At least three members of the House of Lords, a junior minister, Executive Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman, Head of the Home Civil Service, The Schools Adjudicator for England, Chief Financial Officer of the Australian Government Solicitor, a Vice Chancellor, Director of the Institute of Education, the first female Master of Birkbeck College, Chief Executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Health, Safety & Environment Manager for the Northern Line, numerous professors, policy advisers to Prime Ministers and Ministers in the UK and all over the world. What do such people have in common? Answer? They all worked for the Inner London Education Authority in its glory and finally in its dying days. If we added in elected members, we could include the Chief Executive of the Audit Commission, the Parliamentary Director of Parliamentary Affairs for the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Executive Head of Education for the Local Government Association – and many more.
Twenty-five years ago, on 1 April 1990, what many regarded as the greatest Education Authority ever, in terms of the service it provided and the talent it employed, went out of existence. Without reciting the blow-by-blow accounts of its botched breakup, a process from which none of Thatcher, Kenneth Baker, Michael Heseltine, or Norman Tebbitt emerge with anything remotely resembling credit (and that is putting it mildly) it is interesting to measure the scale of popular support it enjoyed.
First, while elected members of ILEA, the vast majority of the 12 borough councils and the City of London who were to inherit the service and might have been expected to welcome such an inheritance, were fiercely opposing the crude populism behind the abolition, parents across the city campaigned to protect it.
A remarkable and entirely parent-led organisation set itself up, with groups of parents in every one of the 1,200 ILEA schools, who organised petitions, and eventually a London-wide ballot of parents overseen by the Election Reform Society. The ballot was held in the weeks leading up to the Commons vote in 1988. With over 70% of eligible parents voting, the majority in favour of retaining ILEA was 95%. Did a government led by a party allegedly wholly in favour of parent–power, and today behind a socially class-biased and flawed policy of Free Schools pay attention to such a massive group of parents speaking loudly with a single voice? Of course not. A tiny handful of London Tory MPs had their way and a number of them probably lost their seats a few years later partly as a result. Curiously, the Tories on the ILEA supported its continuation, but their informed and sincerely held views were also trashed by the Tory backbenchers who took their political leadership from the Sun newspaper. (Some things never change!)
Consequently, it was a mixed blessing to have been the Leader of the ILEA in its dying days and to have watched with a mixture of sadness and hope as I saw members and staff of the ILEA leave for the final time. Sadness that such a great team was being broken up on the personal whim of a blinkered Prime Minister and her close allies. Hope that the extension of that commitment and expertise into the LEAs taking over, as well as into the wider education world and beyond, would have a great impact because people had served their time with the ILEA.
So what happened to everyone? I have kept in contact with many former staff and members of ILEA but, inevitably, not with all. So I have wondered whether, as a way of marking 25 years, we might together try to assemble updates on as many people as possible so that we can assemble and share a portfolio of “what happened then….”.
I recognise that staff working on the front line in schools, colleges, polytechnics, teacher training, AEIs, youth centres, careers offices and the many other support services were the true stars of the ILEA, delivering education and associated services to the people of Inner London. But this project is also about another group of people, those who worked in County Hall, Divisional Education Offices and other administrative centres providing a policy framework, allocating resources, supporting front line staff and monitoring standards. These were the elected and added members of the Authority, officers, and inspectors, however senior or junior.
In order to draw a line in the sand of history we are going as far back as the date when the abolition of the GLC and the creation of a free-standing ILEA was passed into law in July 1985. In fact 1986 was the date at which the ILEA became that unique animal, a free standing, directly elected education authority – the first in the UK since 1904 when the London School Board was replaced by the London County Council.
If you were part of the ILEA at any time from 1985 until abolition then this message is directed at you.
So if you are interested in this and meet the criteria set out above I invite you to help in two ways:-
- provide me with a note, preferably not more than one side of A4, telling your post ILEA story.
- pass this on to anyone with whom you have remained in contact to help me spread the net as wide as possible;
Sadly a number of people who once belonged to the ILEA have died since 1990 – if you are able to send a published obituary or can offer a short note on any such person please do so too.
I want as many participants as possible and for the resulting document to be a historic record of an organisation for which we were proud to work.
All contributions should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please tell us your story.
Leader ILEA 1987-90