Final salute as nimble frigate hits the rocks

29th March 1996 at 00:00
George Low mourns the passing of an era as a magazine that has chronicled 20th-century education closes down.

Today Education magazine appears in its weekly guise for the last time after 93 years of faithful service to its readers. Born just after the 1902 Act gave responsibility for education to the local education authorities, it has chronicled nearly the whole span of 20th-century education in this country.

It is beguiling to accept the passing of the magazine as the inevitable consequence of the decline in power of the LEAs (TES, March 8). But the obituaries may be misleading - and premature. Over the years the magazine reached a disparate audience, which included many teachers who found its music peculiarly appealing. Witness Enda Cullen, a teacher in Haggerston School, Hackney, who wrote last week: "Reading Education each week was like talking to an old friend. Fridays will never quite be the same in the staffroom."

It is true that Education spent its first 21 years of life in the service of the county councils. True also that from 1945 to 1977 it was the organ of the Association of Education Committees, whose secretary Lord Alexander mounted his hobby-horse week by week calling for a New Education Act to create tertiary education for all. We lived downstairs in his elegant West End headquarters - and from time to time were summoned up to hear his pearls of wisdom delivered in a gravelly Glaswegian monologue. It was said that the ghost of a previous editor named Hyams walked the building at night, rattling chains.

But in 1977 Lord Alexander "handed over the torch", as he put it, to the Society of Education Officers, who took us under their wing, and we joined the house of Longman, whose chief executive Tim Rix everyone was pleased and proud to serve - from senior publisher to junior van driver. His company admired and practised quality journalism and had old-fashioned views about editorial independence. The ship colophon was indeed a kitemark of excellence. Then in January last year we were transferred to Pitman Publishing when the Pearson parent group restructured Longman.

Talking of ships, it must be said that we were always the frigate beside the TES three-decker - but fast, nimble and able to reach certain parts that the other supplements did not. When the TES was dismasted and its crew mutinous in 1978-79, its then editor Stuart Maclure switched his flag to Education and wrote a weekly column. We brought him in because he had himself been editor of Education for 12 years, where he learned his trade from Lord Alexander. When the TES reappeared in full sail again, the Secondary Heads Association national council passed a formal motion thanking us for keeping the flag flying and the channels of communication open during a stormy period in press and educational history.

Napoleon once complained that: "Wherever there is a fathom of water, there you will find an English frigate." His remarks were very similar to those of Kenneth Baker, the Napoleon of the national curriculum, who once told civil servants not to bring him Education on a Friday morning because it disturbed his digestive juices before lunch. (His Minister of State Angela Rumbold used to read it in her bath on Saturday morning because the printers' ink did not come off on her hand.) Now this particular frigate is temporarily out of commission. But who can doubt that it can be refitted and will soon sail again, as it has so often in the past? Even the local education authorities are picking themselves off the floor these days. Napoleon's bravest general, Marshal Ney, had 17 horses shot from under him during the Waterloo campaign. Staff at Education have an instinctive empathy with the marshal, who met his end before a firing squad of his own troops.

With the March 29 issue, more than 5,000 editions have been published. It is, perhaps, the passing of an era. But, as the dying Marquis of Montcalm said on the Plains of Abraham: "Do not afflict yourselves for me, my good friends, weep for yourselves."

Wherever there is still a fathom of water, a journal such as Education is likely to be found again.

George Low is the editor of education

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