My name is Harley Richardson. I’m a parent, I’ve worked in education publishing for over 20 years, and I organise public debates for the Academy of Ideas Education Forum. I’m also a history of education autodidact.
My interest in the subject started over a decade ago while I was holidaying in the Scottish highlands. In a second-hand bookshop in Durness, at the north-western edge of the mainland, I found this book – History of Education in Great Britain by S.J. Curtis. It was in better condition then, but I’ve thumbed through it many times since.
Although I had been working in education for almost a decade at that point, I knew almost nothing about how the modern schooling system had taken shape. Reading Curtis’s book changed all that. I discovered that education had a fascinating and rich history stretching back over 2,000 years, and I was hooked. I hunted down more books on the topic to fill the gaps in my knowledge.
Eventually I convinced my bosses to let me do a lunchtime talk for colleagues about what I’d learned. Most of the audience were teachers and it turned out that this was a new story for them too. Shockingly to me, they’d been taught little or nothing about the history of education during their training. When I went on to give further talks for other audiences, I discovered this was a common experience.
The talks have developed over the years as I’ve learned more and received valuable feedback from professional educationalists and historians. I was delighted to be asked to contribute two chapters on Pre-State Education for a Routledge history of education book for undergraduates, which is due to be published early 2021.
My reading has generated far more material than I expected, and there still lots of areas I want to explore and understand. So I’ve set up this blog as a outlet for shorter thoughts and articles. I’m very keen to know what people make of them and welcome guest contributions from anyone who shares my interest. My focus is pre-state education in England, because that’s where I live and that’s what most of my reading has dealt with, but even that story is intimately intertwined with international events and evolving ideas about education.
Caveat: I am not a teacher, academic or professional historian. I am an enthusiast and I’m still learning. Most of the stories I tell are drawn from secondary sources, many of which are quite old. This means that some of the information may be out of date, so I’ve done my best to cross-check it.
The material here is offered in a spirit of humility. I’m very happy to be corrected on point of fact or indeed for people to dispute my interpretations of the facts. I may not have it 100% right. But I’m happy to take the risk because I think the history of education is a story worth telling.