The 120th anniversary of IOE: critical engagement with educational and social thought, practice and development

  • Hugh Starkey orcid logo (Professor of Citizenship and Human Rights Education, IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, London, UK)
  • Li Wei orcid logo (Director of IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, London, UK)

How to Cite: Starkey, H. and Wei, L. (2023) ‘The 120th anniversary of IOE: critical engagement with educational and social thought, practice and development’. London Review of Education, 21 (1), 7. DOI: https://doi.org/10.14324/LRE.21.1.07.

Rights: 2023, Hugh Starkey and Li Wei.



Published on
18 Jan 2023
Peer Reviewed

The IOE (Institute of Education) is UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society (University College London, UK). It is the direct descendant of the London Day Training College that opened on 6 October 1902. To mark and celebrate this significant 120th anniversary, London Review of Education proposed a special feature examining and critically celebrating people, ideas, movements and research associated with the IOE in the past and present, while looking to the future.

We sought contributions that critically engage with the educational thought, practice and development associated with the IOE over its 120-year history, inviting contributions from past and present staff and students and others engaged in work associated with the IOE. Drawing on the recently revised history of the IOE (Aldrich and Woodin, 2021), we provided examples of some significant figures whose influence, scholarship and inspirational qualities might still be perceptible. These included the IOE’s founders: Beatrice and Sidney Webb; Percy Nunn (Director 1922–36, education principles); Sophie Bryant; Susan Isaacs (IOE 1933–48, child development); Marion Richardson (IOE 1924–30, art education and handwriting); James Fairgreve (geography in schools); Cyril Burt (IOE 1924–32, controversial proponent of IQ testing); Fred Clarke (Director 1936–45, education against totalitarianism); Lionel Elvin (Director 1958–73, Principal Ruskin College 1944–50, Director Education Department UNESCO 1950–56, New Education Fellowship, Council for Education in World Citizenship); Joseph Lauwerys (IOE 1932–70, co-founder UNESCO and active in World Education Fellowship, Professor of Comparative Education from 1947); Karl Mannheim (IOE 1941–7, sociology); and, more recently, Jack and Barbara Tizard, Richard Peters, Basil Bernstein, William Taylor, Ann Oakley, Peter Mortimore, Geoff Whitty, Jagdish Gundara, Gunther Kress and others.

We are now pleased to present this collection of 17 articles, and we anticipate that we can add to this over the next few months. One group of articles within the collection focuses on influential individuals. Sandra Leaton Gray (2022) has gone to the archives to evaluate the career and influence of the IOE’s first Director of the Department of Child Development, Susan Isaacs (1885–1948). Isaacs introduced child psychoanalysis to the UK, and highlighted the role of ‘phantasy’, namely aspects of imagination and play, in the life of children. She developed her theory and practice in the 1920s at the Malting House School in Cambridge, where she implemented an original system for minutely observing and recording children’s behaviour, which she later analysed through a psychoanalytical lens. Piaget was a visitor to the school. Isaacs was invited by Percy Nunn, director of the IOE, to set up a new department for the advanced study of the psychology and education of young children. She successfully developed teaching and research, including an observation laboratory for infants situated in the new Senate House. Her pioneering work is still referenced in teacher education programmes, and it is likely to have influenced the rationale for setting up the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU).

Susan Isaacs built up research and teaching, but this was before the IOE was offering initial teacher education programmes for primary and early years, located in the Department of Child Development and Educational Psychology (CDEP). A fascinating insight into the development of the Primary Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) programme, nearly 40 years later, is offered by one of its pioneers, Rosemary G. Davis (2022). It was only in 1964 that potential primary school teachers were offered a university-validated undergraduate qualification named the BEd, and there remained opposition to graduates training to be primary school teachers, although the 1963 Robbins Report on the expansion of higher education recommended that teaching become an all-graduate profession. The primary PGCE met opposition from some secondary PGCE staff, who offered patronising and essentially misogynist comments on the initiative. Nonetheless, the course flourished, having a child-centred approach and a concern to ensure that equality issues were addressed as core content.

