Papers relating to the Black Papers

Scope and Content

This series contains a substantial quantity of correspondence relating to the Black Papers; the first two pamphlets are the most comprehensively represented, although there is material relating to all five Papers. Correspondents include: contributors and potential contributors; teachers and head teachers at both primary and secondary level; academics; journalists; and interested members of the public. The correspondence relates to plans and preparations for the pamphlets, widespread responses to their content, and related publicity including television appearances by Brian Cox. Many teachers wrote to Brian Cox describing their own experiences in the profession and their opinions on changes in educational policy, and many of these letters are included in the alphabetical correspondence sequence (COX1/1). COX1/2 contains correspondence with contributors and other well-known figures such as politicians, writers, academics and educationalists. These include: Kingsley Amis; G.H. Bantock; Jacques Barzun; Max Beloff; Rhodes Boyson; Robert Conquest; Angus Maude; Iris Murdoch; Enoch Powell; Tibor Szamuely; and Margaret Thatcher. There is also an important file relating to the psychologist Cyril Burt and the controversy which arose in relation to his working practises. Two cuttings books also document fully the press reaction to the first Black Paper in 1969.

Administrative / Biographical History

As briefly outlined at collection level, the year 1969 saw the publication of the first 'Black Paper', entitled Fight for Education. Brian Cox and A.E. Dyson had contacted a number of fellow writers and academics during 1968 outlining their initial ideas for a pamphlet on education, and in November a circular, 'Back to Education', was sent out to the heads of all secondary schools inviting contributions. The Black Paper appeared as the spring 1969 issue of Critical Survey, and contained a mixture of articles written by a range of distinguished contributors including the Conservative MP Angus Maude, well-known writers such as Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest, academics such as Cox, Dyson, Bryan Wilson and John Sparrow, and heads of secondary schools. The pamphlet opened with a group of brief essays on student revolt and egalitarianism. Cox followed this with an article on examinations, and the central section of the pamphlet focused on direct-grant, public and comprehensive schools, and progressive education techniques. The final section was devoted to higher education, and the social and cultural background to the student protests of the 1960s. The pamphlet was extensively reviewed, but despite some initial sympathy it was widely attacked in the press and the views expressed in the pamphlet were condemned as anti-liberal and right wing.

Black Paper Two (published as the autumn 1969 issue of Critical Survey) received as much public attention as the first. It was similar in form, containing short polemical articles balanced by more lengthy academic pieces. Contributors included eminent psychologists such as H.J. Eysenck and Cyril Burt, other academics such as Arthur Pollard and Max Beloff, teachers such as Rhodes Boyson, and one Conservative MP (Angus Maude). An opening section argued for educational selection according to intelligence and ability rather than social class - an idea based on the theory that intelligence levels are innate. This was followed by sections on comprehensive schooling, progressive education and discovery methods in primary schools, and universities and the importance of academic freedom. The press response to Black Paper Two, after a conference held on 7 October 1969, was largely negative and some of the ideas it promoted (such as inherited intelligence) were attacked. Despite this the pamphlet achieved high sales and Brian Cox determined to publish further Black Papers.

Black Paper Three was published on 27 November 1970. This took a similar format to the first two pamphlets, containing a range of articles written by many of the same contributors. Black Paper Three did not receive such hostile criticism as the first two, and was discussed in more detail by education journalists. By this time, too, there was a Conservative government which was more sympathetic to Black Paper views.

After the collapse of this government in 1974 two further Black Papers were published, edited by Brian Cox and Rhodes Boyson, who was by this time a Conservative MP. Black Paper 1975 included a contribution from the novelist (and socialist) Iris Murdoch as well as pieces by a number of established Black Paper contributors. This pamphlet, and Black Paper 1977 were more restrained in tone than the earlier polemical papers. Their central arguments were based around the lack of structure and the contradictions inherent in progressive education. These two pamphlets suggested specific proposals to implement the ideas they promoted, such as the establishment of national standards and uniform testing at specific ages. By the later 1970s the general climate of opinion was more favourable towards these ideas, some of which were ultimately realized in the Education Reform Act, passed by the Conservative government in 1988.


The material has been divided into three subseries based on format and original order. A clear sequence of alphabetical correspondence files had been compiled by Cox, as well as a grouping of other more general Black Paper-related files (which nevertheless contain a larger proportion of correspondence with contributors and well-known figures). Listed at the end of the general files are four bundles of Black-Paper related material taken from Cox's miscellaneous 'muddle' files. Full cross references are given to facilitate the intellectual reconstruction of the original files if required.

The series is divided into subseries as follows:

  • COX1/1 Alphabetical Black Papers correspondence files
  • COX1/2 General Black Papers correspondence files
  • COX1/3 Cuttings books

Related Material

The Critical Quarterly Archive contains further files relating to the Black Papers; see CQA4.