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On giants' shoulders;Millennium Edition

magazine article | Published in TES Newspaper on 31 December, 1999

Many great educators have emerged over the past 1,000 years, but few have left a deeper imprint on British schooling than the 12 men and women profiled here

Aelfric of Eylsham 955-1020

A Benedictine monk who lived at the turn of the first millennium, Aelfric was a scholar and prolific writer of works which include the first Latin grammar written in English. It recognised that as the Roman Empire became a distant memory, books on Latin grammar, traditionally aimed at perfecting a known language, had instead to become systematic texts for the the teaching of a foreign language.

Aelfric's grammar book of 1000 AD set out parts of speech, and the structure of sentences, in a way which has underpinned the teaching of foreign languages right up to modern times.

Geoffrey c1440

A recluse who lived in the Dominican friary in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, in the 15th century. In 1440 he compiled the first English-to-Latin dictionary, a task more difficult than that of writing a Latin-to-English dictionary, various examples of which already existed.

The dictionary, which was written for schools, is arranged alphabetically, though in what to us is an unusual way. Under each letter he lists first the English nouns and then the verbs, with meanings, and with one or more Latin equivalents. His work also served as the first English dictionary and his choice of words shows an interest in childhood and childhood games. He lists six types of spinning top, for example - words which have not survived anywhere else. In a sense, therefore, he was the medieval equivalent of Iona and Peter Opie, who in our own times so assiduously documented the words and phrases of childhood.

John Knox 1505-1572

Nowadays Knox is better known for trumpeting against the "monstrous regiment" (i.e. regime) of women than for his pioneering ideas on education. But the leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland believed, along with other contributors to the "First Book of Discipline" in 1560, that education was necessary for personal faith and salvation. So he demanded a school for every parish and church support for the education of poor children. Although the scheme was not fully implemented, Knox's influence impelled later generations to make schools and universities widely accessible.

John Locke 1632-1704

Locke was a practitioner and publicist of good education who also made significant contributions to human understanding of economics, medicine, science and theology and particularly to political philosophy. Educated at Westminster School and Oxford, Locke was a tutor to the sons of the nobility and gentry, both in England and on the Continent. His publications were highly influential. "Some Thoughts Concerning Education" (1693) arose from a series of letters he wrote from Holland advising a friend on the education of his children. During the 18th century this book appeared in more than 20 English editions and was translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian and Swedish.

Thomas Arnold 1795-1842

Arnold was a brilliant student, and in 1828 - the year in which he was awarded BD and DD degrees at Oxford - he was appointed headmaster at Rugby School. He held this post and the school chaplaincy until his death. Arnold became known as the man who reformed the boys' public schools of England by his moral and religious teaching to produce truth-telling, Christian gentlemen. The schools became acceptable to the new middle and professional classes and the vehicle for producing an elite to rule the largest empire the world had seen. Arnold's reforming zeal and reputation was spread by masters at Rugby who moved to other schools, and reached a wider public through Thomas Hughes' "Tom Brown's Schooldays" (1857).

James Kay-Shuttleworth 1804-1877

Although Richard Selleck's recent biography reveals a darker side to his personality and private life. Kay-Shuttleworth's contribution to popular education remains secure. Trained as a doctor, he became the first secretary to the Committee of Privy Council on Education in 1839. For the next 10 years he worked tirelessly to establish a basis for state-aided schools. He retired in 1849 following a breakdown brought on by overwork. The college which he founded at Battersea in South London became the model for 19th-century training colleges for elementary school teachers.

Frances Mary Buss (above)1827-1894

Buss was born in north London. Her education was in private schools and at evening classes at Queen's College. She taught from the age of 14 and, in 1850, began the North London Collegiate School for Ladies in her family's house in Camden Street. The school flourished under her leadership and in 1870 it became a public school and the model for schools of the Girls' Public Day School Company.

Robert Morant 1863-1920

Morant was tutor to the Crown Prince of Siam between 1887 and 1894 and the force behind the Education Act of 1902 which established LEAs and publicly-owned secondary schools. As permanent secretary at the Board of Education from 1903, Morant was responsible for implementation of the Act.

Percy Nunn 1870-1944

The polymath Percy Nunn was professor and principal at the London Day Training College (from 1932 the Institute of Education of the University of London). His much-reprinted book, "Education: its data and first principles", with its commitment to freedom and individuality, was the classic educational text of the inter-war years.

A S Neill 1883-1973

Scottish-born and educated, Neill founded Summerhill School in Suffolk where his iconoclastic views on education were given free rein. Although pupil numbers were small, Neill's numerous publications and lectures made him the best-known British progressive educationist of the 20th century.

Susan Isaacs 1885-1948

Lancashire-born child psychologist whose interest in child development grew out of her work as a research student at Cambridge University. She was head of the Malting House School, Cambridge, from 1924-27 and her two most famous books on children's intellectual and social growth were stimulated by this period of her life. Isaacs attached particular importance to how children cope with aggression and sexual curiosity and came to question some of Piaget's work. She found that some pupils seemed to be racing through stages of intellectual growth far more quickly than the great Swiss psychologist had suggested was possible.

R A Butler 1902-82

Conservative politician who was responsible for the 1944 Education Act which determined the shape of English education for almost half a century. The son of a colonial administrator in India he entered Parliament as MP for Saffron Walden after a brilliant Cambridge career. He had junior ministerial appointments before becoming president of the Board of Education in 1940. His Act provided secondary education for all and eased the financial problems of the voluntary bodies. Butler was later accused of "murdering his own child" when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the early 1950s, he imposed cuts on education but his reputation has survived.


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