The IOE’s tradition of promoting child-centred education for young children is illustrated by other articles in this collection. Julia Brannen et al. (2022) review the 50-year history of the TCRU, founded by Jack Tizard, who came to the IOE as Professor of Child Development in 1964. The unit was established in 1973, and its work continued under Barbara Tizard, as highlighted in this reflective piece authored by colleagues still actively engaged in its research. The unit was set up to promote the health, welfare and education of children and their families, and to conduct rigorously scientific, policy-oriented research focusing on the services and institutions provided for them. It operated alongside other teaching and research activities at the IOE, including the primary PGCE. In a further example of the IOE’s traditions of concern for early years, Sinead Harmey et al. (2022) provide a recent example of a research project focusing on language development. Working closely with a London school, the Manor Park Talks project (2019–21) was able to implement a participatory methodology, and it exemplifies research-informed practice in partnerships between researchers and practitioners.

Priscilla Alderson’s (2022) evaluation of the pioneering work of Berry Mayall provides further evidence of the importance and impact of the TCRU, where she was one of the original core team members. Berry later held the Chair of Childhood Studies, from which position she argued for a rethink in educational policy and practice based on respect for children as competent rational social agents with rights. Indeed, Mayall and Alderson both developed a widely and internationally influential theory and practice of children’s rights and education (Alderson, 1999; Alderson and Morrow, 2011; Mayall, 2000, 2002). Another former TCRU member, Ann Oakley, is celebrated in a later article in this series.

Other articles in this collection explore the work and influence of previous colleagues known to current students as names of lecture halls (Fred Clarke), a research chair (Karl Mannheim) and a wing of the IOE main building (Geoff Whitty). Gary McCulloch (2022) appraises Clarke, who was Director of the IOE from 1936 to 1945. His 1940 book, Education and Social Change, was influential on the 1944 Education Act. He undertook a survey of education studies that laid the ground for an international disciplinary approach, seeking to move the study of education away from psychology and biology, and towards sociology. At the IOE, Clarke failed to appoint Susan Isaacs to a chair, but instead supported six male colleagues as chairs in different aspects of education. He established the still flourishing British Journal of Educational Studies in 1952, the first national journal of education.

Clarke institutionalised the study of the philosophy of education, and the contributions of one of the IOE’s best-known chairs of philosophy, Richard Peters, are recognised in an article by the equally distinguished philosophers John White and Patricia White (White and White, 2022). Peters was active at the IOE in the 1960s and 1970s. His insights provided a basis for the reform of teacher education both at the IOE and at its associated colleges. His aim was to apply the techniques of conceptual analysis to the field of education, initially focusing on the concept of education itself. There is a lively account in this article of his innovative Friday lectures to PGCE students from the IOE and the numerous associated colleges in the London area. One of Peters’s main legacies is the still flourishing Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain and its Journal of Philosophy of Education.

Karl Mannheim’s name is associated with a chair at the IOE that has been held by Basil Bernstein, Geoff Whitty and Stephen Ball, and which is currently held by Louise Archer. His influence on education, alongside that of his former assistant and then successor, Jean Floud, is discussed in a challenging article in this collection by Martyn Hammersley (2022). A refugee from Nazi Germany, Mannheim first taught at the London School of Economics (LSE) and then also at the IOE. He was awarded a chair at the IOE in 1946, but he died just a year later. He had a clear vision of education having a political mission to preserve and promote liberal democratic ideals such as freedom and democracy, and this required a focus on sociology. He developed a line of argument about what constitutes an effective education system. One component of this would be the study of society. While his successor, Jean Floud, was influential in diagnosing the role of education as reproducing class inequalities and seeking to identify policies that would increase social mobility, Mannheim’s influence declined, and it is argued that he became a marginal figure.

