Imperfect portrait of a boy who done good

21st February 2003 at 00:00
Brian Jackson: educational innovator and social reformer. By Kit Hardwick. Lutterworth Press pound;17.50.

One lazy Saturday in 1968, hanging about in a local bookshop, I noticed a row of nice, blue Pelican books. Leafing through them, I became enthralled - little as I knew it then - by the newly burgeoning discipline of sociology. I bought three of the shiny paperbacks and still have them all. One of them was Education and the Working Class by Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden, which looked at the effect of a grammar school education on working-class boys like them.

Jackson and Marsden had both passed the 11-plus and been to grammar school; they met at Cambridge. But although they owed their future careers to their schooling, this early book, which made their names, argued that their advancement came at a cost - alienation from their background and culture.

And, as they point out, many clever working-class boys of their generation dropped out of grammar school at 15, unable to cope with the snobbery of the milieu in which they found themselves and the double lives they were being asked to lead.

Jackson, a rebel and self-starter, survived the rigours of Huddersfield College with aplomb, and accepted there was no going back to his roots - although Huddersfield always exerted a special tug on his affections.

Indeed, he died there in 1983 at the early age of 51, during a fun run to raise money for Huddersfield's National Children's Centre. He had founded the NCC eight years earlier, with a brief to support local children and those who look after them - a role it fulfils to this day.

But between 1962 and 1983, as well as writing dozens of books and articles, he launched an astonishing number of initiatives aimed at improving education in general and children's lives in particular. He was the first director of the Advisory Centre for Education (and published the first children's rights charter in its magazine in 1971), created the university clearing system in collaboration with the Sunday Times and founded the National Extension College, which pioneered the distance education techniques used by the Open University.

This account of his life and achievements is fascinating but frustrating.

The index reads like a Who's Who of practitioners and thinkers of the 1960s and 1970s: Basil Bernstein, Caroline Benn, Leila Berg, Edward Blishen, Alec Clegg, Chelly Halsey, Richard Hoggart, Ivan Illich, Eric Midwinter, A S Neill, Peter Newell, Harry Ree, Brian Simon, Denys Thompson, Michael Young . . . if this list makes your heart beat faster, this is the book for you - and you are over 50.

Because I don't believe Kit Hardwick has succeeded in demonstrating to today's young teachers why this parade of old farts matters so much, or in bringing to life Jackson's extraordinary achievements. He does not manage to conjure up the atmosphere of those heady days when excitement about education - real education, not tests and targets - was zinging in the air, or to explain how it all went so wrong.

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