How childhood changed in mid-twentieth-century English schools
A Progressive Education? argues that concepts of both childhood and adolescence were transformed in English and Welsh primary and secondary modern schools between 1918 and 1979, and that, by putting childhood at the centre of the history of education, we can challenge the stories we tell about how and why schooling itself changed. A ‘progressive’ or ‘child-centred’ education began to emerge theoretically in the United States and Western Europe from the late nineteenth century, claiming to rewrite curriculums to suit children and young people’s needs, wants and abilities. Existing work suggests that progressivism both rose and retreated in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, when a right-wing backlash against permissive teaching and the deschooling movement led to the imposition of central state control over education. However, the child-centred pedagogies that became mainstream in English and Welsh schools after 1945 rested on a fundamentally different vision of childhood. Unlike utopian deschoolers, post-war child-centred educationalists assumed that the achievements of mass democracy and the welfare state must be carefully preserved. Children needed to be socialised by adult educators to ensure that they acquired the necessary physical, intellectual, social and emotional maturity to become full citizens. Teachers, far from enthusiastically advocating child-centred methods, perceived them as a profound challenge to their authority in the classroom, and implemented them partially and reluctantly. Child-centred education, in alliance with developmental psychology, thus promoted a much more restrictive and pessimistic image of childhood and youth as it came to dominate mainstream schooling after the Second World War.