That said, his later successors as Mannheim chairs at the IOE have been internationally influential. While Bernstein is not yet represented in this collection, his successor as chair, Geoff Whitty, is warmly but not uncritically remembered as an exceptional scholar by the eminent US professor and former World Scholar of IOE, Michael Apple (2022). The influence of Stephen Ball on teachers and teaching, and his revealing of the mechanisms that subjugate teachers in the name of efficiency, are explored through accounts of the ways in which his most cited article, ‘The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity’ (Ball, 2003), influenced the scholarly journeys of authors Claire Goodley and Jane Perryman (Goodley and Perryman, 2022).

Our collection also celebrates the contributions of scholars from several disciplines whose passing in the twenty-first century has left a substantial gap, as well as a legacy of inspiration and institution building. These include: Jagdish Gundara, UNESCO chair and founding director of the International Centre for Intercultural Education, whose contribution is recognised by Namrata Sharma (2022); Jan Blommaert, whose concept of pedagogy for precarity from applied linguistics is illustrated in dialogic form involving Ahmad Jaber Benswait, a would-be doctoral researcher whose battle to establish his claim as an asylum seeker is supported by his IOE tutor Miguel Pérez-Milans, who notes that they are effectively losing voice (Benswait and Pérez-Milans, 2022); Roy Bhaskar, whose theoretical insights, conceptualised as critical realism, inspired a whole new field of research and scholarship, as celebrated by Priscilla Alderson (2022); Gunther Kress, who also established a new field of multimodal and social semiotic theory, which not only analyses communication through a linguistic lens, but also acknowledges many signifiers that inform fields, including education, museum studies and the humanities and social sciences. His considerable global influence is discussed by Elisabetta Adami et al. (2022) using the example of his concept of design.

The contribution and global influence of one still active colleague, Ann Oakley, is highlighted in an article by Sandy Oliver (2023). Her hugely influential research is distinctive because of her groundbreaking work across boundaries. She draws on a range of disciplines, uses qualitative and quantitative methods and blurs the distinction between academia and wider society. Another current IOE sociologist, Michael Young, whose commitment to ‘powerful knowledge’ has provoked admiration and controversy, is evaluated in historical perspective by John Morgan (2022). Morgan suggests that Young’s scholarship attempts to provide responses to how Britain is to make sense of its changing place in a global economy and in particular the loss of Empire and the rise of a multiracial society.

This is also the question that colleagues at IOE’s Centre for Education and International Development Elaine Unterhalter and Laila Kadiwal (Unterhalter and Kadiwal, 2022) address in their article on decolonisation and development. Recognising the institutional origins in ‘colonial education’ of the programmes of teaching and research that are their current work, they describe and reflect on processes for change that require new forms of relationship and reimagining practice. This is illustrated in the article by Georgina Brewis and Kathryn Hannan (Brewis and Hannan, 2023) who introduce undergraduates to the history of education by engaging with archives and focusing on UCL’s own history. These articles contribute to a debate and discussion around decolonisation that London Review of Education has hosted in the form of two other special features Decolonising the school curriculum (Miller et al., 2022) and Decolonising the higher education curriculum (Schucan Bird and Coupaye, 2021).

What all the articles in this collection have in common is that they illustrate the many ways in which members of the IOE community have, over the years, struggled to ensure that their teaching and research promotes, and is in all respects compatible with, our principled concern for social justice. While this cannot be achieved without conflict and tensions, the overall contribution is to realising a future based on a vision that Karl Mannheim referred to as a utopia. It is this vision of education that guides the collective endeavour to strive to achieve what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights summarises as ‘freedom, justice and peace in the world’. Our university is a community where individual contributions can be pooled, developed and disseminated for the benefit of a long-term project currently standing at 120 years. We hope that these articles will illuminate our past and point towards the future as our planet faces its greatest ever challenges.


