Files relating to the National Council for Educational Standards

Scope and Content

The papers in this series chart the whole history of the NCES, from its first conference in 1972, through to the latter part of the 1980s. The papers include: correspondence; circulars; press releases; minutes; conference papers; articles; NCES publications; and accounts. Correspondents include prominent members of the NCES such as Caroline Cox, John Marks and Rhodes Boyson, as well as politicians such as Keith Joseph, and NCES sponsors such as H.J. Eysenck.

Administrative / Biographical History

A major project undertaken by Brian Cox and A.E. Dyson during the 1970s was the foundation of the National Council for Educational Standards (NCES). It was established in 1972, when Dyson, along with Max Beloff and Rhodes Boyson, organized a conference on education at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Speakers included Jacques Barzun, G.H. Bantock, and Boyson, and their papers reflected the concerns expressed in the Black Papers about the Labour government's education policies and the effects of the comprehensive system. The conference received good press coverage, and its proceedings were published as a booklet called The Basic Unity of Education. From these beginnings, the NCES - a pressure group campaigning on educational issues - was born. The annual subscription was 50 pence, and the organization soon had over 1,500 associate members. Their aims centred around preserving high standards, advocating choice and diversity in education, defending the right of existence of independent schools, and stressing the need for structured teaching and learning in all schools. Brian Cox became Chairman and Treasurer in the mid-1970s. Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s the NCES organized regular conferences on schools and educational issues. They also submitted evidence to the government's Inquiry into Reading Standards and the Use of English.

In the light of Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan's 1976 Ruskin speech on education, Cox changed his mind about how NCES pressure campaigns should be conducted. The speech indicated a change of direction in Labour policy, which now seemed more receptive to the ideas Cox had been espousing since the time of the early Black Papers. He hoped that the NCES could work with the Labour government, and persuade them to support the idea of a national curriculum and the reintroduction of structured schooling. In 1978 the NCES was registered as a charity, sponsored by figures such as G.H. Bantock, Max Beloff, H.J. Eysenck, Philip Larkin and Patrick Moore, with four trustees, including Brian Cox and Baroness (Caroline) Cox; their secretary was Margaret Smith. They continued to organize conferences, began a journal called the Bulletin, produced a series of pamphlet publications on education and undertook a large-scale research project on exam results which compared comprehensive education unfavourably with the old system of grammar and secondary modern schools.

As a charity, however, the NCES was required to argue the cause for educational standards objectively, and not to publish polemics or associate themselves with one political party. This ultimately led to divisions within the organization. Brian Cox, along with Margaret Smith, was keen to take a more conciliatory approach, working with people from across the political spectrum towards achieving NCES aims. In January 1985 a large conference took place at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge on 'The Search for Common Ground'; in keeping with the theme of the conference two NCES speakers were balanced by speakers on education from the Labour and Social Democratic parties. Two other leading members of the NCES (Caroline Cox and John Marks) took a different view to Cox and during the 1980s associated themselves increasingly with right-wing groups. They already ran the Research Unit of the NCES separately from the main part of the organization, and by 1987 they had both withdrawn from the NCES. The organization itself became defunct in 1988, when Cox felt it had outlived its usefulness and could find no one else willing to take over his role.


Files COX3/1-8 are original files compiled by Brian Cox. They follow a very broad chronological order, and within files there is some evidence of an approximate reverse chronological order. There is, however, some chronological overlap between files; many of the papers are in no obvious order and often enclosures have been separated from covering letters. Original order is, however, retained here, as it presumably reflects how the files accumulated, and disturbances in the order of material in some cases illustrates how Cox looked up earlier papers which bore relevance to later events. The bundles of papers listed in COX3/9-14 come from the various miscellaneous and unsorted 'odds and ends' files, the contents of which have now been split up according to their subject matter. The bundles are fully cross referenced to the other material with which they were originally stored. They are arranged in chronological order.