British Communism and the Politics of Education, 1926-1968

  • Matthew Kavanagh

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis provides an analysis of British communist attitudes to education in English schools between 1926 and 1968. Although the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in many ways remained a marginal force in British politics throughout its life (1920-1991), historians have acknowledged that it made a contribution to cultural and industrial politics in Britain which far exceeded its membership figures and electoral success. Surprisingly, given that the Party produced several teacher trade union presidents and Britain's foremost post-war educationalist, scholars have largely overlooked British communism's role in the politics of education in schools - a field which straddles both areas in which the Party is widely regarded to have punched above its weight. Researchers into the Party's internal life have also paid little attention to its schoolteachers' group, despite the fact that it was one of the CPGB's largest occupational groups, and the fact that leading communist teachers and educationalists also took up prominent positions inside the Party.Although some existing work has discussed CPGB attitudes to the education of children during the 1920s, 1940s and 1950s, to date there has been no PhD-length study which covers the period between 1926 and 1968 and has British communism and the politics of education as its sole focus. This study fills this gap by identifying individuals and institutions central to CPGB discussions and policy-making on education in schools, namely the leading figures in and around the Party schoolteachers' group, and exploring how they anticipated, reflected or resisted the wider Party line in their work throughout several pivotal shifts in the CPGB's position. Drawing upon source material unused by or unavailable to previous researchers, the thesis complicates existing arguments about the extent to which Party teachers and educationalists subordinated questions of educational content, method and theory to trade union work between 1926 and 1968. Furthermore the study also contextualises and illuminates the notable communist contribution to broader educational politics on the Left in Britain, particularly during World War Two and in the campaign for comprehensive education in the two decades which followed. 
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorBen Harker (Supervisor)


  • Teachers
  • CPGB
  • Communism
  • Education

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