Books that run away with you

Book cover looking like a wall of bright red bricks.The book is so small that you can cover it with your two hands, and it is so old that most of us were not born when it was first published, but it is still startling: the figures and buildings and machines in it jump out of it and make us laugh, make us think, make us read… or write… or paint.Book cover looking like a wall of bright red bricks. Book cover looking like a wall of bright red bricks.Stefan Themerson wrote Mr Rouse builds his house in Polish in 1938 and recreated it in English in 1950, with the same quirky illustrations by Franciszka Themerson; not a mean feat if you have a text that breaks into free verse, rhymed verse, and concrete poetry over and over again:

“He walked and walked:

On Monday, he walked along the Broadway

On Tuesday, he walked along a high-way (…)

On Friday, he walked along a byway (…)

On Sunday, he walked across some fields.

And in the middle of the field there was a box. It was a telephone box.”

Another surreal story dating back to the same period was developed into a picture book in 1963 and was translated into English only in 2012: The table that ran away to the woods is a real treasure, packing so much imagination and wisdom into fourteen pages of collages and block lettering. The letters are integrated into the pictures, quite literally rushing down the stairs and over the hills, in the same way that the description of the 7 stairs in Mr Rouse’s house forms 7 stairs.

Book cover showing a b&w table and a multi-coloured window.“Once upon a time,

the table where I write

grabbed two pairs of shoes,

ran downstairs, and took flight,

from the fifth floor to the first!”

This queer little book is really a meditation on urban life and nature, reality and poetry, and should be rated, I believe, as a surrealist artwork for children and adults alike. Tate Publishing’s edition is furnished with an afterword with additional images and references to the authors’ exile in Paris and London.

Film still: white tendrils on black ground, looking almost abstract.

Stefan and Franciszka Themerson were at the forefront of visual art, producing films as well as books. In one film, Adventure of a good citizen (1938), a rebellious individual walks all the way from the city to the woods backwards and flies through a wardrobe mirror to attain freedom; in another one, The eye and the ear (1944/45), abstract and vegetal shapes take on a life of their own, just like The table that ran away. Fittingly, Franciszka also illustrated Alice in Wonderland, and Stefan named his publishing house after the Jabberwocky poem… Gaberbocchus!

Tiny book looking like a brick wall, lying in a pair of hands.Another new picture book at the Newsam Library is so big that it could cover your upper body when you unfold it; except that there is a huge hole in the middle. Yes, that’s right, The book with a hole is exactly what it says, and you can peep at the world through it and imagine it is a camera, you can make faces behind it, or throw a little ball through it, and it is the book itself suggesting those activities, a new one on each page. It is really a toy as much as a book, and perhaps Hervé Tullet restricted himself to black and white in order to stimulate our imagination all the more. The fruit in the picture below is not on the book cover… but on on my clothes.

Huge book with hole, showing person behind; fruit on her jumper seems to be in mouth painted around the hole.

In another of his ingenious books, Hervé Tullet manages to lure young children or indeed any readers to follow a little dot round the pages without any holes or other tricks, without much more than abstract lines and patches of colour. Let’s play had me flat on the floor (this is figuratively spoken, though) with a yellow blob which bounced through the pages, vanished from the paper, and claimed to be sitting in my hair now… I don’t have a photo or video to prove it – unlike the author – but I believe it may have happened.

A black square and a black circle with eyes in a landscape of squares with some plants.

Cover of square book showing a black square with big eyes.There are more wonders awaiting you at the Curriculum Resources Collection – which covers far more than teaching resources and also more than books for young children; for instance, novels for teenagers and young adults, illustrated non-fiction for all ages, and language learning resources.

Cover of square book showing a black triangle with big eyes.Square by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen explores the questions “What is art? Can everyone be an artist?” with simple and accomplished paintings, mainly variations of basic shapes. Naturally, the book is square, although the corresponding Triangle contents itself with being square, too.

All these titles could be a great inspiration for art teachers and any early-years teachers, and of course parents.

Board-book unfolded to make a very bright crocodile-like monster.Book cover: Bright dots in a loop.

Lastly, the strangely shaped board-book This clumsy monster by Claudio Ripol and Yeonju Yang reveals itself only when you unfold it: into the crocodile-like and neon-coloured creature itself, strong enough to stand on its six pairs of feet. Mr & Mrs Themerson were there long before, with their tiny book forming a bright-red brick wall.

