Gerald Bernbaum, 1936-2017

Former vice-chancellor of London South Bank University remembered

October 5, 2017
Gerald Bernbaum

A major educational thinker who went on to become an early vice-chancellor of London South Bank University has died.

Gerald Bernbaum was born in Hackney, East London, in March 1936, the son of an immigrant jobbing tailor. He attended Hackney Downs Grammar School, which he sometimes referred to as “the Eton of the East End”, where fellow alumni included Harold Pinter and no fewer than three current members of the House of Lords. Although initially too keen on sport to do well in his exams, he was given a second chance by the headteacher and managed to secure a place to study statistics at the London School of Economics, where he rapidly opted to shift to history and politics (1954-57).

Once he had completed his degree, Professor Bernbaum gained a teaching certificate at the London Institute of Education (1957-58) and worked as a history teacher in schools (1958-64). He then took the bold decision to apply for a lectureship in education at the University of Leicester (1970-74). He was promoted to senior lecturer (1970-74), professor (1974-93) and director of the School of Education (1976-85) before moving into senior management as pro vice-chancellor (1985-87) and finally executive pro vice-chancellor and registrar (1987-93).

As well as Knowledge and Ideology in the Sociology of Education (1977), Professor Bernbaum produced a number of important studies of the school system, notably Schooling in Decline (1979), a critique of inadequate teaching and deeply embedded inequality. He also helped Leicester become a leader in the field of genetics and space research.

In 1993, the year after South Bank Polytechnic acquired university status, Professor Bernbaum became vice-chancellor of what is now London South Bank University. He soon made a major mark on the institution, expanding the campus, refurbishing the library and leading a local regeneration project. Even after retiring in 2001, he continued his commitment to the sector by serving as chairman of the governors at Morley College in London, which promotes adult education and lifelong learning.

Anthony Giddens, former director of the London School of Economics, described how his lifelong friend and fellow football enthusiast, Professor Bernbaum, “mixed tolerance, and good humour, with determination and resolve". "[Although] he had to put up with so much [during his final illness], he never lost his whimsical sense of humour and irony," Professor Giddens said.

Professor Bernbaum died of cancer on 16 September and is survived by his long-term partner, Margaret Mathieson, two sons and five grandchildren.

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