Sally Tomlinson

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ISBN 9781788213943
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ISBN 9781788213950
224 pages   |  198 x 129mm   |  20 October 2022


"This book, by our internationally leading sociologist of educational diversity, could not be more timely. The urgent need for radical educational reform to prevent the widespread return of ignorance is clearly stated in this admirable book." – Stewart Ranson, Emeritus Professor, University of Warwick

"The provision of maintained – ‘state’ – education has improved dramatically since the 1942 Beveridge Report. But it remains a policy landscape riven with strong opinion, prejudice and ideology. Some of those nostrums seem to stem from the personal but universal experience of school (and can consequently manifest sweet or sour nostalgia), some of them indicate a complete absence of reality or recognition of changing needs, some are really useful. The competing views of educational theorists, teachers, parents, along with the wider societal and political concerns (or lack of them) about meaningful quality, equity or equality of opportunity are difficult to navigate. It’s perhaps no surprise, therefore, that successive governments, despite countless Education Acts, have yet to slay and banish the Giant of Ignorance. Sally Tomlinson is a passionate defender and upholder of educational and teaching standards and her journey through Britain’s chequered postwar history of education provision draws on her long, broad and unrivalled experience of the sector. She throws into stark relief the challenges which teachers continue to face as they are confronted by the giddying sets of policy initiatives and frameworks. Too often, the ‘changers’ deny the resources necessary to implement the changes. Even more frequently, they put what should be diagnostic tools of testing, targets and reporting in place of infant and adolescent well-being and motivation as well as the learning and application of knowledge and experience.

‘Knowledge is power’ we are told. But, regrettably, ignorance is not without influence either. That’s why Professor Tomlinson’s assault on the Giant should be made mandatory reading for all policymakers who truly want to topple the tyrant.” – Neil Kinnock, former Leader of the Labour Party


Ignorance can be exploited and superior groups have the power to determine who gets any or what kind of education. Beveridge seized on this as one of the five giants that threatened to prevent Britain from becoming a safe and decent place to live.

Education across the UK has been transformed since the immediate postwar period. The majority of school-leavers are literate and numerate to varying degrees. Girls are given the same education opportunities as boys and efforts and attention is paid to those with special needs and learning difficulties. However, legacies of different schooling systems and different payment systems have led to the persistence of social inequalities, entrenching them in society and perpetuated by the power dynamics that it creates between class, race and gender. The mania for testing, targets, choice and competition, the tinkering with school structures and the part-privatisation of the system has made schools into a marketplace rather than a place of learning. Young people have become consumers rather than citizens sharing learning and the democratic values needed to prevent the ignorance that Beveridge described as "the evil weed, which dictators may activate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford".

Sally Tomlinson traces our trajectory from the ignorance of the early twentieth century to the dangers that current educational approaches pose for our future citizens.


1. Introduction: ignorance evolves
2. Breaking out of ignorance, 1945–80
3. Market forces and ignorance in the 1980s
4. Redistributing ignorance in the 1990s
5. Bog standard schools and academies, 2000–09
6. Weirdos and misfits, 2010–20
7. Ignorance in Covid/post-Covid schooling, 2020–21
8. Conclusion

Author Information

Sally Tomlinson is Emeritus Professor at Goldsmiths University and an Honorary Fellow in the Education Department at Oxford University. She has held professorial chairs at the universities of Lancaster and Swansea. Her most recent books are Rule Britannia: Brexit and the End of Empire (with Danny Dorling) (2019) and Education and Race from Empire to Brexit (2019).

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