Crocodile-shaped board-book going through monster jaws of The book with a hole. Huge book with hole, looking as if swallowing tiny book.

Please note our other blogposts on pop-up books, for example Books that make your eyes pop out.

Posted in Curriculum Resources | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A question that has no easy answers – or perhaps it does?

gradudation 3Congratulations! You have completed your thesis, gone through the viva and have passed with flying colours (with or without corrections).

At this stage, you are expected to upload the digital copy of the thesis into UCL’s Research Publications System (RPS) together with the ‘Thesis Deposit Agreement Form’. And it is also at this stage when you have to decide on whether the thesis will be open access, which of the open access licenses is appropriate for you, and whether you want to impose an embargo on the thesis for 6-12 months. Your supervisor(s) may advise but many will leave the decision to you.

It is reasonable to put an embargo on your thesis if you are if planning on converting the thesis into a book using a publisher who does not allow open access for a set time until after the publication of the book, or if your thesis contains material that will be patented or is confidential in nature. You may also want to check your funder’s terms and conditions before you put an embargo on the thesis if your doctorate was funded. Most funders want the research they have paid for to be openly available.

However, if a student asked me what they should do, I usually list the advantages and the disadvantages and ask them to weigh the benefits of making their work openly available. I confirm that I am biased but this is not to say that I don’t understand why students may want to place an embargo whilst they are creating other publishable content from their thesis. But I ask them to think back to their own research process and whether they had benefitted from using open access materials. I also explain that not all researchers have access to quality information around the globe, and quite apart from the ethical issue and the advantages to society and to policy/decision-makers on making research openly available, it is important to consider the following:

Pros Cons
You have more options on which publisher to use if you are converting your thesis into a book especially if this is a pre-requirement by the publisher. Your work will be available immediately and will have greater visibility whilst also having the UCL stamp which offers you credibility as a researcher.  This may mean your work gets cited earlier than it would have done.
You may be less anxious about others ‘copying’ your work; but remember the law (Copyright Act 1988) protects you against the misuse of your intellectual property, including plagiarism.  See: Publishers often trawl through research repositories looking for content to publish in book format; they may not see your thesis!
Assuming you have not found a publisher, it is worth noting that it will take at least six months to a year (probably more) to convert your book into a thesis and in this time, the research may become (slightly) dated;
Your book or journal article(s) is unlikely to include all the content from your thesis. You may not, for instance, use all the content from your methodology, and this will not be available to current researchers, especially if they are interested in examples of methodologies used.
Future employers cannot see the quality of the work you produce;
You may lose citations as your research is current and literally ‘hot off the press’;
You are adhering to the UCL Publications Policy which favours open access. See:

As you can see from the table above, there are more disadvantages to imposing an embargo than advantages.  Given the rate at which scholarship is produced and available on the internet, you may want to re-consider an embargo if you were thinking of one – at least a lengthy embargo.  Fundamentally, UCL is committed to open access and we have the first open access university press here in the UK – see UCL Press

Once your thesis and the form are uploaded and available on UCL’s research repository, UCL Discovery, it is considered to be published. Double the congratulations, for you have now contributed new knowledge and it is available for the rest of the world to read for free!

Posted in Library and Archives, Research Support | Leave a comment

Two Years in the Infant School—a review by Paul May

I was surprised when the children’s author, Paul May, contacted me about a post I had written on Enid Blyton as an educationalist, for once written and published, these posts are often forgotten!  I was also curious about what he thought of the pedagogy that was being promoted during the 1930s especially as he had been a primary school teacher.  This was of particular interest to me as during the time Blyton was editing teachers’ handbooks, schools were being encouraged to embrace ‘modern methods’ of teaching Paul has kindly given us some of his time to write about his views on one of the handbooks Blyton edited.


Reused with permission from The Enid Blyton Society

Reused with permission from The Enid Blyton Society

‘Two Years in the Infant School, prepared under the supervision of Enid Blyton, N.F.U.’ was published in 1938. Its preface states that by means of its eighty-four weekly topics, ‘the whole curriculum of the Infant School is covered.’ The preface also tells us that the suggestions of the Board of Education have been ‘closely followed’.  Is this true?  The suggestions (1937) say: ‘The curriculum is a matter not of subjects but of experiences and activities . . . This is particularly true of the first year in the Infant School, where so much of the time is spent in joyous activities, which, though largely instinctive in origin and apparently without ulterior purpose, provide the best preparation for the more serious occupations of a later day.’

