The Business team at Bishop Grosseteste University (BGU) are delighted to announce the publication of research exploring British educational policy by a member of their team.

A publication written by James Silverwood, Senior Lecturer in Business at BGU, and his co-author, Peter Wolstencroft of Liverpool John Moores University is now free to read on the website of the British Educational Research Journal.

The journal article ‘The Ruskin Speech and Great Debate in English Education, 1976-1979: A study of motivation’ reignites debate about the intentions behind the intervention into educational by James Callaghan and his Labour government starting with the Prime Minister’s speech at Ruskin College, Oxford in October 1976.

There is good reason why Callaghan’s speech remains lodged within the popular consciousness amongst educationalists, it been possible to trace forward integral aspects of the speech into controversial elements of education in England in the present day. Foremost among them been the concentration of regulatory power within a national body, Ofsted, the centrality of a national curriculum within educational provision, and the firmly link education with the delivery of employability. Consequently, the Ruskin speech is often conceptualized as a ‘turning point’ within English education leading inexorably towards the modern English educational system.

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of Callaghan’s Ruskin speech in 2026, it was time to engage in retrospective, something James and Peter’s paper achieves by critically inspecting the speech in the context in which it was delivered, rather than with the benefit of hindsight of knowing the subsequent trajectory of the English educational system.

Conducting documentary analysis of archival material held in the National Archives, Kew Gardens, the authors conclude that the motivation for Callaghan’s speech at Ruskin College was to support the ideals of the comprehensive educational system, rather than institute widespread educational reform. This is in contrast to the common understanding of the Ruskin speech within English educational history as delineated above.

Dr James Silverwood

Speaking about his research, James Silverwood, said: “There is no doubt that the Ruskin speech is a seismic event in the history of education in England, but perhaps not for the reasons currently considered.

“We found no evidence in the archives to suggest that the motivation of Callaghan and his Labour government was to implement widespread educational reform. Much the opposite, evidence suggested they were motivated to support and defend the comprehensive educational system from attack by political opponents who would seek to reform it. Where subsequent governments have referred back to the Ruskin speech as justification for educational transformation away from comprehensive ideals it to imbue the Ruskin speech with motivations that were not shared by Callaghan and his Labour government.”

You can read the journal article here.

30th March 2023

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