education, submitted his Report entitled ‘Half Our Future’ to the Minister, Edward Boyle. Half a century later this group of young people are still too often overlooked in the debate about our school system.

However, they did benefit from the raising of the school leaving age to 16 in 1972, and should be beneficiaries of the current raising of the age of participation to 18; although I doubt whether all of them will immediately recognise the benefit.

As an aside, I participated in a local radio phone-in recently about the raising of the participation age. A caller phoned in to explain that because he had left school at sixteen he knew how to do practical things, such as change a fuse, whereas his more educated friends hadn’t a clue. Reflecting on this point later, I wondered whether the circuit breaker that has made our lives so much easier when there are electrical short-circuits or power overloads was invented by someone who left school at sixteen or with slightly more education than that. I know the original concept is credited to Thomas Edison, but I suspect the increasingly varied and sophisticated versions of recent times have emanated from research facilities.

Anyway, back to Newsom, and his important Report. Part of it featured the need for teachers. At that time it wasn’t necessary to have a qualification in order to teach if you were a graduate or were going to become a trained teacher. The latter route allowed untrained staff to work as teachers in secondary modern schools when these schools couldn’t find anyone else. In Tottenham where I grew up, in the 1960s some of the scholarship ‘Sixth’ used to become teachers in January after the Oxbridge entry process was over. Newsom said in his Report that his Committee echoed the statement of the Eighth Report of the National Advisory Council on the Supply & Training of Teachers that:

“In the primary and secondary modern schools teaching methods and techniques, with all the specialized knowledge that lies behind them, are as essential as mastery of subject matter. The prospect of these schools staffed to an increasing extent by untrained graduates is, in our view, intolerable.”

Sadly, such a suggestion is no more intolerable to some politicians today than it was half a century ago.

Newsom also recognised that as one unspecified contributor to the Report had stated, “Fatigue is already a serious and continuing difficulty to many of the best teachers.” Half a century later, there would be many in education that would still echo such a view, despite smaller classes and more non-contact time.

The misfortune of Newsom was to appear at just the point where the drive for non-selective secondary education was sweeping the country. This created the comprehensive school all too often dominated by the selective school curriculum. Half a century later we are still trying to remedy that mistake. Even more important than providing the teachers is creating the most appropriate curriculum for all, and not just for the 50% destined for higher education. Those politicians that forget that they have a duty to do the best for all, and not just the Russell Group of universities, ought surely to add the Newsom Report to their list of requisite reading.


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