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The crisis of the meritocracy: how popular demand (not policy) drives educational change

Event type
History of Education
Event dates
, 5:30PM - 7:30PM
UCL, IOE, Room 675
Peter Mandler (University of Cambridge)
020 7862 8740
This paper argues that parental and student demand have been systematically under-valued in histories of educational change in postwar Britain.   Key milestones in educational reform which are credited to politicians' initiatives on right or left were heavily determined by demand pressures which politicians couldn't and didn't resist.

Demand is itself a function of social change - the demographic 'bulge', the 'trend' (to seek more and more education), new rights of citizenship embedded in the welfare state, and changing experiences of labour markets and social mobility all need to be more systematically factored into explanations of educational change.  The paper will look in more detail at three episodes - comprehensive reorganization, the transition to mass higher education from the late 1980s and the 'swing away from science' from the '60s to the '00s.

Peter Mandler is Professor of Modern Cultural History at the University of Cambridge and Bailey Lecturer in History at Gonville and Caius College.  He is the author of Aristocratic Government in the Age of Reform (1990), The Fall and Rise of the Stately Home (1997), The English National Character (2006), Return from the Natives:  How Margaret Mead Won the Second World War and Lost the Cold War (2013), and The Crisis of the Meritocracy:  Britain's Transition to Mass Education Since the Second World War (forthcoming in 2020 from Oxford University Press - and the basis for this paper).  Between 2012 and 2016 he was President of the Royal Historical Society, and he is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  With Laura Carter and Chris Jeppesen he is also engaged in a four-year ESRC-funded project 'Secondary Education and Social Change in the United Kingdom since 1945' (