In fact, most of the activities in Two Years in the Infant School are teacher-directed and there is little sense that children might be engaged independently in ‘joyous’, ‘instinctive’ pursuits. But while the publication may not entirely have lived up to its claims, it is user-friendly, and most modern-day Early Years teachers would find the contents and their organisation familiar. The topics mostly had a rural or natural theme, but many, like ‘People Who Work for Us’ or ‘Crossing the Road’ might still be seen in today’s classrooms. So, how useful were these plans? I’ll take Topic No 1, ‘The Home’, as an example.

The topic starts with a ‘Talk’ that is too long for most four- and five-year-olds I know. The first paragraph—‘Who has brothers and sisters? Who has a baby at home?’—contains more than enough to prompt lengthy discussions.

Section II covers ‘Oral Composition and Language Training’. ‘Let the children chatter freely about Mother,’ it begins. There are plenty of ideas for getting the children talking, singing, and learning and acting out rhymes.  

Section III concerns ‘Reading Preparation’—‘phonics’, ‘word recognition’ and ‘the sentence method’. The phonics section begins charmingly: ‘These exercises should be preceded by the use of the handkerchief.’  The teaching is thorough, ensuring that the children can both say and hear the sounds, and recognise the letters that represent them. The look-and-say section uses flash cards, pictures, signs and labels around the classroom. For the sentence method, ‘Every week a special sentence or phrase can be written on the board for the children to learn and draw.’ To conclude, the author says that ‘In educated homes children approach reading by all three methods; indeed, an intelligent child cannot be confined to one.’

‘Writing’ was Section IV. This, in the first year at least, was practice in developing fine motor control, tracing, filling in Montessori insets, drawing in sand, on blackboards and on coarse paper, writing their own names and (presumably when they were ready) copying sentences. This is much the way writing was taught in many schools through into the 1990s, and elements are still there today.

In Section V the plans for ‘Number’ are far less detailed than the reading and writing.  In Week 1 we find, among other things, the wildly ambitious ‘teach the values of figures 1-5.’

There is a range of activities in Drawing and Handwork.  In ‘Drawing to help Writing and Number’ we have ‘Drawing lines of different lengths’, ‘Drawing a pin family,’ ‘Drawing a house’.  (What Early Years teacher, planning the week’s work late on Sunday night, hasn’t scribbled down something like this?) There are also ideas for modelling, building, and paper folding or tearing.  

The final section is Dramatisation, Musical Activities, Games etc. The children will act out episodes of home life. They will march, walk and skip to appropriate music.  In the playground they will play ‘Catching the Duster’. ‘The teacher holds a duster by one corner and runs away. The children run after her and try to get the duster.’

To be fair, the musical games, activities and songs in Two Years in the Infant School are generally good, the drawing, modelling and handwork activities would provide useful starting points for imaginative teachers, and the nature-study topics are also detailed and interesting. But the plans are uneven in quality. There is much whole-class teaching and little differentiation. There is some recognition that some children are ‘quicker’ than others and children are allowed to work at different paces when it comes to ‘individual work’, but this is not individual work in the sense of ‘self-chosen activity’.

And it does all look SO familiar. This is exactly how things were in many infant classrooms when I started teaching in the mid-1970s, and a lot of what’s here can still be seen in classrooms today. Can it really be true that the Hadow report on Infant Schools (1933) made the following statements more than 85 years ago, among many others just as radical?

‘It is on the open-air activities and interests of the children that we would base the training and teaching of the infant school.’ (p 124)  ‘During the infant stage the play-way is the best way.’ (p 125) ‘There is little doubt that manual and aesthetic development are better secured when the child is left to make what he likes, how he likes and, within reason, when he likes than by any set lessons.’ (p 130)  ‘The child should begin to learn the 3 Rs when he wants to do so, whether he be three or six years of age.’ (p 133)

The recommendations of the 1933 Hadow report look as much like a distant Utopia today as they did then—and I can’t help thinking that the modern equivalent of the infant classroom has as much in common with the classroom of Enid Blyton’s ‘Two Years in the Infant School’ as it does with that of the Hadow Report.

