George & Judith Baines and progressive English primary education

by Paul Maharg on 07/06/2011

The end of May, and I was deep in the archives of the Institute of Education, UCL, London, researching the papers of George and Judith Baines, who had been remarkably original and innovative teachers and curriculum designers. I knew George in a personal capacity only very slightly, having been introduced to George and Judith by Nicola, my wife, who knew them both much better through Quaker connections. Unfortunately George died a while after our first meeting, and it’s a sadness to me that I never got to know this wonderful educator better. His work at Eynsham & Brize Norton primary schools in Oxfordshire in the sixties and seventies was astonishingly original and sustained.

George and Judith were in a long line of distinguished alternative educators in England (alternative, that, is, to the then primary school system), that began really with visits to Pestalozzi by Robert Owen, Maria Edgeworth and Henry Brougham among the most famous, and James Greaves & Rev Charles Mayo among the most active in England on their return. The alternative tradition, though, extended well beyond the influence of both Pestalozzi and Froebel to a remarkable flowering of alternatives to industrial education in the latter decades of the nineteenth and first three of the twentieth century.

To view the Baines archive, go to and search for <baines>. There’s a detailed catalogue of the archived resources George & Judith deposited, designed and written by the archivist Sarah Aitchison that is a model of what an archive catalogue should be, and makes the job of trawling through the boxes much easier. Sarah visited George and Judith in their house on the island of Arran, working on collating the resources, and then annotating them in contextual detail, with a fine introductory essay.

It’s a fascinating collection. The IoE archive seems to have made it a policy to collect materials from this period of English primary education, and so there are papers there belonging to figures such as Robin Tanner, a highly innovative teacher and artist and a (by all accounts) inspirational HMI, who was close to the Baines and encouraged their innovations, and Christian Schiller, who in turn inspired Robin and was a central figure in the development of active play and art in the curriculum. There are also records deposited by architects who were involved in the building of schools for innovative curricula. I’ve consulted the archive once, and quoted excerpts of the Baines’ work in presentations, with Judith’s permission.

I was interested initially in two issues. First the relationship between innovators and educational thinkers such as the Baines and Tanner; for it seems to me that at least some of what George and Judith achieved was in part due to the encouragement of this key regulatory figure. Second, the key traits of George’s remarkable educational method and results – what did they achieve that other forms of primary school teaching didn’t. There was a third — it’s research: let’s see what happens when I read the stuff in detail.

Relevance to legal education? This is primary education after all – what relevance can there be to Higher Education teaching & learning, and especially professional learning? Surely the differences in cognitive development between little children and young adults is too great to allow for useful overlap. I don’t think so. There are at least four key points:

  1. Progressive educational case studies such as this serve as exemplars of outstanding practice that can be adapted at almost any level of educational intervention. The principles are adapted for different stages; but the principles remain pretty constant.
  2. The relation between the work of the Baines and Tanner is a good example of what we might call a portrait of the regulator as atelier. Shouldn’t legal educational regulators be involved with us all in this capacity?
  3. A study in organizational innovation in education is always useful, and raises a whole host of questions. Given that George and Judith changed pretty much everything about the then conventional primary school in their own school, how did they manage to bring about such innovation in the first place? How did they cope with the day-to-day issues and problems? How did George manage leadership in these circumstances? How did they sustain innovation and develop it?
  4. Their work is a portrait of the teacher as artist. As George put it, ‘I am sure that teaching is an art and that teachers are artists. The teacher teaches what he is, more than what he knows, and as an artist, involved and giving of himself with love.’

In sum, I was looking for the detail of what George and Judith wanted to achieve, in terms of learning. I wasn’t disappointed, and much of what I found will form chapters of a book I’m writing on genealogies of legal education. More on that in a later post.

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