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Hester Barron

This chapter considers the ways in which schools prepared children for life after elementary school. Particular prestige was attached to scholarships, but for most children educational opportunities beyond elementary school were limited and preparation for employment was more important. The chapter examines the types of vocational training given in schools, whether informal support and advice; trips to local industries; lessons in maths and science; or subjects such as woodwork for boys and domestic subjects for girls – the latter intended as preparation for domesticity as well as employment. Advice given at school was often contrasted with the supposed ill-judgement of parents, who were criticised for rejecting scholarships or prioritising short-term opportunities over long-term prospects. A disconnect between the school’s advice and the preferences of working-class families appears most obviously in the case of domestic service. Of course, many parents were much more appreciative of the opportunities offered to their child than officials sometimes allowed, while schools were aware of the need to be flexible and might show sensitivity to local conditions. Those ex-pupils who remained most bitter in later life about their schooling are those who might – in a different context – have aspired to greater achievement but were constrained by systems and assumptions that were rigid and inflexible. However, within the bounds of the possible, most schools tried to do the best for their pupils. The school was idealised as a place where children might learn skills which – combined with hard work and ambition – would set them up for life.

in The social world of the school
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in The social world of the school
Education and community in interwar London
Author: Hester Barron

What were schools for, why did they matter and what do they tell us about society? In this compelling account, the lived experience of the classroom illuminates the social history of interwar Britain. Drawing on a rich array of archival and autobiographical sources, it captures in vivid detail the individual moments that made up the minutiae of classroom life. Focusing on elementary schools in London – where global, imperial and national identities competed with local and family interests – it creates a mosaic of the educational experience across the capital between the wars. Interwar schools were not cut off from their surroundings: they were lynchpins of social life. This book charts the growing role they played in communities, the lives of young people, and the lives of their parents. It builds a story of the social relationships that shaped modern Britain: the overlapping interests of children, guardians, neighbours, teachers, school managers, inspectors, welfare workers, medics, clerics, local businesses and government officials. In doing so, it centres schools as key drivers of social change. By exploring crucial questions around identity and belonging, poverty and aspiration, class and culture, behaviour and citizenship, this book shows that schools were an integral part of interwar society. It provides vital context for twenty-first century debates about education, exploring how the same concerns were framed a century ago.

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Hester Barron

The conclusion presents the key arguments of the book. It notes that a civilising rhetoric, born out of anxieties stemming from nineteenth-century industrialisation and urbanisation, remained inherent to the rationale of interwar schooling. Yet schools were now operating in a different social context. The authority of working-class parents had been bolstered by participatory democracy and recent wartime mobilisation, while technological change and the politics of aspiration and consumption had altered the relationship of schools and their communities. Schools were now better equipped to raise aspirations, rather than contain them: an expanded welfare remit and progressive ideas about the benefits of education meant that they could reflect a sense of possibility, even if practice was often restricted by economic realities. Rather than simply seeing schools as state impositions on working-class communities, then, this book argues that they were much more likely to be grounded in their locality. Written during the national lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, which starkly demonstrated the importance of schooling to today’s children in so many different ways, the conclusion closes with some thoughts on the book’s contemporary relevance and suggests that perhaps the interwar period offers hope to those demoralised by our current political climate.

in The social world of the school
James W. Ford and the communist push into the Black Atlantic
Holger Weiss

In this chapter, Holger Weiss explores the African American communist labour union activist James W. Ford as one of the key global players in the history of interwar Communism in the black Atlantic. Weiss uses space in two intertwined ways: first, by tying together Ford’s activities in Chicago, Moscow, Hamburg and several other places, Weiss traces the vast agitation and propaganda network Ford helped produce, connecting black activists in Africa, the Caribbean, the USA and Europe. Second, Weiss shows how Ford was pushed and pulled from the centre of black transnational Communist agitation, as the many institutions that facilitated their work redefined what the struggle was about. Embedding the case of Ford in a careful exploration of the source material at hand and the layered organisational ‘solar system’ of the Comintern, Weiss probes the possibilities as well as the limitations of a single actor to forge global revolutionary politics. Thus, Weiss concludes, we can discern spaces of agitation that opened and closed across the inter- and immediately postwar years, in the end leaving Ford disillusioned as his older doctrines of class struggle were washed over by radical political pan-Africanism.

in Global biographies
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Edward J. Woell