Paul May                                                                                                                                                  Children’s Author &                                                                                                                                former Primary School Teacher                                                                                                        Website:


Blyton ed. (1938) Two Years in the Infant School, George Newnes: London

Hadow (1933) Infant and Nursery Schools, Report of the Consultative Committee, London: HMSO

Board of Education (1937) Handbook of Suggestions for Teachers, London: HMSO

See also Nazlin Bhiman’s 2012 post: Enid Blyton, educationist.


Posted in Library and Archives, Special Collections | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Social networks — in papercraft and calligraphy

Social networks — in papercraft and calligraphy

Did you have a friendship album when you were little? My teachers in primary school were mobbed for entries into our ‘poetry albums’, as they were known in German; my father wrote a poem for my album, my mother stuck in a real butterfly which she had brought back from her travels; and I watched with amazement a great-aunt neatly copy out some verse by Gottfried Keller and carefully frame it with a delicate garland of flowers.

Trompe l'oeil painted into a book, looking like pile of papers (letters, calendars, newspaper, etc.)

But a bunch of sunflowers, so finely embroidered that you take them for painted, or a still-life of minute flowers in a vase and musical instruments which could be put up next to the miniatures in an art gallery? That is another league. Nor did I have princes and princesses signing my book or a John Milton writing in Ancient Greek. Who had such prestigious albums of memories and dedications, and when did people take the time to paint their portraits for their friends, or hire someone to do it?

Most of the albums in the British Library’s current exhibition Friendship before Facebook: social networks in a pre-digital age strike you as stage sets for Shakespeare plays: gentlemen in yellow stockings and dangling earrings, ladies in pumped-up dresses and broad-brimmed hats, courting couples drifting on gondolas, the pomp and ceremony of the royal court…

Latin sentence and Latin signature of Charles (Carolus), Prince of Wales.The tradition of friendship books or alba amicorum started in the 16th century as a custom amongst students and other young men, long before it became the domain of ladies and then of little girls. The gentlemen recorded their good friends and social connections as well as their travels – just as we collect photographs to remember where we went and whom we met… or to prove our social status.

Some people did travel three or four centuries ago: German, Austrian, Dutch albums in the display show destinations in England and Italy, and in the online gallery you can admire more lovely views, including Windsor Castle and Old London Bridge.

The still-life with music, flowers, and food is planned to remind you of all the senses, of life with all its facets, beautiful and ephemeral. Elsewhere, music is included, in the form of musical notation and lyrics, reminiscent of a brief audio or video file, evocative and poignant in its silence.

There is a selection of paper craft: a black flap reveals figures underneath a canopy; some thick brushstrokes of paint turn out to be an intricate collage; a collage of calendar and newspaper sheets, in turn, has fooled you as a miniature trompe-l’oeil, recording the date forever, together with the skill of the maker and the status of the commissioner.

Black gondola with oarsmen and cabin with closed curtains. Black gondola with oarsmen and cabin with opened curtains, revealing lute player and couple.

This was the purpose of these solid leather-bound books: they give us a snapshot of times past, and I am sure the owners and their friends would be thrilled to know we dwell on their portraits, their thoughts, and their memories many generations later.

Teachers and parents could be inspired by this exhibition to try out the ideas and techniques employed before photography and digital media with children – from the youngest onwards. Perhaps some of you will start a new fashion for friendship albums?

I found the last ones I spied rather depressing: nothing more than printed templates to affix a photo and record your own interests, basically an annotated selfie for youngsters. Very little poetry and wisdom there, very little variety and creativity.

Miniature painting of banquet in garden; bright clothes from around 1600.

You could consult your public library or the Newsam Library for books on drawing, paper craft, calligraphy, and poetry writing… or could teach children to use a library for learning new skills! This would fit in with art education as well as creative writing and, I believe, social education.

On the shelves at the back of the entrance level, find paper craft at 745.54, collage at 745.58, calligraphy at 745.6, and art skills in general at 702.8. For poetry, put ‘poetry writing’ or ‘creative writing’ or ‘poetry authorship’ into the search fields of a library catalogue, like UCL Explore.

Book cover of Twelfth night: gentleman all in yellow, lady all in pink, dress around 1600. Book cover of Twelfth night: man's legs in yellow tights and black shoes.

Also, the Shakespeare aspect has been exploited by the British Library: their online resources offer parallels between certain plays and the images (which you may reuse under their conditions). Just in case a teenager doubted that the yellow stockings or dangling earrings were authentic…

Image credits

Trompe l’oeil:
Taken from Twitter (@britishlibrary, tweet of Feb 26th).

