Education in the 1970s: increased opportunities, rising discontent?

Finding, S., ‘Education from Plowden to Thatcher – red, yellow, black and blue building bricks. A decade of increased opportunities or of rising discontent?’ est paru dans A Fresh Look at Britain in Crisis 1970-1979, (dir. S. Porion), Paris, Atlande, 2017 et fait suite à la journée d’étude « Le Royaume-Uni à l’épreuve de la crise, 1970-1979), tenu le 21 octobre 2016 à l’Université François Rabelais, Tours  (voir compte rendu).

The historiography of the educational field in these years is amply covered, especially in terms of policy and of ideology. Most works covering the period of the 1970s dividing it up into binary divisions corresponding either to the political chronology (Heath, Wilson and Callaghan governments) or ideology – Conservative and Labour, or to the areas of education – compulsory and post-compulsory – primary and secondary – higher and further or vocational. This paper does not escape those strictures, partly due to the subject matter itself.

The building bricks in the title of this paper refer partly to the political divide – Red and Blue, and partly to the various publications, the so-called Yellow Book of 1976, the Black Papers published between 1969 and 1977. One could add various White Papers (government policy documents) the Green Paper of 1977 (official discussion paper), and the Brown Paper of 1979 (which never made it to Green or White paper stage.

However it is perhaps more useful to divide this analysis up into two main themes characterized by questions concerning firstly, expansion and equality, and secondly, standards and opportunity. The threads which run through the period general to other fields, are also to be found in the educational field. These transcend the political divide, and which were leitmotivs in the discourse of the time, whether it be left, right or center. Among these are the role of central government, the power of the trades unions, the cost of welfare in a period of financial turbulence, and ultimately, the critique of the post-war welfare consensus.