Adami, E; Diamantopoulou, S; Lim, F.V. (2022).  ‘Design in Gunther Kress’s social semiotics’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 41. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.41

Alderson, P. (1999).  ‘Human rights and democracy in schools do they mean more than “picking up litter and not killing whales”?’.  International Journal of Children’s Rights 7 (2) : 185–205, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15718189920494336

Alderson, P. (2022).  ‘Berry Mayall and Roy Bhaskar: Critical thinkers’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 24. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.24

Alderson, P; Morrow, V. (2011).  The Ethics of Research with Children and Young People: A practical handbook. London: SAGE.

Aldrich, R; Woodin, T. (2021).  The UCL Institute of Education: From training college to global institution. 2nd ed. London: UCL Press, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/111.9781787359512

Apple, M.W. (2022).  ‘Knowledge and sociality: On the Institute of Education (London) as a second home’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 16. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.16

Ball, S.J. (2003).  ‘The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity’.  Journal of Education Policy 18 (2) : 215–28, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0268093022000043065

Benswait, A.J; Pérez-Milans, M. (2022).  ‘Pressing times, losing voice: Critique and transformative spaces in higher education’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 30. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.30

Brannen, J; Moss, P; Owen, C; Phoenix, A. (2022).  ‘Thomas Coram: The life and times of a research unit at the Institute of Education (London)’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 38. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.38

Brewis, G; Hannan, K. (2023).  ‘The worlds of UCL: Teaching, learning and institutional histories’.  London Review of Education 21 (1) : 12. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.21.1.12

Davis, R.G. (2022).  ‘The development of primary teacher education at the Institute of Education (London), 1977–1986’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 33. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.33

Goodley, C; Perryman, J. (2022).  ‘Beyond the “terrors of performativity”: Dichotomies, identities and escaping the panopticon’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 29. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.29

Hammersley, M. (2022).  ‘Karl Mannheim and Jean Floud: A false start for the sociology of education in Britain?’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 15. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.15

Harmey, S; Ang, L; Grenier, J. (2022).  ‘A participatory approach to embedding evidence in practice to support early language and communication in a London nursery school’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 31. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.31

Leaton Gray, S. (2022).  ‘Phantasy and play: Susan Isaacs and child development’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 40. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.40

Mayall, B. (2000).  ‘The sociology of childhood in relation to children’s rights’.  International Journal of Children’s Rights 8 (3) : 243–59, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15718180020494640

Mayall, B. (2002).  Towards a Sociology for Childhood: Thinking from children’s lives. Buckingham: Open University Press.

McCulloch, G. (2022).  ‘Fred Clarke, the Institute of Education (London) and educational studies’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 39. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.39

Miller, D; Towers, E; Surendran, S. (2022).  Decolonising the school curriculum [Special issue].  London Review of Education, Accessed 4 January 2023. https://www.scienceopen.com/collection/DecolSchoolCurric .

Morgan, J. (2022).  ‘Knowledge, culture and the curriculum in Britain, 1944 to the present’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 34. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.34

Oliver, S. (2023).  ‘Ann Oakley: New learning and global influence from working across conventional boundaries’.  London Review of Education 21 (1) : 11. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.21.1.11

Schucan Bird, K; Coupaye, L. (2021).  Decolonizing the higher education curriculum [Special issue].  London Review of Education, Accessed 4 January 2023. https://www.scienceopen.com/collection/DecolHECurric .

Sharma, N. (2022).  ‘Jagdish Gundara: Broadening the field of intercultural studies at the Institute of Education (London)’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 17. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.17

Unterhalter, E; Kadiwal, L. (2022).  ‘Education, decolonisation and international development at the Institute of Education (London): A historical analysis’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 18. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.18

White, J; White, P. (2022).  ‘Richard Peters and his legacy’.  London Review of Education 20 (1) : 20. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14324/LRE.20.1.20