Friendship book of Michael van Meer, of Hamburg (?), ca 1615–16.
Held by Edinburgh University Library. Shelfmark:  Laing MS III 283.
© The University of Edinburgh (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Friendship album of Erckenprecht Koler, of Nuremberg, 1588-1612.
© The British Library. Shelfmark: Egerton MS 1208.

Friendship album of Moyses Walens, of Cologne, 1605-1615.
© The British Library. Shelfmark: Add MS 18991

Book covers:
Twelfth night, retold by Rosie Dickins. London : Usborne, 2009.
Twelfth night, modernised by Alan Durband. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2014.

Posted in Curriculum Resources | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

BBC Broadcasts and ‘Back in Time for School’

Back in Time for School 2
‘Back in Time for School’

Back in Time for School takes a group of fifteen children and their teachers back through time to experience what schooling was like at different times, from the Victorian period up to the 1990s. Last summer, I was involved in doing some research for the second episode on the ‘King’s English’, which was a speech and language programme that began in the interwar period.  To do this, I used the BBC Broadcasts for Schools Collection which I introduced in an earlier post on this blog.

The BBC introduced wireless lessons for schools during the interwar period, the earliest of these date from 1924. Schools were expected to adapt their timetables to accommodate these lessons and the BBC were keen on the ‘wireless teacher’ and the ‘class teacher’ collaborating so that both the children and the class teachers would ‘enter into the spirit of the lesson’. Class teachers were also expected to use the pamphlets produced by the BBC as guides and to make time after the transmission to answer questions that may arise. This would, according to the BBC, ‘treble the value of the lesson’! [1] Teachers were to report to the BBC any difficulties they experienced with the broadcast transmission and to comment on the content of the lessons.

The ‘King’s English’ began life as ‘Our Native Tongue’ in the 1920s.  The title is representative of the focus on the importance of English as the language of the Empire and the necessity of ensuring young children learnt how to speak their native tongue.  The programme had several name changes: In 1927, it changed its name to ‘Speech and Language’; from 1931 to 1934, it was called ‘King’s English’; and subsequently, it became ‘English Speech’.

In the early days, the programme was presented by A. Lloyd James who was a lecturer in phonetics at the London School of [African and] Oriental Studies (SOAS).  Lloyd James was a Welshman and a founding member of what later became the BBC’s Advisory Committee on Spoken English.[2] In the 1927 volume of the schedules of school broadcasts, Lloyd James explained to teachers:

The object of the talks is to arouse interest in the sounds of our native tongue, and to give some practical training in hearing and making these sounds.  Each practical lesson will be preceded by a little talk on some aspect of the subject. Very elementary notions of the history of our language may form a part of these talks, and may occasionally be read in the actual pronunciation of Chaucer and Shakespeare to give the children some idea of what English sounded like in those days.

Nothing in these talks will be said that will reflect adversely upon local dialects, and no invidious comparisons will be made between class dialects. Good northern English is as good as good southern English, etc.[3]

Lloyd James was clearly celebrating the glories of a richly diverse range of forms of English, as embodied in Chaucer and Shakespeare inviting children to become fascinated with the varieties of English. He was also at pains to point out that these lessons were not meant to reflect adversely on local dialects or to make comparisons between class dialects, and that northern English was as good as southern English. But the reality of this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Children who spoke well were likely to have a better chance of getting employment in the professional sphere (instead of manual or factory work) and thereby having the chance of climbing up the social ladder.

By the 1930s, the programme was well established in the lists of courses offered by the BBC to schools as it followed the guidelines recommended by the Board of Education which urged that ‘standard English should be taught’ without suppressing the peculiarities of dialect. This reference was from the Newbolt report on the teaching of English which was published by the Board of Education in 1921. Taking into consideration the ‘valuable constructive criticism’ from teachers, in the 1930s, Lloyd James (now referred to as ‘Professor’) modified the course to include rhythm and intonation, in addition to the practical drill in pronunciation of separate sounds. [4]

You can watch a short documentary on the Broadcasts for Schools in the second episode of Back in Time for School (on BBC iPlayer), get a taste of what the ‘King’s English’ sounded like and hear a wireless lesson from the interwar period at 33’50”.  You may end up giggling with the children as you try to purse your lips to speak R.P. (Received Pronunciation) or the ‘King’s English’. I wonder though if this will bring back memories of school for some of you.

