A three-part analysis and critique of the recent proposals contained in the Crowther Report on Education.

in march 1956 Sir David Eccles asked the Central Advisory Council for Education to advise him on the education of the 15—18 age-group. After 3½ years the Council has produced a Report. This includes the major recommendations that a 20-year plan should begin in 1960 aiming (a) to raise the minimum school-leaving age to sixteen by 1969, and (b) to provide in the Seventies, after an experimental period, compulsory part-time education for all young people of 16–18 who are not in full-time education; both recommendations already form part of the 1944 Education Act, which should therefore be implemented by about 1980. Precisely what has been achieved?

imprisoned in every fat man, Cyril Connolly once wrote, a thin one is wildly signalling to be let out. So it is with the Crowther Report. A genuine reforming impulse can be seen to be trapped within a set of profoundly conservative assumptions about the nature of education and society. Criticism, which ought always to have some positive consequence, can in this case perhaps become an act of liberation.

The Report’s inadequacies are apparent in its attempt to answer the three age-old questions: what is the function of education? what is society? and how are the two to be related?

Over the first the Report is commendably clear. Education has two functions. The first is to enable an individual to make a contribution to “national efficiency”. The second, and more important, relates to “those other objectives of any education which have little or nothing to do with vocation.” An honest attempt is made to define the nature of these objectives. First, it is recognised that as the values of industrial society are often defective, the young require some form of defensive armour: a generalised sales resistance to smooth talk of all descriptions. But the development of the “human personality” is seen to require more than this: “the teenagers with whom we are concerned need, perhaps before all else, to find a faith to live by. They will not all find precisely the same faith and some will not find any. Education can and should play some part in their search. It can assure them there is something to search for. . . .” However true it may be that the search for faith is one that each individual must undertake for himself, this account of its nature seems profoundly inadequate. From faith as reasoned and essentially shareable affirmation, we have descended to something that is not even a collective hunt for the same slipper. But though inadequate, the Report’s view is at least clear. Furthermore it implies an answer to the question: what is society? That such an answer is nowhere made explicit is understandable; the Report is not intended as a philosophical treatise. On the other hand, the poverty of the answer that is implicit in the Report’s discussions is not reassuring. Society, it there appears, is simply taken to be the environment of the individual entering it; it is the world “in which he has been set.” There is no recognition that individuals are coming together for any particular purpose, other than to increase national efficiency. Even this purpose is apparently not related to the needs of the young: “Industry does not exist for the sake of the teenager.” True, but for what purpose does it exist? Does it even exist for the sake of the teenager’s father? With so much that needs saying left unsaid, it is difficult to discover whether the Report sees society as anything more than the industrial process plus the relationships an individual enters into in his spare time. On the whole, it appears that it doesn’t.

Thirdly, how does the Report see the relation of education to society? The thin man, if one element in the Report’s thinking may be so described, sees that society is in some ways imperfect. To the question: What is it in society that I must develop my personality to resist? he is prepared to give some sort of an answer. But the surrounding fat man will not hear of it: “Education”, he says, “can only function within the broad directives of right and wrong which society gives.” It follows that criticism of those directives, at least in moral terms, must be inadmissible. So there it is. On the one hand the values of society are held to be defective, on the other they are removed from criticism. The effect is that, undermined by the fear of self-contradiction, the voice of reform is sadly muted. This has three serious and practical consequences.

The first concerns the diagnosis of what is wrong with society. On reading the Report one might suppose that the principal danger confronting the young was that of sexual incontinence. Society’s standards, it appears, are too lax and the young need protection from their own impulses. It is certainly true that during “that April weather of the soul”, as the Report nauseously puts it, sex problems can cause great personal unhappiness. It is also true that the convenient thing about sexual standards is that the nation or the individual prospers almost equally whether they are upheld or not. There is therefore no direct conflict between the two functions of education, the need for personal standards and the pursuit of national efficiency. In this respect sexual standards are unlike those which seek to regulate greed, pride and envy. If we were to take the latter seriously our national efficiency might well be impaired. Happily, except perhaps accidentally, fornication does not increase the national product. It can therefore be safely condemned. Besides, it is wrong.