Where are they now?

19th January 2001 at 00:00
Still working at 76, this champion of special needs education is a public-spirited dame, devoted to good works


1924: born April 14

Educated at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

1949-66: fellow and tutor in philosophy, St Hugh's College, Oxford

1966-72: headmistress Oxford High School, GPDST

1972-76: fellow Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

1976-84: Senior fellow St Hugh's College, Oxford

1973-81: member Independent Broadcasting Authority

1985-91: Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge

Her main claims to fame: Embodiment of "the great and the good". Distinguished philosopher and educationist who introduced the concept of "special educational needs" which was set out in her committee's 1978 report on handicapped children and enshrined in the 1981 Act.

Any regrets about those days?

She now says "statementing" pupils was "a disastrous mistake". Also believes "it was grotesque that we were forbidden to take into account social deprivation as contributing to educational need by the government of the time."

What she did before Fellow and tutor at St Hugh's, Oxford; raised five children. Big career change to headmistress of Oxford high school, partly because she was "desperate to get away from disagreeable graduate students" but also because her wo daughters, who were at the school, said: "Go on Mum."

And then what?

She returned to academe as fellow of Lady Margaret Hall and St Hugh's before becoming Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge. Also chaired committees of inquiry into animal experiments and human fertilisation among others. Hon degrees galore; prolific author; indefatigable contributor to newspapers, magazines with occasional appearances on television. She was created a dame in 1984 and a life peer in 1985. A cross-bencher, despite describing herself as a "natural Tory".

What she says about herself?

"I was, I think, a self-pleased child, perfectly content to be who I was, even if others might wish me to be different, as they often did."

What do others say about her?

"A fine example of a diminishing species - the members of the public-spirited, academic, upper middle class." Richard Hoggart What is she planning to do now?

About to discuss special educational needs with John Marks of the right-wing think-tank, the Institute for Policy Studies. "I have various thoughts about where we went wrong in the 1970s and what has happened since. It's time for a radical look at the situation now."

No thoughts of retiring?

"I wouldn't mind working a lot less, but I need the money."

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