Category Archives: Ruskin – Callaghan speech 40 years on

details of the conference on October 15th 2016

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 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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Ruskin – Conference on the Callaghan speech 40 years on

NOTE: Event cancelled see below

Forty years after Prime Minister Callaghan’s landmark speech on education and school policy, this conference will survey the shift from the ‘Secret Garden’ of no-political interference to the current state of political intervention. Before the speech, Prime Ministers never commented on schools. After, politicians now hardly ever stop. How did this happen?

Ruskin Conference on The Callaghan Speech of 1976 Cancelled

 It is with deep regret that we have to inform you that the conference planned for October 15th has had to be cancelled. Publicity for the conference has not been forthcoming to the extent promised, numbers fall well below the break even figure, meaning a lack of the resources to promote the conference properly, to secure a broad and representative audience.

We have had a good level of support from the academic community in publicising the conference, but the target audience was wider than this. We had hoped, particularly as Ruskin College which supported the conference fully is linked to the trades union movement, that the event would attract a wide general audience from the progressive movement.

Our aim was to secure support from a wide spectrum of interests particularly unions to provide a broadly based attendance to make the event a financial and more importantly a political success. A key audience is the teaching profession. Teachers are a vital audience to involve in discussing the speech and the “Great Debate” which followed, but involvement of teachers proved very difficult.

It is not clear why this did not happen, but it has been suggested that this was not a priority interest at this time given the current issues facing education. We would not agree. What happened in the past determines what happens now. We know the importance of history is widely shared and thank those who supported the conference. Unfortunately the flow of bookings overall was well short of the number required.

We plan to continue to bring the last 40 years of educational policy into focus, via a revised booklet explaining why the Callaghan speech opened the door to what the Coalition called in 2014 “a schools revolution”. We hope this booklet will promote the informed discussion which we had hoped to have at Ruskin. We are very sorry the conference cannot take place on October 15th, but will keep you informed of our plans.