If you miss the broadcasts, you can catch up on Box of Broadcasts for which UCL has a subscription.  You may need to access this from Desktop@UCL Anywhere


[1] Lloyd James, A. (1927), “Foreword to Teachers” In:  BBC Broadcasts for Schools, Vol. 1, pp. 7-8.

[2] Mugglestone, Lynda. “Spoken English and the BBC: In the Beginning.” AAA-Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 33, no. 2 (2008), 6. Unfortunately, Lloyd James’ career ended in the 1940s when he bludgeoned his wife to death – see more here, especially the newspaper articles about this sensational crime.

[3] Lloyd James, A. (1927), “Foreword to Teachers”, pp. 7-8.

[4] BBC, Broadcasts for Schools: April 18th April to 17th, 1932. Vol. 9, p. 21.

Posted in Library and Archives, Special Collections | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Bears and bees in the library

Book cover: quirky drawing of cartoon character reading a book.You may have been intrigued by the seven book covers posted on our Twitter account without any explanation or link. I hope that the #BookCoverChallenge @IOELibrary and elsewhere has reminded you what a beautiful creation of the human spirit a book is, quite different from an orally transmitted story or from an article presented online.

I also hope that many readers of this academic library asked themselves why it is teeming with quirky bees, pidgeons, and monkeys – as well as humans who are busy studying (or demonstrating).

Well, the UCL Institute of Education is not only a social science research institute but a teacher training college; so the Newsam Library provides many thousands of teaching resources and children’s books, in the so-called Curriculum Resources Collection.

Book cover: quirky drawing of bees.Book cover: painting of pigeon flying above landmarks of cities.Book cover: Quirky drawing of two apes.

Two of our seven book covers belonged to our non-fiction section; one contained children’s poetry, illustrated by the author; one was a picture book about books which appears to be for young children but is really a satire for adults: It’s a book.

Two books were taken from one of our academic collections, which you will find stretching along the upper and lower floors: one recent but radiating a Sixties/Seventies spirit with its retro look, the other one brand-new and published by the UCL Institute of Education Press.

Book cover: Black and white photograph of demonstration in the Sixties or Seventies; black and pink design.Book cover: Photograph of black woman graduating.

Book cover: Photograph of almonds on a table.One title was actually a literary work for adults: apart from fiction for children and teenagers (‘young adults’), the Newsam Library holds novels and films, sometimes biographical or autobiographical, dealing with schools and colleges.

This Education in Literature Collection is located at the back of the Teaching Room, behind the Children’s Book Corner, and you may take the volumes or DVD’s out.

Incidentally, in that cosy nook of the library you will pass some colourful finger-puppets and animal masks, as well as various teddy-bears with other beasts and birds, not on book-covers, but as three-dimensional objects.

Large teddy-bear on armchair with bright blanket and cushion, between bookshelves..If you feel like indulging in a bit of reading, joining the bear on the arm-chair or lying on the rug, here are your justifications:

  1. After reading a book — particularly at the IOE — I might change the world.
  2. I need to relax so that I can work harder afterwards on changing the world.
  3. “People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading” (Logan Pearsall Smith). Remember: It’s a book.

Soft pets, four owls and a mouse, with picture books about owls.

Posted in Curriculum Resources, Education in Literature Collection | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Focus on DERA (Digital Education Research Archive): Grammar Schools

The IOE Library has always collected documents published by government and other relevant bodies in the areas of education, training, children, and families. Today, the Official Publications Collection here at the Library is the largest of our special collections and is highly valued by our users.

In some ways official publications are no different to other areas of publishing and we have witnessed a rapid transition towards a “digital by default” approach. You may already have read our recent blog post about DERA – our online repository founded on the traditions of our printed Official Publications Collection, dedicated to preserving the digital output of government in relation to education – where we highlighted content on the subject of school meals. This month, we are highlighting DERA resources focused on Grammar Schools.

When I began to look for documents in DERA I realised I first needed to understand what was meant by ‘Grammar Schools’. Historically Grammar Schools (or scolae grammaticales) had been attached to cathedrals and monasteries and taught Latin and other subjects which might be useful to future monks and priests, (music and verse, mathematics, astronomy and law). Later Grammar Schools were seen as the entry point for admission to University.