Focused on the small town of Gournay-en-Bray [Seine-Maritime], this chapter opens with a confrontation at a parish church slated to be closed in April of 1792. The struggle typifies the chapter’s theme, namely that one of the Revolution’s religious reforms—parish circumscription—represented a grave disruption and profound crisis among many French Catholics at the precise moment when a nation’s identity stood in the balance. To explain this neglected reform, the chapter reviews legislation for the circumscription of parishes found in the 1790 Civil Constitution of the Clergy. The decree specifically targeted communities like Gournay, whose two parishes (Notre-Dame and Saint-Hildevert) had a conflicted relationship dating back to the sixteenth century. The legislation indicated that one of these parishes should be closed. In light of long-running inter-parish tensions and the new religious mandate, a polarizing spiral quickly developed between the two parishes. When the Law of 3 February 1792 ordered the closure of Notre-Dame, relations between the two sets of parishioners grew from bad to worse. Stepping back from the story of Gournay’s two parishes, the chapter then considers parish circumscription under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy from a national perspective with the help of 89 laws passed between 1790 and 1793. In keeping with two maps and three appendices, the chapter’s findings offer what previous historiography has neglected—a more comprehensive explanation of this reform, its tenuous relationship to the 1791 Oath, and the degree to which the nation as a whole was affected.

in Confiscating the common good
Jessica O’Reilly

In 2017, about 10 per cent of the Larsen C Ice Shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula slowly calved away, forming a huge iceberg. In a spectacle breathlessly reported, experts kept track of the event as it was captured in a series of satellite images. The event offers an opportunity to observe how exceptional moments in natural history can be interpreted as scripts about environmental peril, even when the event is not explicitly linked to climate change. Nonetheless, the charismatic affordances of a spectacular ice event – as well as its charismatic data, visualized in maps – create an opening for experts to leverage a brief window of public interest onto a faraway place and the knowledge generated from it into a discussion about actual, rather than looming, environmental crisis. The break itself is a powerful image with an immediate temporality that captures attention more easily than ice melting or temperature increases. It is a singular event. In the Larsen C collapse, experts interpreted scattershot images as the Antarctic clouds cleared, to narrate indicators of environmental change, harnessing the power of witnessing tangible ice loss in real time.

in Ice humanities
Discipline, misrecognition and resistance in an English academy school
Sarah Leaney

This chapter considers the impact ‘diversification’ of education through academisation has on the school as a field within which particular formations of self are produced and reproduced. Based on ethnographic fieldwork on an English council estate and in the primary school located on the estate, this chapter explores the transformation of education within neoliberal logics, where dominant discourses of responsibilisation and choice are mediated through localised constructions of community provision. It aims to foreground the processes through which the school reifies an estate culture as defined by ‘lack’ through accounts of ‘what these kids need’. The chapter argues that the narrowing conceptualisation of education within processes of academisation socially produce the body through processes of (mis)recognition. It also explores the ways in which difference is read onto the body within a social context. Through analysis of the disciplining of embodied practice within Estate Primary, the chapter considers the processes by which the bodies of the structurally de-valued carry the weight of their disadvantage. The chapter argues that the naturalisation of bodily difference within dominant accounts of ‘these kids’, results in the misrecognition of action as inaction. The chapter is located within contemporary debates thinking with and against Bourdieusian theorisations of education (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990; Reay 2015; Thatcher et al, 2015). Building upon conceptualisations of social formations of the body (Bourdieu, 2004; Hall,1997; Skeggs, 2004) the chapter explores the social production of docile bodies (Foucault,1977) through the pedagogic practices of the primary school which construct The Estate as deficit.

in Inside the English education lab
Implications for legitimacy in terms of governance and local agency
Helen Ryan-Atkin and Harriet Rowley

Since the introduction of the academies policy and the growth of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) in England, there has been a shift away from public to private agendas as part of an increasing neoliberal, market-driven education system. Various studies have looked at this in terms of the large-scale implications for the culture of school governance (e.g. Wilkins, 2015), local democratic accountability (e.g. Gunter, 2011) and the impact of a centrally controlled system (e.g. Ball, 2017), but there has been limited exploration about what this means for governors and local governing boards at the local level. This chapter makes an empirical contribution to the existing literature by showing how national policy is being translated within one MAT at different levels of management and governance. It shows how fears about the blurring of boundaries between public/private bodies and practices are transpiring in two main ways. The first main finding from the ethnographic study of one MAT shows how the increased professionalisation of governance appears to be leading to a preference for a trust board which is weighted towards business skills, at the expense of educational expertise. Second, but related to the first, is the marginalisation of local figures, with their insider knowledge, and the implications for localised democratic oversight. The chapter concludes by arguing that there is an urgent need for university teacher educators/researchers with ‘insider’ expertise to work with schools to challenge the growing narrative of business-led education.

in Inside the English education lab
The money, books, and family of Adrian Bentzon
Gunvor Simonsen

In Gunvor Simonsen’s chapter she analyses the life of Adrian Bentzon, turtle dealer, Caribbean governor, merchant, business agent, planter, slave owner, bibliophile, father of five and partner of three. While Bentzon’s biography could be captured within the framework of the transnational, Simonsen argues that it was his participation in Atlantic scalar processes that made him what he was. Looking at the Atlantic world via Bentzon’s biography highlights this world as an assemblage of spatial processes of dis- and reintegration. The scalar force of these processes was not related to their nesting in a spatial hierarchy but rather to their ability to channel, or clog, particular resources from coming within Bentzon’s grasp.

in Global biographies