Brian Simon, former professor of education at Leicester University, is a rarity. Few people have been actively involved in education throughout their adult life, well past retirement, and still managed to combine scholarship and passion with wry detachment. His autobiographical account of six decades of education is the authoritative but engaging read that anyone who has known him would have expected.
He was a 1930s Cambridge communist, a pedigree that has terrified his opponents ever since. His credentials and beliefs brought him into conflict with supporters of Margaret Thatcher's 1980s government and he became one of its most biting critics. He was a pioneer supporter of comprehensive schools and mixed-ability teaching. The Oracle Project, which he directed in the 1970s, found that the most successful primary teachers followed a broad curriculum, not just a diet of "basics", practised non-didacticism, and encouraged individual and group work.
A Life in Education is exactly what it says: a life, not just a job. It tells an insider's story of both educational and political developments across two-thirds of the 20th century. It roams chronologically from pre- and postwar Britain, through the near-consensus periods under Boyle and Crosland, to the more adversarial politics of the 1980s, and the present decade, right on up to the 1997 general election.
This is a fascinating eye-witness account of some of the most important events in education this century. Simon never has been the cartoonist's Marxist stereotype - no beard, no denims, no dour theorising, no mumblings. Instead he has a patrician exterior, usually wears a suit, is always articulate, showing more of the elegant wit and love of life of Engels, though not his ruthlessness. Nonetheless, right-wingers prone to apoplexy should read the book with a copy of his former colleague Geoffrey Bantock's classic text Freedom and Authority in Education to hand, just in case.
Ted Wragg is professor of education, University of Exeter.
A Life in Education
Author - Brian Simon
ISBN - 0 85315 866 5
Publisher - Lawrence and Wishart
Price - £12.99
Pages - 184