The modern grammar school concept dates back to the Education Act 1944 which promised universal secondary education and to improve the kind of education provided. Under a Tripartite System of state-funded secondary education for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, children would be provided with the type of education which would suit their needs and abilities as determined by the results of the 11+ exam. Academic pupils would attend grammar schools and be encouraged to go to university. Practical pupils would attend secondary modern schools. The third type of schools were Secondary Technical Schools which were designed to train children adept in mechanical and scientific subjects to become engineers, technicians and scientists. In reality very few technical schools were built and in most areas of the country there was really a two-tier system. There are currently 163 grammar schools in England (of around 24,000 state schools) and 69 in Northern Ireland.

Over the years there has been vigorous debate about Grammar Schools and whether they reinforced class division and middle-class privilege. In their support it was said that grammar schools opened up access to an outstanding state education to those who could not pay private school fees.

Grammar schools soon fell out of favour with politicians and in 1965 a government circular (10/65) was issued by the Department of Education and Science (DES) requesting Local Education Authorities to begin converting their secondary schools to the comprehensive system under which schools largely admit pupils without reference to ability or aptitude and cater for all the children in a neighbourhood.

Further legislation, 1976 Education Act hastened the end of selective state education in Wales and Scotland. However some counties and local authorities in England have kept largely selective school systems including Kent, Medway, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire, while others such as Gloucestershire have a mix. A few grammar schools have also survived in areas which are otherwise fully comprehensive such as Birmingham, Bournemouth and some London boroughs. In 1998 the School Standards and Framework Act forbade the establishment of any new all-selective schools.

In England there also Academies which were first introduced in 2000 and are publically funded independent schools. They benefit from greater freedoms (including from local authority control, ability to set own pay and conditions for staff and how they deliver the curriculum) and were intended to replace poorly performing schools. The Academies Act 2010 extended the programme, enabling all maintained primary, secondary and special schools to apply to become an Academy.

The most recent controversy surrounding grammar schools is the result of the announcement in 2016 by the PM Theresa May that she wanted to end the ban on grammar schools and funding would be provided under the 2017 Budget. This manifesto promise was later dropped.

Although new selective schools may not be being built there exists a loophole which allows existing grammar schools to open ‘satellite’ campuses or annexes . The first such school annex was opened in 2017 by the Weald of Kent Grammar School in Sevenoaks which is 10 miles from its original site in Tonbridge. The two sites have to operate as one school which means that pupils in the annex have to spend a day at the Tonbridge site at least every two weeks. Despite being described as an ‘annex’, the school has been seen by some as a ‘new’ grammar school.

There are also fears that annexes could be built in or near neighbouring local authorities without grammar schools, which could destabilise an area’s existing comprehensive schools and even lead to school closures.

At the time the 1944 Education Act (Butler) was being drawn up there was a strong belief in the value and accuracy of psychometric testing which was shared by many in the educational establishment. This led to the creation of an exam, the 11+, to be undertaken in the last year of primary education to establish which type of secondary school pupils should attend. France, Italy, Germany and Sweden also operated a state—run system of selective schools.

The 11+ exam has been criticised as being a barrier not a gateway to entrance to grammar schools. As the Education Policy Institute’s 2017 paper The 11-plus and access to grammar schools indicates

‘both the knowledge and the IQ elements of the 11-plus test assess skills which are significantly influenced by a child’s surroundings.’

The paper discusses the problem of wealthier parents being able to afford extensive coaching for their children in how to pass the 11-plus. As Chris Horrie’s 2017 article reveals there have been aids to passing available from the early days of Grammar Schools. The results of failing the 11+ exam, which meant children had to attend secondary modern schools, often had a long lasting effect both educationally and emotionally as discussed by Emma- Louise Wilson and Michael Rosen in their 2017 article. The positive effects of a grammar school education are still controversial and being studied even by researchers at the UCL Institute of Education.

Recent documents available in DERA which continue to discuss the question of selective education include the Department for Education’s consultation document Schools that Work for Everyone in 2016 (includes the Government’s 2018 response) which sought views on

  • Removing the current legislation prohibiting the creation of new selective schools
  • Lifting the restrictions on faith admissions in new free schools
  • Asked how to harness the expertise and resources of independent schools and the higher education (HE) to raise attainment across the wider school system.


Once again research in DERA and across wider documentation available using the Institute of Education Library’s collections answers some questions and leads to new ones.


Posted in Library, Library and Archives, Official Publications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment