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Politics and the School System

New Pamphlet out now!

CALLAGHAN’S RUSKIN SPEECH 40 YEARS ON- The full text now presented with commentaries

On October 18th 1976, Prime Minister James Callaghan gave a speech at Ruskin College Oxford which changed the politics of English Schools. Before he spoke, no Prime Minister had ever given a speech on education. After he spoke, politicians have never stopped talking about schooling.

To record the 40th anniversary of the Speech, SOSS has published a briefing document which includes the speech in full, plus three commentaries. Trevor Fisher comments on the speech in the context of the political climate of the time. Derek Gillard provides an analysis of the two governments before Callaghan became Premier, while Warwick Mansell discusses the key concept of “the Secret Garden” which though preceding Callaghan led to the Westminster consensus shifting from non intervention to constant scrutiny.

The speech has never been forgotten in Westminster. Last April, Nick Gibb, Conservative Schools minister and a minister at the DFE longer than anyone else since 2010, spoke of “a landmark speech in which Callaghan in many ways set the direction of reform for the next 4 decades”.

In recent times the Callaghan speech as a tipping point in English education has slipped into the margins. It is now frequently assumed that political intervention and hyper accountability are self evidently the way to run state schools. This is not so, and the history of English education shifts with this speech into a new mode. The current politics of schooling can only be understood in relation to the Callaghan speech.

A new Great Debate is needed to check the pattern of English school development – which always reflect revolutionary changes driven by politicians at Westminster. Change is constant, from Academies through Free Schools to Grammar schools, and is always driven by the politics of whoever works in Number 10. Whether this is tenable or sustainable is the issue to be discussed.

Orders are available through the SOSS website www.soss.org.uk either a a pdf download for £3 or physical copies costing £4 including post and packing, or by sending a cheque made out to SOSS to Viewpoint, PO Box 3599, Stafford ST16 9RD.

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