PESGB Cambridge Branch History

Compiled by Christine Doddington

Philosophy of Education meetings began very informally in Cambridge.

By 1969 there were six philosophers of education living in the town. These included Charles Bailey, Peter Scrimshaw and David Bridges (Homerton), Richard Pring and Hugh Sockett (Cambridge Institute of Education), and John Elliott (at that time based in the Centre for Applied Research in Education at UEA).

David Bridges writes:

We were all studying for higher degrees at the London Institute and used to travel up to the Wednesday evening seminars and then call off at a pub on the A1 on the way back to put the world to right. We found the seminars not very helpful – partly because we felt they were very remote from the current wave of curriculum development in which we were all involved — and we decided to do our own thing. This meant producing our own series of books published by Hodder and Stoughton. (Richard Peters was none too pleased by this declaration of independence and this was conveyed to us by Margaret Peters who lectured at the Cambridge Institute). We also began a series of seminars for the ‘Cambridge Group’ in which we each in turn presented drafts of our chapters. These were held in each other’s homes and were followed by a meal.

The first of these meetings was in November 1969 and occurred regularly for two or three years. When Paul Hirst came to Cambridge (1971), he participated in these seminars and hosted some, though with his sensitive leadership style, he never tried to take over.

It was probably at one of these early seminars that we decided to launch a Cambridge branch of the PESGB. The first meeting was on the 7th March 1970. The next meeting seems to have been in June, when Ray Elliott presented a paper on his signature theme of Aesthetics and Education. Subsequent contributors in 1970 included Geoffrey Bantock, Richard Pring, and Paul Hirst. In 1971 we had contributions from Ken Green (who went on to become Vice Chancellor of Manchester University), Richard Peters, Archambault, and John White (on ‘Learning and Knowledge).”

The Cambridge branch has a pretty well unbroken record of meetings up to the present day.

New members who helped organise and develop the Branch through the years have included Michael Bonnett (1972) and Patrick Heffernan, Peter Mitchell. Then later, Christine Tubb, Andrew Davis, Ian Frowe, Christine Doddington, and Ian Munday.  And, of course, a dear colleague, Terry McLaughlin who came to Cambridge in 1976 and stayed for over 20 years until he took up R.S. Peters’ Chair in London at the Institute of Education.

As a branch, we developed a format of half day meetings on a Saturday and, later a 24 hour conference spread over Friday evening and Saturday through till tea-time, which seemed to work well. We also structured a lot of the early seminars as ‘Controversies in Education and Philosophy’, setting out to show how philosophy could contribute to clarifying and illuminating contemporary debates on educational policy and practice. Early contributors included Pat Wilson (who was at Goldsmiths at the time and an articulate defender of child-centred education), Walter Feinberg, Jim Gribble (we had a regular flow of visitors from Australia in those days), Kleinig on Children’s Rights, Robert Dearden, John Wilson, and Harold Entwhistle.  Later, contributions came from Victor Quinn, Ruth Jonathon, plus many more who are memorable and, thankfully, still active in the Society.

Also contributing early on were Elizabeth Hindess (a philosopher at Liverpool) and Francis Dunlop (at Keswich Hall in Norwich). These were part of a group of early career college of education lecturers – all newly appointed as philosophers – who created something of a disruption at a conference held in 1969 by the Association of Teachers in Colleges and Departments of Education, which was then the professional association for teacher education staff. The ATCDE responded very positively to these young Turks and formed the group into a working party on The Aims of Teacher Education. Out of this, the group established a philosophy section within the ATCDE. This was aimed at all those teaching philosophy in the colleges (i.e. not just philosophers of education). This section organised a series of conferences (the first in September 1971), independently of the PESGB, with outstanding contributions from people who included Bernard Williams, Martin Hollis, Renford Bambrough, and Alan Montefiore. It only closed when the ATCDE itself closed in the period when colleges of education were absorbed into other HE institutions and the ATCDE was itself absorbed into the National Association of Teachers in Colleges and Departments of Education (NATFHE) – a very different kind of organisation.

One much more recent highlight to finish on is Richard Smith’s R.S. Peters Lecture, arranged by the Branch. It was memorably good in its own right but also because R.S. Peters’ daughter and son, who travelled up from Cornwall, were able to attend. They shared their childhood memories of their father, revealing a very human side of someone so significant for our Society.