Peter Newsam

Sir Peter Newsam is a member of the Oxford Education Society and an alumnus of the University of Oxford and of the Department of Education, having completed the PGCE programme with a distinction here in 1959.

Previously, he had gained a scholarship in history to Oxford and went into the administrative part of the civil service between 1952 and 1955. He taught at the Dragon School, just around the corner from the Department of Education, from 1956 to 1958.

He was Deputy Education Officer in the ILEA between 1972 and 1977 and its Education Officer from 1972 until 1982. He was then asked by the Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, to chair the Commission for Racial Equality (no adverts in those days!). He became Secretary to the Association of County Councils between 1987 and 1989 before being invited to become Director of the Institute of Education where he was responsible for the building of the extension which now houses the Newsam Library. He later served as Chief Schools Adjudicator from 1999 to 2002.

Peter wrote entries for Alec Clegg and Ashley Bramall in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and his papers and other publications are at the Institute Library and in the London Metropolitan Archive. He served on the Runnymede Trust’s Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain.

Peter recently contributed an article for discussion by OES members entitled ‘Towards a totalitarian education system in England’. This article is still available and can be downloaded here.

We asked Sir Peter to tell us about his time at the Department of Education and what his advice would be to anyone taking up a teaching career now.

What was your first degree and where did you study?

My first degree was in PPE at the Queen’s College, Oxford, 1949 to 1952.

Why did you choose to study at OUDE?

I chose to study at the OUDE because it was just down the road from where I was teaching – at the Dragon School in Bardwell Road – and while I was studying at the Department I continued to teach there for part of each week.

What is your favourite memory from your time at OUDE?

I particularly enjoyed access to the library, lectures from Dudley Fiske (later CEO of Manchester), from the Director A D C Peterson, who loathed Rousseau so much for his treatment of his children that his ears grew pink whenever he had to mention him, and particularly from Harold Loukes, Reader in Education.

Who in your professional life has inspired you?

I was most influenced at Oxford University by the work of R G Collingwood, historian and philosopher – in particular by his autobiography and by his later work ‘Metaphysics’. The latter taught me how to think. At the Department and later, Harold Loukes was consistently helpful. In my educational work, the writings of Thring, of Uppingham, and the friendship of Sir Alec Clegg, with whom I worked in Yorkshire, were hugely influential.

Looking back at your professional achievements, what are you most proud of?

Helping to end the 11+ in North Yorkshire and Inner London, as Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality getting a Code of Practice for Employers through Norman Tebbit and getting a library built at London University’s Institute of Education were useful things to have done.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of taking up a career in education today?

The advice I would give would depend on the person I was offering it to. To someone teaching primary school children I would suggest they teach nine year olds as nine year olds and not as potential eleven year olds. To secondary school teachers (and I know I would not manage as one today) I would ask them to try and enjoy themselves and keep learning; above all to remember that teaching is not just a matter of conveying information. As Thring put it, it requires ‘skilful questioning to force the mind to to see, to arrange, to act’. Easier said than done, of course.

[Sir Peter Newsam’s Autobiography of an education: Part One – From Bangalore to the West Riding was published in 2014 by Greenlea Books.
An extract, describing his time in the Department of Education in 1958-59, can be download here]